Enzymes are proteins that are produced by all living organisms including animals and plants and are essential for every chemical reaction in the body.
There are three main groups of enzymes:
Digestive enzymes are produced by the body to breakdown food and release its nutrients for absorption and use by the body. For example, saliva contains enzymes that begin the breakdown of food in the mouth, the stomach adds enzymes to ingested food while the pancreas is a major producer of digestive enzymes.
Food enzymes are found in raw food including vegetables, fruit, meat and milk products and are responsible for food decaying and going rotten. By beginning this natural breakdown, food enzymes assist the body in food digestion.
Metabolic enzymes are involved in energy production in the body, help detox the body at a cellular level and purify and cleanse the blood removing toxins, parasites and fungus.
The body uses different enzymes to digest and absorb fats, protein, carbohydrates and dairy products. One of the differences in a humans and an animals, including dogs and cats, digestion process is the type of enzymes each has. Humans have the enzyme amylase in their saliva which helps digests carbohydrates, dogs don't have this enzyme in saliva. It is available further down in their gastrointestinal tract. This means that humans start breaking down carbohydrates into smaller particles from the moment it is in our mouth, while dogs can only start to digest it later in the process. Another difference is the presence of the enzyme cellulase which breaks down cellulose, an insoluble dietary fibre, which is found in fruit, vegetables and grains. Cellulase is not normally present in the digestive system of cats and dogs as their pancreas doesn't secret it, but humans do. As a result, dogs and cats are inefficient at digesting grains or plant material.
When food is cooked, enzymes are destroyed forcing the body to produce more enzymes to breakdown and digest food. The body is not able to produce an infinite supply of enzymes, so when it has to work harder to produce more enzymes this puts strain on the organs of the body, in particular the pancreas, which can lead to it becoming inflamed and resulting in pancreatitis and diabetes. Pancreatitis is a very painful condition, which unfortunately can lead to death. Raw food is a wonderful source of enzymes, by feeding your pet raw food you are helping to ensure an abundant intake of enzymes but also taking strain off his digestive system and hence preventing serious health problems.
As enzymes also improve metabolism, hormonal function and boost the immune system, dogs and cats that are getting enough enzymes have better health, better immunity, shinier coats and less to no skin conditions. Enzymes not only assist in digestion of food but when absorbed into the blood stream they help slow down the ageing process and prevent some aspects of joint disease or arthritis.
As animals age (and this includes humans) the body produces less digestive enzymes so supplementation with enzymes is recommended, either before or with meals. A great natural source of enzymes for your pet is pineapple which contains the enzyme Bromelain, known for its ability to break down protein chains; and green tripe. Tripe is the stomach of a grazing animal, e.g. cows and sheep that is an abundant source of digestive enzymes, gastric juices and amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Including green tripe in your pets diet boosts its enzyme content and takes strain off the pancreas. Probiotics also produce enzymes that assist in food digestion while also killing pathologic bacteria and viruses, which otherwise may be absorbed into the intestines.
Signs of an enzyme deficiency in pets include chronic diarrhoea, digestive problems, yeast overgrowth, gingivitis, skin conditions, a gurgling gut/tummy, bad breath, flatulence, burping, acid reflux, undigested food visible in stools, allergies and bacterial infections. If your pet has any of these symptoms it is advised to visit a vet to rule out any serious health conditions.
As commercial pet food is a cooked product it lacks enzymes as they are destroyed during processing. Adding raw food to your pets diet whether it is meat, fruit, vegetables or eggs; or changing your pet to a raw diet will go a long way to improving your pet’s health, boosting its immunity and preventing health problems. However, fruit, vegetables and grains must be properly prepared to break down the cellulose wall before they are fed to your pet. This includes either steaming them or pureeing them prior to feeding.
Before supplementing your pet's diet with enzymes consult a veterinary and/or nutritionist to determine if your pet needs enzyme supplementation. Diagnosed exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a medical condition where a pet needs enzyme supplementation.
Billinghurst, Dr. Ian, 1993, Give Your Dog a Bone, 22nd Print, Warrigal Publishing, Bathurst, NSW, Australia.
Lazarus, Pat, 1999, Keep Your Dog Health the Natural Way, The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, USA