How to Diagnose Pancreatic Enzyme Deficiencies in German Shepherds
If you've noticed runny or soft stools with a cow pat consistency in your German Shepherd, you may not think much of it. But, if your dog constantly has lots of these stools, he may have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). This condition is responsible for long term soft stools and can cause your dog to lose dangerous amounts of weight. Although there's no cure, your dog can be treated to prevent weight loss and organ failure.
1. Watch for runny or loose stools.
Your German Shepherd's stools can appear soft or semi-formed. It might seem like your dog has diarrhea, especially since he may be defecating more often than usual. EPI stools look bigger and runnier, containing a lot of moisture. The color will look like a strange mustard yellow or will be very pale.
- The stools may also look fatty which can attract scavenging birds.
- The stools will look like cow pats and be too large and soft to pick up.
- A German Shepherd's stool should normally be brown, shaped like a sausage, and be compact enough to hold together if you were to pick it up.
2. Pay attention to weight loss.
Your German Shepherd's appetite might be great, but he may lose a lot of weight very quickly if he has EPI. At first, your dog might just struggle to keep weight on. But, as the condition progresses, he might lose weight so rapidly that you can see his bones through his coat.
- You'll need to pay extra care to your German Shepherd if his coat is long or thick, since it may hide weight loss.
3. Feel your German Shepherd's coat.
Your dog's coat might be in poor condition so it may feel harsh or look starry. The fur can feel dry, brittle, or dull. You may also be cleaning up more hair since your dog may shed more with EPI.
- Coat condition can worsen with EPI since many nutrients are lost through the stools. This also causes a vitamin imbalance that can dull your dog's coat.
4. See if your dog eats his feces.
If your German Shepherd has EPI, he may eat his own feces (which is called coprophagia). Your dog is driven by instinct try to reclaim lost nutrients by eating his stool. In rare cases, your dog may try to eat non-food items like plants or dirt (this is known as pica).
- Don't punish or shame your dog if he does this. Instead, you might try to limit his access to the feces. For example, you might immediately remove or clean up the feces so he doesn't get a chance to eat it.
5. Monitor your German Shepherd's behavior.
You may be able to tell that something is wrong with your dog because his personality seems different. Your dog might become aggressive or appear nervous. EPI can cause these changes in behavior because your dog is being malnourished and is constantly hungry.
- Because of this behavior, your German Shepherd might become more protective of his food and less tolerant of human intervention. He may not like being touched.
6. Look for signs of EPI at an early age.
Certain breeds are more likely to develop EPI because they inherit genes that cause the condition. Dogs that have the hereditary form of the disease start showing signs of a problem between the ages of 1 and 4 years old. Since most German Shepherds have this form, it's important to watch for signs of EPI if your dog is young.
- Dogs can also develop EPI later in life because of pancreatitis.
- Collies and English Setters are also prone to developing EPI.
Getting a Medical Diagnosis
1. Get medical attention.
If your dog has soft or loose stools for more than a few days, he'll need to be checked out by the vet. By the time you notice signs of EPI, a lot of damage may have been done to the pancreas. The sooner your dog is diagnosed, the faster he can be treated and the better he'll feel.
- Your dog's symptoms can develop gradually or he may suddenly develop diarrhea and weight loss. Sudden developments are the result of complications, like bacterial overgrowth in the bowel.
2. Get a physical examination.
The vet will take your German Shepherd's medical history and ask about issues like worming and recent changes in diet. The vet will physical examine your dog, feeling his abdomen to check for bowel obstructions or cancer. These could interfere with digestion and cause the weight loss. If everything feels normal, the vet may run screening blood test to check blood count and organ function.
- An initial blood screening can rule out other problems like liver and kidney disease. At this point, the vet is ruling out what conditions are not affecting your dog.
3. Get additional blood tests.
Once the vet has ruled out conditions your dog doesn't have, the vet will order another round of blood tests (checking trypsin-like activity, folate and cobalamin levels) to evaluate your German Shepherd's bowel function. This will tell the vet how healthy your dog's bowel is, if there's a bacterial overgrowth, or if he's deficient in the vitamin cobalamin. This information can help your vet make an EPI diagnosis.
- Before blood tests were used, fecal tests were used to make an EPI diagnosis. Blood tests are now preferred because they're more accurate and comprehensive.
Managing and Understanding Pancreatic Enzyme Deficiencies
1. Follow the vet's treatment recommendations.
While there's no way to cure the cause of the enzyme deficiencies, the symptoms can be managed by diet. The vet will recommend low-fat foods that suit your German Shepherd's digestive system. You'll also need to mix replacement digestive enzymes into every meal. This can help your dog digest food and absorb nutrients.
- Many dogs also need a 3 to 4 week course of antibiotics to balance the gut bacteria. Your dog might need monthly injections of B vitamins to keep his bowel wall healthy.
2. Understand how the pancreas functions.
Your German Shepherd's pancreas lies alongside the portion of his gut that leaves the stomach (known as the duodenum). The pancreas squirts digestive juice out of narrow ducts into this part of the small intestine to help your dog process food and nutrients.
- The pancreatic juices are specific to digesting fats and protein. They're made up of the enzymes amylase, lipase, and trypsin.
3. Consider the causes of pancreatic enzyme deficiencies.
Your dog's genetics and illnesses (like recurrent inflammation of the pancreas) which scar tissue can cause EPI. These can prevent the pancreas from making enough enzymes to break down fats and proteins in food.
- EPI can lead to an imbalance in the gut's pH, causing an overgrowth of bacteria. This can make it harder to digest food and lead to diarrhea.