Dog: Pancreatic Insufficiency

General information

Other common/scientific names: exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), maldigestion

The pancreas is a pale pink glandular organ which is found under the stomach and along the initial part of the small intestine or duodenum. The pancreas has two main functions. First, it produces and secretes insulin and glucagon for sugar metabolism. A dysfunction in this area can result in the lack of insulin which causes diabetes mellitus. A second function is the production and secretion of pancreatic enzymes which aid in the digestion of food. A dysfunction in this area can result in pancreatitis or pancreatic insufficiency.

Pancreatic enzymes are used to break down proteins, starches and fats in the diet allowing them to be absorbed through the intestinal wall. Pancreatic insufficiency results when these enzymes are decreased or absent. Without these enzymes, food is not digested or absorbed in the intestinal tract and a dog can literally starve to death even though it is eating.

Abb. GSIJW981
Abb. GSIJW981: Schematic illustration of the canine gastrointestinal system showing the location of the pancreas.


Pancreatic insufficiency is caused when the cells responsible for enzyme production begin to atrophy or shrink. This cellular atrophy can be hereditary developing in dogs under four years of age. It is commonly seen in German Shepherd Dogs and Rough Coated Collies. Destruction of the pancreatic cells can also occur secondary to chronic pancreatitis.

Cardinal symptom

Weight loss


Dogs with pancreatic insufficiency lose weight despite having a good appetite. They are constantly hungry and may eat abnormal objects such as plants or dirt. These dogs have diarrhea with the stools being foul smelling, light yellow to gray colored and greasy in appearance due to undigested food. They typically have a poor haircoat.


Diagnosis of pancreatic insufficiency is based on clinical signs and specialized blood and fecal tests which measure digestive enzymes.


Treatment of pancreatic insufficiency involves replacing the missing digestive enzymes. While these enzymes are formulated in either tablet or powder form, the powder formulations have been shown to be more effective. The powdered enzymes should be mixed with food prior to eating.

Dogs with pancreatic insufficiency may also have an overgrowth of bacteria in their intestines which can lead to a vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency. Because of this, antibiotics and vitamin B12 injections may be needed.


The prognosis is good for pancreatic insufficiency if the dog is treated with supplemental pancreatic enzymes. However, this treatment is costly because of the lifelong commitment.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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