Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (Maldigestion): My Dog Is Always Hungry and Losing Weight

What if your dog is TOO hungry?

It is a common belief that a hungry dog is a healthy dog. While things are not quite this simple, it is true that a decrease in appetite is an important symptom that should be taken seriously.

A ravenous appetite, particularly when combined with weight loss, can be just as important to note. Medical causes of increased appetite in dogs range from internal parasites to diabetes to bowel diseases.

If your dog is unusually hungry and yet keeps losing weight, something is amiss.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (Maldigestion): My Dog Is Always Hungry and Losing Weight

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is the inability to properly digest and therefore absorb food due to a lack of digestive enzymes made by the pancreas.

Meet the pancreas

The pancreas doesn’t get a lot of publicity. That is until it decides to stop running smoothly. Pancreatitis, diabetes … quite a trouble-maker.

So what does the pancreas do when it works properly?

The pancreas is a glandular organ tucked in next to your dog’s stomach and small intestine. It has two important functions endocrine (hormone-producing) and exocrine (enzyme producing).

Exocrine dysfunction

Endocrine pancreatic cells secrete hormones that regulate blood sugar (e.g., insulin and glucagon). The exocrine pancreas produces digestive enzymes that are released into the small intestine.  Some of these enzymes are:

  • amylase (digestion of carbohydrates)
  • lipases (digestion of fats)
  • trypsin and proteases (digestion of proteins)

When the pancreas fails to supply these enzymes, your dog cannot properly digest the food he eats.

That’s why this condition is often referred to as maldigestion.

When food is not digested properly, it cannot be absorbed by the intestinal tract. So, regardless of the amount of food ingested, your dog’s body doesn’t get the nutrition that he needs.

Untreated or misdiagnosed dogs with EPI may die a painful death either by starvation or organ failure.

What causes it?

The most common cause of EPI is pancreatic acinar atrophy, a fancy name for a shriveled up, dysfunctional pancreas. Genetics plays a role in some cases, particularly in the German Shepherd breed.

The most obvious symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are:

  • weight loss in spite of voracious appetite
  • frequent soft, greasy, clay-colored stools
  • coprophagy  (eating of feces)
  • dry, flaky skin

Your vet will need to run blood and/or fecal tests to determine if EPI is causing your dog’s symptoms.

Fortunately, many dogs with EPI that are fed a highly digestible diet and supplements containing the missing enzymes do very well, but treatment does have to continue for the rest of their lives.

The most important point is to pay attention to your dog’s symptoms.

Related articles:
Excessive Hunger in Dogs: What If Your Dog Acts Like They’re Starving?
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Dogs: Weight Loss, Brittle Fur, Starving All The Time … Beaner’s Story

Further reading:
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Dogs

Categories: ConditionsExocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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