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E is for Enzymes

We’ve all heard of them, but what exactly are they, and why are they so important to health? Learning the ABCs of enzymes can help you understand what’s best for your dog or cat.
by Shawn Messonnier, Dvm  Reprinted with permission of Animal Wellness Magazine, © 2006,

I remember the professor of my undergraduate nutrition class teaching us about enzymes. He said enzymes are used in the body for just about everything, since they act as catalysts for so many chemical reactions that occur multiple times every minute in each and every cell. Since enzymes are so important, he told us that if we ever didn’t know the answer to a question on one of his tests, we should write the word “enzyme” and we would likely be correct!


Many wonderful supplements can be used to enhance your dog or cat’s health. Common ones include omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, glucosamine, antioxidants – and enzymes. Of these, enzymes are the least understood, yet they possess several important health benefits for your companion animal.



Enzymes are chemicals that the body uses for all cellular reactions. When we think of enzymes, we most commonly think of substances produced by the pancreas – such as lipases, amylases and proteases – that allow the body to digest and absorb nutrients from food. Each enzyme has a relatively specific activity:


  • lipases digest fat

  • amylases digest starches

  • proteases digest protein


Enzymes contained in foods, specifically vegetables and fruits, also assist in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Examples of well known food-based enzymes include papain from papaya and bromelain from pineapples. Because cooking can de- activate the enzymes in foods, raw or gently cooked foods contain a greater amount of active enzymes.



As already mentioned, enzymes are critical in allowing people and animals to properly digest food and absorb nutrients. Animals (most commonly German shepherd dogs) that suffer from exocrine pancreatic insufficiency have a shortage or absence of digestive enzymes and are unable to properly digest food. Diarrhea and weight loss result from this inherited condition, and lifelong supplementation with enzymes (among other therapies) is needed.


As with people, it is suspected that aging animals face a decreased production of digestive enzymes. There- fore, it may be prudent to supplement any older animal’s diet with enzymes.


There are many other ways enzymes can benefit our animals.


1 Hairballs – I have found the use of digestive enzymes very helpful in cats that suffer from chronic hairball irritation. They can be especially helpful for those who prefer a natural remedy to this common problem, and don’t want to use petroleum-based laxatives.

2 Inflammatory bowel disease – Animals with IBD are unable to properly digest or absorb nutrition from food due to inflammation in the cells of the intestinal tract. Using digestive enzymes along with other natural therapies such as probiotics and glutamine can be very helpful. Long term use of these natural products often allows for a reduction or elimination in the chemotherapy drugs commonly used to treat this widespread condition.

3 Diarrhea – Even animals that do not have IBD but simply present with acute diarrhea can benefit from enzyme supplementation.

4 Cancer – Enzymes can be used in animals with various cancers. They may be able
to reduce the side effects seen with conventional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It is also speculated that enzymes might be able to slow tumor growth and spread by removing cells associated with the tumor and/ or reducing the inflammation that contributes to the
growth and spread of cancer.

5 Allergies – Many animals with allergic skin disease will benefit when enzymes are added to their inte- grated treatment program. It’s believed that enzymes can remove the chemicals that cause inflammation, skin redness and itching.

6 Arthritis – Arthritis is an inflammatory condition and many animals benefit when enzymes are added to their treatment protocol.

7 Post surgery – Enzymes appear to speed up post-surgical recovery time in humans.

Since enzymes are helpful in reducing inflammation, they can be used without harm for virtually any condition in which inflammation is an important part of the disease process. Even autoimmune diseases, conditions in which the body forms chemicals that attack its various parts, may benefit from the addition of enzymes. It is thought that enzymes might be able to modulate the immune system and prevent the formation of or aid in the renewal of immune complexes that can damage tissues in the body.



Choose a product that contains a variety of digestive enzymes. As a rule, the product should contain some form of amylase, lipase, and protease enzymes. Many products also contain cellulose. This enzyme, which digests the cellulose skeletal structure of plant materials, is not made by dogs and cats, so having it in the enzyme product you buy can increase digestion of fruits and vegetables and other plant materials.


Enzymes generally come in either a powdered or tablet/capsule form. The powders are easily mixed in with food, while tablets or capsules are given orally. When treating animals with gastrointestinal problems (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, acute diarrhea, IBD, colitis, etc.), enzymes are most useful when given with a meal. When treating animals with other conditions, a better response is usually seen if the enzymes are administered on an empty stomach or with only a tiny amount of food; otherwise, the enzymes will be used for digesting food rather than treating the specific disease for which they are administered.


As a rule, enzymes are very safe and usually devoid of side effects. Humans are recommended not to use them without a doctor’s advice if they’re taking acarbose (Precose) or miglitol (Glyset). It is also recommended that people taking warfarin (Coumadin) not use digestive enzymes containing papain without a doctor’s supervision. These drugs are rarely if ever used in animals, however, so it is unlikely that a dog or cat taking enzymes would have an interaction with any other supplements or drugs. Still, to be safe, it’s always a good idea to get your veterinarian to help you choose the best product for your animal, and ensure it is given safely.


Enzymes are inexpensive, easy to administer, and useful for a variety of medical problems. They can also be used to maintain your companion’s wellness, ensure normal gastrointestinal health, and reduce food wastage and fecal output. It really makes good sense to add these multi-faceted nutrients to your dog or cat’s supplement regimen.


RESOURCES Nzymes, nzymes.comOnly Natural Pet Store, onlynaturalpet.comProzyme, prozymeproducts.coms

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