Your vet may prescribe digestive enzyme supplements for a variety of reasons, from dermatitis to diarrhoea. They are certainly growing in popularity for both humans and pets. There’s a lot of hype and, as is usual with things which become fashionable, there’s a lot of nonsense, too. Let’s find out more about digestive enzymes.
If it looks like an enzyme, and walks like an enzyme…
A digestive enzyme is a biological catalyst. If you remember your high school chemistry, you know that a catalyst facilitates a reaction, but isn’t consumed by that reaction. Catalysts can facilitate many reactions over time. So small amounts of a catalyst can have a large effect (because they are used again and again). This is why digestive enzymes can have a marked effect on the digestive health of animals.
Amber alert for digestive enzymes
Before you shovel enzymatic supplements down Fido’s throat, a word of warning. You may be wasting your money. Many of the claims about the supposed benefits of enzyme supplements have very little evidence to back them up.
While there are several conditions where digestive enzymes have been effective, it’s important to wait for your vet’s diagnosis. And yes, she will be well aware of the effective enzymes for these conditions and will tell you exactly what they are.
These conditions are all forms of pancreatic enzyme deficiency. This is often genetic and results in a pancreas that can’t produce needed digestive enzymes. It is characterised by sudden weight loss, gassiness, increased appetite and diarrhoea. It’s diagnosed using a stool sample, urine analysis, serum analysis and possibly a blood test. Your vet will prescribe an enzyme supplement which you’ll gradually reduce when symptoms improve.
The Internet and non-scientific magazines abound with articles on digestive enzymes as cancer treatment, anti-inflammatories, and treatments for many other diseases and conditions. However, there is no credible medical evidence at all that digestive enzymes are effective in the treatment of these conditions.
Big pharma and other bad arguments
While it is true that there is no evidence that these enzymes are effective in the treatment of other diseases, this could just be because “no extensive studies have been done”. Well, yes and no. Extensive studies have been done, but with human subjects. And no link between these enzyme supplements and improved health has been found, except for very specific conditions.
Okay, but it can’t hurt, can it?
Well, actually it can.
There is evidence that digestive enzyme supplements actually made human patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer worsen with regard to health, even affecting their survival rates. All medicines have side-effects. So it’s a bad idea to put something in your body, or in the body of your dog or cat, when their effectiveness and safety is suspect.
Furthermore, even if these supplements have no proven beneficial or harmful effects, even if they do absolutely nothing for your dog or cat, they cost money. Money you could spend in other ways on your pet, such as a better grade of pet food, more toys, or put it into pet insurance so that if something does go wrong, you’ll be able to actually do something that is effective.
Give your animals the medicines recommended or prescribed by your vet and try to avoid those without a proven scientific pedigree.