The pancreas is an organ located near the liver. It has two major functions:
During pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (abbreviation PEI) it is the first function that is altered. The pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to digest food. Without these enzymes, the digestive system is not able to break down food (i.e. digest it) so that it can be absorbed and used by the body. The individual then suffers from malabsorption.
The most common cause of PEI is pancreatic acinar atrophy. It is a disease of the immune system that destroys the parts of the pancreas responsible for the production of digestive enzymes.
This disease is usually diagnosed in young dogs. The German Shepherd is a predisposed breed.
The most obvious clinical signs are: weight loss, increased appetite and diarrhea. Unabsorbed food, especially fats, remain in the intestinal lumen and are eliminated in the feces. It is for this reason that owners sometimes observe discolored and oily feces.
In the majority of cases, the diagnosis is easy to make. A blood sample is taken to measure the TLI (trypsin-like immunoreactivity). This dosage must be done after 12 hours of fasting. If the dog suffers from PEI, the TLI is too low.
To treat PEI, pancreatic enzymes are added to the food at each meal. We favor food that is easy to digest. One can also give Anti-Ox TM and sometimes a hypoallergenic diet.
Dogs with PEI have a vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 supplementation is often necessary.
The disease is irreversible and the treatment is therefore to be administered for life. With proper treatment, the dog can have a completely normal life.
Dr Emilie Vangrinsven
Diplomate from European college of veterinary internal medicine | PhD U-Liège
Assistant at the Liege University in the university clinic for PETs | Author and co-author of numerous scientific publications