How Enzymes in Dog Food Aid in Digestion

In 2016, the market value of the United States pet food industry achieved an estimated value of $24.6 billion. By 2022, that figure is expected to grow to $30.01 billion. In short, feeding the nation’s pets is big business and getting bigger.

Not only are people buying more pet food, but pet parents are becoming increasingly conscientious about the nutrition of their pets. How can pet owners ensure their pets are happy and healthy, and what can pet food manufacturers do to offer more value in their products?

A relatively new trend in pet foods is the introduction of enzymes to the product, although veterinarians have administered enzymes to animals and scientists have studied their effects for many years. These natural molecules are found inside the bodies of living organisms. They are nature’s catalysts, speeding along chemical reactions inside the body, and they are vital to many processes, including digestion.

How Do Enzymes Work?

Enzymes are a type of protein molecule—with a specific three-dimensional shape that includes an “active site”—that can interact with other molecules. The active site of an enzyme forms a temporary bond with one or more specific molecules. It then binds multiple molecules together or breaks down single molecules into smaller parts. This variation depends on the enzyme.

What is important about enzymes is that they are specific. Each enzyme can only interact with a certain molecule or kind of molecule. This is known as the “substrate” of an enzyme. Enzymes cannot interact with molecules other than their substrate—this gives them the feature of specificity. Different enzymes perform different tasks for different substrates. In most organisms, there is a range of enzymes that bring about several different reactions at once.

Another key feature of enzymes is that they require optimal conditions to function effectively. Some of these conditions can vary among organisms that hold enzymes within them. For example, human enzymes operate best at around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the body’s natural temperature.

Enzymes above their optimum temperature can denature, much like how proteins in an egg turn white when cooked. Below that temperature, enzymes aren’t moving fast enough to make enough collisions with their substrate to act optimally.

Other requirements for optimal enzyme function include a balanced pH, typically of around 7.0, and a plentiful supply of their substrate. Naturally, enzymes require their substrate to perform their singular, specific function.

The Enzyme Question

There is a growing awareness in society of the nutritional differences in both human and animal diets. Although the standard way people prepare food today is to cook or pasteurize it, this wasn’t always the case. Recent thinking has analyzed the effect that a prepared food diet has had on humans and, ergo, the animals we have domesticated.

One key idea lies in the notion that, having been exposed to heat via pasteurization or cooking, any enzymes naturally present in our food could have become denatured. The question, then, is: Did enzyme-rich food, such as the intestines of animals, have an important role to play in our prehistoric diets, and how does that knowledge affect consumer perception of quality pet food?

Enzymes in Pet Food

While some studies suggest that enzyme-rich foods aid animal diets, others refute the findings and indicate that stomach acids simply destroy foreign enzymes immediately. In support of enzymes, there is the concept of autolytic digestion–a process whereby enzymes in food break it down before consumption, making it more digestible. The primary function of enzymes is to convert larger foods into smaller nutrients that a pet’s body can use.

Furthermore, enzymes of different origins may have different staying powers depending on the animal. For instance, porcine enzymes (enzymes derived from pork) might fare better in pets than those produced by microorganisms.

Whatever the truth, many veterinarians argue that enzyme-rich foods can have a real and beneficial impact on the health of animals. One study demonstrates that bacterial or porcine lipase offers a demonstrable correction to steatorrhea in dogs, a condition marked by abnormal quantities of fat in the stool. This is often an indicator of bad digestion, and enzymes have been shown to correct it.

Enzymes of all varieties work to break down food, which can aid in the absorption of nutrients. Food prepared for pets isn’t necessarily what they would eat in the wild, and it is worth taking measures to ensure all their nutritional needs are met. Consumers recognize this and respond well to pet food products that advertise enhanced nutrition. Additionally, savvy consumers understand that spending more on food that offers additional nutritional benefits may save more in the long run in veterinary fees.

Raw food is potentially dangerous for pets and their owners. Therefore, pet foods with added enzymes often prove useful, providing many of the naturalistic advantages of raw food without the risks.

Types of Enzymes Used in Dog Food

There is often a mix of enzymes in dog food. This variety ensures the enzymatic mix can achieve a broad effect. Dog food manufacturers use different kinds of enzymes for different food types to enhance digestion.

These enzymes break down large protein chains into their smaller amino acids. This process is known as protein hydrolysis. Protein is vital for the health of household pets. Pet foods for carnivorous pets, such as cats and (essentially) dogs, are typically meat-based and, therefore, contain high levels of protein. Pet foods with protease can aid the digestion of animals, improving their ability to absorb nutrients by first breaking them down into smaller molecules through hydrolysis.

For carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches, amylase breaks down the larger molecules into those that are easier for animals to digest. The products of this process are also more soluble, which means they flow more naturally through the body and the intestines of animals have an easier time absorbing them.

Lipase is vital for breaking down large insoluble fatty molecules into smaller, more digestible molecules. Lipase enzymes can improve the health of pets by enhancing nutrient absorption and removing large fatty molecules that are hard to digest and can prevent the absorption of other nutrients.

This enzyme type breaks down fibrous materials found in plants. Its substrate is cellulose, a tough, starch-like substance that makes up the cell walls in plants. Once broken down, animals can digest and dissolve its products to absorb their nutrients or excrete unneeded material.

Enzymes for Animal Nutrition

Any dog food that can advertise superior nutritional value holds an advantage in the growing U.S. pet food market. Veterinarians have utilized enzymes for decades in the treatment of both domestic pets and farm animals, and it is a boon for consumers to be able to buy dog food that contains a blend of protein-hydrolyzing enzymes and enzymes with other functions. This is a trend that is likely to continue, so pet food manufacturers should consider adding enzymes to their product lines if they haven’t already. Now, more than ever, consumers are fueling a burgeoning market for pet products, and savvy pet parents are opting for more than the standard kibbles of the past.

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