Plant Enzymes: Providing Optimum Canine Health

By Alicia McWatters PhD, CNC (1959 – 2003)

Alicia resided in a mountianous region of New Mexico with her family and many animal and bird friends. She had been involved in the caring, breeding, and natural healing of birds since 1987; and the natural feeding and healing of dogs and cats since 1994. Her life-long love of animals led to many years of intense study of animal and bird nutrition. Her doctorate’s degree was in nutrition and she was a certified nutritional consultant. She is greatly missed!

Many dog owners have learned about how the macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats; and the micronutrients, also referred to as coenzymes: vitamins and minerals are essential to our dog’s health. However, there is a subject that has not been given attention to in today’s canine literature and that is “Enzyme Nutrition”. Many dog owners and even many animal health care providers have not heard much about how food enzymes are also an important part of our pet’s diet. Not surprising, since most veterinary schools and canine literature do not mention this vital aspect of nutrition. If you are interested in superior health for your dogs, which may extend their lifespan, eliminate weight problems, overcome illness and prevent disease.Enzymes are often described as being made up of protein molecules; however, the protein molecule is really only the carrier of enzyme activity. Enzymes do a tremendous amount of work to help our dog’s bodies to function optimally. However, an improper diet and damaging environmental factors could affect the efficiency of their internal enzyme function and reduce their digestive competency.

Fresh, raw foods contain the highest level of enzymes and these enzymes assist in digestion. Cooked foods and dry convenient diets have been denatured and are devoid of enzymes: life-promoting elements. While they may maintain life they do not promote optimum health or longevity!

Food enzymes are very sensitive and are easily destroyed by low moist heat (105-118 degrees F). Dry heat around 150 degrees F. Internal enzymes are damaged by factors, such as chlorine in drinking water, certain medicines, air pollution and chemical additives.  More about what enzymes do: enzymes are substances that make life possible and are involved in every chemical reaction in our dog’s body from breathing, sleeping, eating, to running, mating and producing offspring.

There are two types of enzymes: endogenous–internal and exogenous–external. There are three major categories of enzymes: digestive (manufactured from the digestive organs), metabolic (enzymes that work in blood, tissues, and organs) and food enzymes from raw foods.

Food/digestive enzymes act as catalysts in the breakdown and digestion of foods and promote proper assimilation and elimination. The more enzymes which are in the foods our dogs eat, the less digestive work must be done by their digestive organs.

Metabolic enzymes run all of our dogs’ cells, tissues, and organs. Metabolic enzymes work to assist and regulate proper function of the many systems of the body, such as the endocrine system, immune system and so forth and maintain proper function of the lungs, kidneys, heart and other organs, repair damage and heal illness. The enzymes in our dog’s immune system attack waste materials and poisons in their blood. Enzymes regulate hormonal function; keep the body’s metabolism normal and so on.

When providing our dogs with the proper foods, we can not only feel confident that their bodies are getting the nutrients to sustain life, but that these foods are contributing to our dog’s utmost bodily efficiency and therefore, optimum health!

Enzymes work synergistically with the coenzymes: vitamins and minerals and consequently these coenzymes do not work without enzymes and vice versa. If we are feeding an enzyme-free diet, while also sprinkling a vitamin/mineral supplement over these foods, the added supplements may be of little value unless sufficient enzymes are present in the diet and/or produced by the body.

As we know, enzymes from food and the digestive organs digest all of our dog’s food and break it down into simpler particles so they can pass through the tiny pores of the small intestines and into the bloodstream. Then the enzymes in the blood take the digested food and regenerate cells, build and maintain bones, muscles, nerves, tissues, organs and glands. Enzymes also aid in the formation of uric acid (nitrogenous waste), which is excreted from the kidneys and eliminated, and also in the elimination of carbon dioxide from the lungs.

In food digestion, enzymes perform the task of digesting specific substances. For example, protein is broken down into amino acids by the enzyme protease; fat is broken down into fatty acids and glycerol by the enzyme lipase; carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars (glucose) by the enzyme amylase and so forth.

While our dog’s digestive glands/organs: stomach and small intestine; accessory organs: the pancreas and liver (secretes bile), all manufacture digestive enzymes; its body is not MEANT to do all the work. If we do not offer enzyme-rich foods, such as raw meat, vegetables, and fruits (which assists digestion) as a large part of our dog’s diet, then their metabolic processes may be less efficient as metabolic enzymes from the blood and other organs are transported to the intestines to aid the digestive process.

Food enzymes do a portion of this laborious job of pre-digestion, thereby leaving our dog’s body a sufficient supply of metabolic enzymes to draw on for maintaining and strengthening the many other bodily systems. As a result, the immune system, digestive system, hormonal glands and organs are in their optimum working order.

In a natural setting, our dogs and other pets would be receiving the benefits of food enzymes with just about all and every food eaten. In many homes, pet owners rely on commercial foods or cooked foods and this can be very taxing on their pets’ systems. Since we now know that vitamins and minerals require enzymes for proper utilization, it seems to me that to purchase fresh foods and then to waste time and the nutrient content by cooking them is not only financially costly, but an injustice to the dogs offered it. Furthermore, cooked food actually raises the WBC count! This will be discussed later on in the article.

If our dog’s diets do not contain the enzyme lipase to properly breakdown lipose (fats) then we may find obesity in some of our more inactive dogs, which have a slower, more inefficient metabolism. Without enzymes in foods, digestion is impaired and the body stores more fat. If the nutrients and enzymes are not present in the foods we serve our dogs, their appetite will never be truly satisfied and will create compulsive eating habits, which may lead to obesity.

The inclusion of fresh raw foods and a plant enzyme supplement over cooked foods can be very helpful with achieving weight reduction. In those dogs that have an underweight problem, we can help by offering them enzyme-rich foods along with a plant enzyme supplement when serving cooked foods in order for these foods to be better utilized by the body and promote proper weight gain.

Raw foods are relatively non-stimulating to glands by their enzymatic action of breaking down and digesting the foods our dogs eat and thereby help to stabilize their weight and increase energy and vitality. In addition, exercise plays an important role in the transport of nutrients by the lymph fluid in the bloodstream to the cells.

A diet of cooked foods or an enzyme-free diet does not generally contain as much nutritional value as fresh raw foods. It has been estimated that approximately 85% of the original nutrients are destroyed after cooking. Remember that if a quality fresh diet (preferably organically grown) containing essential nutrients is served to your dogs, less food will need to be offered, as your dog’s nutritional needs will be quickly and easily met. (*As a side note, when comparing prices of commercial feed and the cost of a varied fresh food diet, the fresh food diet was very economical too!)

Nature has provided us with foods that contain sufficient enzymes to aid in the process of digestion of those foods instead of forcing the body’s enzymes to do all the work and creating stress. However, with the increase in feeding a convenient, highly processed devitalized diet we have lost almost complete touch with nature.

This way of feeding is influenced in part by modern life, our fast-paced times, and our eagerness to believe these convenient diets are “complete”. There is a direct connection between the nutrition consumed by both people and their pets and the health they possess. Our modern world does not presently offer much support toward leading healthy lives; however, this is changing as more and more people are becoming aware of healthy natural diets for their pets and themselves.

In the field of nutrition, it is well known that cooked foods are generally harder to digest especially those foods that are high in protein. Unassimilated proteins, carbohydrates, fats, as well as bacterial, viral, and yeast cells can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive tract, and may cause allergies, skin diseases, and other illness. These antigens or toxins induce the immune system into action to create antibodies as a defense.

Modern ailments are often found in domestic pets. Just like many humans, they exist on a mostly processed, refined-foods diet. By serving our dogs a poor diet, the breakdown and malfunction of organs not directly involved in digestion can occur as well. Disease rarely occurs in just one organ; usually the entire body is affected. Toxins that are absorbed into the bloodstream can be deposited at body sites other than the intestinal tract.

Enzymes, the endocrine system, the nervous system, the circulatory system, and the digestive system are interdependent in life processes and are collectively harmed by an inadequate diet. When food enzymes or an enzyme supplement are added to the diet, this strengthens the immune system by aiding in the digestion of toxic substances found in the blood, such as food particles, viral or yeast cells.

Enzymes are used up more rapidly during disease, detoxification, and digestion. Every time our dog’s metabolism is sped up, such as in acute disease, enzymes are working overtime. There is a profound connection between the strength of our dog’s immune system and their enzyme level.

The white blood cells (leukocytes) are responsible for destroying invading harmful microorganisms in the blood and lymph fluid. Leukocytosis (increased WBC count) is a term, which describes a medical pathology. Whenever the WBC count increases to any great extent it is generally considered that an acute illness or infection is present.

In an enzyme research study with humans, it was demonstrated that a large supply of enzymes (amylase, protease, lipase) were found in leukocytes. These enzymes perform very much like the enzymes in the digestive tract and those secreted by the pancreas (breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates that have been absorbed by the blood, causing disease.) It was found that during acute disease, enzyme levels increased, however in chronic disease the levels decreased. The pancreas and the digestive tract are in a weakened state as has been shown in human diabetes, cancer, and chronic intestinal disorders.

Enzymes are related to all diseases via the immune system, whether the disease is acute or chronic. As a result, the immune system may show signs of stimulation or depression. Since the same enzymes are found in the WBC’s as are found in the pancreas and other enzyme-secreting glands, and since WBC’s transport these enzymes throughout the body, it seems that the enzyme-secreting glands receive a large amount of these enzymes via the leukocytes.

After eating a cooked, denatured meal when digestive enzymes are needed, the WBC increases, seemingly to aid in the digestive process. This is termed “Digestive Leukocytosis” and occurs roughly 30 minutes after eating a cooked meal, stressing the immune system. Cellular pathologist, Rudolph Virchow first reported the concept of the immune system being stimulated every time we eat in 1897.

Present information concerning this pathology is available in alternative medical literature. This increase in the WBC’s indicates a definite compensatory measure. The body must supply a large amount of digestive enzymes because the heating process destroyed the enzymes that were once in the foods. This increase in leukocytes is needed then to transport enzymes to the digestive tract.

A young dog, born with a high level of bodily (endogenous) enzymes, can digest processed foods better than an older dog whose enzyme efficiency has declined. (Thus the many puppies that are weaned onto and survive on the dry convenient, enzyme-less foods.) Unfortunately, when these foods are fed over a long-term period, a dog may develop physical and emotional disorders that can decrease the quality of its life and shorten its lifespan.

Processing of foods can decrease nutrient content, bioavailability, and create toxic compounds that are potentially harmful and disease causing. In addition, if food sits in the digestive tract too long it rapidly builds up toxins and then weakens the body and leaves it vulnerable to disease and infection. This increases the WBC count and jeopardizes the immune system function. So it makes sense that if we offer a largely uncooked diet (easily digestible) from the start we will have dogs with stronger immune systems. After a raw food meal, it has been noted that there was little increase in the WBC count, as the body did not have to produce and transport enzymes.

In summary, it is important to understand that raw food aids in the digestive process and this takes the stress off of having to borrow the body’s enzyme reserve, especially from the WBC count (our immune system). Enzyme levels must be maintained at all times to help increase stamina, vitality, and to prevent disease in ALL living things. Uncooked, “live” foods contain enzymes. I am not saying that all foods should be uncooked, however, most of them should be. Legumes and grains should be cooked, soaked for 24 hours or sprouted before serving.

Plant enzyme supplements are being used by many cat and dog owners and are gaining great popularity! Enzymes have as much importance in our dog’s diet as any other element of nutrition. *Enzyme powders can be sprinkled over a partially cooked diet, such as raw fruits, vegetables and meat and cooked grains/legumes.

*Probiotics are used, and green foods, such as wheat grass and algae are on the rise as very effective nutritious foods as well. I believe, this is the road canine health is on the brink of traveling.

My vision for the future of canine health is to see canine diets resume full circle back to the natural “live” foods which nature intended for our dogs. By taking this road we will discover a remarkable level of health that we may have never experienced in our dogs before!

*Publishers Note: The Whole Dog carries a few great supplements that contains both enzymes AND probitocs, you can view them here

1 Comment

  1. Suppliers of RAW food

    Great informative article, I have recently joined a breed forum and trying to get some owners to correlate cancer and other conditions such as epilepsy, pancreatitis and on. It is is like banging my head against a brick wall. They just dont get it. They cannot see that the anti-nutrition dried diet they are feeding their dogs are causing most of these avoidable conditions and despite asking for advice on the forums they still continue using a dried specially formulated prescription diet!! The vets and food reps on the forum hate me!! Carry on with the good work.

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