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What Is Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Pets?

What Is Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Pets?

The Functions of the Pancreas

An animal’s pancreas has two functions within the body—exocrine and endocrine functions. The endocrine pancreas secretes hormones and insulin, while the exocrine pancreas contains acinar cells that secrete zymogens and digestive enzymes, which are crucial for proper digestion. Digestive enzymes are responsible for breaking down food so that the body can use those nutrients. In addition to helping produce digestive enzymes, the exocrine pancreas produces essential substances that help with absorption and other important digestive system functions, such as neutralizing gastric acid.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency - What is EPI?

Also known as EPI, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency occurs when the exocrine portion of the pancreas isn’t capable of secreting digestive enzymes. This leads to maldigestion and the malabsorption of nutrients. In addition, EPI can lead to a secondary condition in which undigested food in the small intestine results in bacterial overgrowth, which can harm the intestine and its function. If left untreated, EPI will deprive the body of the nutrients needed to survive.

EPI is the second most common exocrine pancreatic disorder in dogs and cats with pancreatitis being the most common disorder. Pancreatitis in dogs and cats is divided into two categories, acute pancreatitis, and chronic pancreatitis.

What Causes Pancreatic Insufficiency?

Causes of EPI include chronic pancreatitis and neoplasia with pancreatic acinar atrophy being the most common cause. Pancreatic acinar atrophy is a disease that destroys the acinar cells in the pancreas.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency Symptoms

Diagnosing EPI in cats and dogs can be difficult because visible symptoms may not appear for months or even years. The most common symptoms of EPI include diarrhea, polyphagia (excessive hunger and abnormally large intake of food), and weight loss.

EPI Treatment

EPI in dogs and cats can usually be successfully treated and regulated with pancreatic enzyme supplements. Freeze-dried, powdered porcine enzymes are common and usually successful, rather than plant enzymes. However, every situation is different, so what works for one animal might not work for the next.


The materials and information provided on this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your veterinarian or other pet healthcare professional. Consult your own veterinarian if you have medical questions concerning diagnosis, treatment, therapy, or medical attention.

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