The Difference Between Systemic Enzymes & Digestive Enzymes

When shopping for enzymes for your dogs and cats, it may be helpful to know the difference between systemic and digestive. Here we explain which enzymes are helpful for pets depending on their particular circumstances. 

Answered in This Article:

  • What are systemic enzymes?
  • What are digestive enzymes?
  • What are plant based enzymes?
  • Why do veterinarians prescribe pancreatic enzymes?
  • Which enzymes are best for emergency therapy?
  • Which enzymes can be used long term?
  • Do dogs and cats need enzyme supplements?

Enzymes are substances in the body that start a reaction, and the details are very complicated. But what's important to know is, each enzyme has a very specific job in the body. For every action in the body, there is an enzyme that gets that process going.

Both types of enzymes are extremely beneficial as supplements for companion animals. Some enzymes are credited with nearly "magical" properties (many of them our own customers). We decided that you should know the difference between systemic enzymes and digestive enzymes. Simply put, digestive enzymes work on breaking down food, systemic enzymes work on processes in the body.

TIP: Digestive enzymes work on food, systemic enzymes work on the body.

Point 1

The Two Groups: Digestive Enzymes vs. Systemic Enzymes

Without getting into a full biology lesson, here are some highlights on the differences:

Systemic Enzymes

Anything else that happens in the body is starting with an enzyme. These are categorized as systemic enzymes, also known as "metabolic" enzymes (we use these words interchangeably). They are used by the body to power a number of metabolic processes.

For example, the body breaks down toxins, regulates inflammation, and repairs organs and tissues. Systemic enzymes are necessary for these processes. Systemic enzyme formulas will contain a broad-spectrum of various enzymes, and a high amount of proteolytic (or protein digesting) enzymes as well.

Digestive Enzymes

These enzymes are extremely valuable digestive aids, especially for pet's with enzyme deficiency. Digestive enzymes will not make much impact directly on systemic processes, but they will assist in reducing metabolic strain (we'll discuss this next). Digestive enzymes are specifically designed to digest the main macronutrients in foods (starch, protein, fats, fiber, etc). A typical digestive enzyme formula will usually only contain protease, lipase, amylase and maybe a couple of other enzymes.

Actions of Systemic Enzymes

  • Supports immune system by clearing out cellular waste and yeast
  • Supports healthy inflammatory response
  • Promotes respiratory health
  • Help remove toxins from the body
  • Assists in healthy liver function 
  • Supports healthy cholesterol
  • Lessen skin irritation and excessive shedding

Actions of Digestive Enzymes

  • More complete digestion of nutrients
  • Better meal absorption and nourishment
  • Reduces strain on metabolic processes

How do Digestive Enzymes Reduce Metabolic Strain?

When our pet's do not have enough natural enzymes in their food to break down their meal, they borrow from the body to complete the job. This is a less ideal method of digestion, but since digestion is so important for your pet, it takes priority. This action is stressful for your pet. The reallocation of enzymes leaves little left for his systemic needs. In contrast, when she has enough enzymes to digest her food, the rest of the body can operate undisturbed.

DIGESTION FIRST! Digestive enzymes can help ease stress in the body, which indirectly supports good metabolic health.

Why the "Enzyme Confusion" is a Problem for Your Pet

The problem is, many digestive enzyme formulas make the claims associated with a systemic enzyme approach without offering a substantial amount of enzymes for more than digestion. Digesting a little food is helpful, but for the best results for your pet's health, a broad-spectrum digestive/systemic enzyme is required.

If you really have to choose one or the other for your pet, always support digestion first. The good news is, it's easy to find a multi-enzyme formula that supports digestion and the entire body.

Point 2

Vegetarian Based Enzymes vs. Animal Source

Animal sourced enzymes (pancreatic enzymes) play a limited role, they are strictly digestive enzymes. While vegetarian, or plant based, enzymes can offer both digestive and systemic benefit. When it comes to digestion, there is no convincing data supporting the argument of one source being more effective than the other. In fact, both types are supported by the various governing bodies as effective in improving simple digestive functions.

That said, we wouldn't recommend pancreatic enzymes as a long-term strategy for assisting digestion. More on this later.

Animal Sourced Enzymes (Pancreatic Enzymes)

Advocates of pancreatic enzymes will cite that animal enzymes best match the GI tracts of their prey, but that is actually not the case. For example, animal-based enzymes come from porcine or bovine sources, which does not necessarily match the prey of a dog or cat. 

Further negatives include risk of pancreatic enzymes. There are concerns of the transfer of animal bone diseases, side effects, as well as controversial manufacturing processes to produce pancreatic enzymes. In addition to that, pancreatic enzymes have a waiting period before they start working and require some special handling.

Vegetarian Enzymes (Plant-Based Enzymes)

Plant-based enzymes have more flexibility in formulation, which could make them a more desirable match for dogs and cats. Another positive is they offer both systemic and digestive benefit. Lastly, there is also no waiting period for them to start their action in the body, they go to work right away with little to no side effects.

We prefer vegetarian enzymes for their safety and flexibility characteristics, though we have little to no issue with pancreatic enzymes for acute digestive therapy.

Pancreatic enzymes are strictly digestive aids. Plant based enzymes can offer both digestive and systemic support.

Point 3

The Long-Term Approach to Enzymes

You will, no doubt, choose what you feel is best for your pet. Whether your choose pancreatic (animal-based) or vegetarian (plant-based) enzymes, our hope is to provide you the context for making that choice.

Acute Care

Simple digestive enzyme formulations, such as pancreatic enzymes, are helpful for acute conditions (aka "emergency"). Your veterinarian will make this recommendation to you in an acute situation. But, in a sense, pancreatic enzymes are just a band-aid that hides a bigger problem.

We don't recommend pancreatic enzymes for long term supplementation, and suggest a closer look at the underlying health of your dog or cat before using this as a long term solution to pancreatic or other digestive issues.

Chronic Care

If your animal is showing signs of chronic poor digestion, there is a root cause that is more important to address. In short, simple digestive enzymes are a short-term approach to a digestive problem, but ultimately, we want to improve the overall long-term health of animals. This is why we chose to take the systemic/digestive combination enzyme approach.

Enzyme Miracle® is a systemic and digestive enzyme formulation made from plant sources. It will improve digestion in the short-term and will work to improve overall systemic health of dogs and cats. The harmonious blend of digestive and systemic enzymes support the entire body.

To go one step beyond, MiracleZyme® combo chews combine the benefits of enzymes and probiotics together in one convenient tablet.. 

In Summary

When combined, systemic enzymes and digestive enzymes get to the root and support whole wellness. Plant based enzymes have the lowest risk, can be used long term, and offer both systemic and digestive support. We believe all dogs and cats benefit from a daily multi-enzyme supplement.

Nusentia® recommends Enzyme Miracle® as a long-term wellness supplement. Enzyme Miracle® supplies both systemic and digestive enzymes in a harmonious, healthful blend for your pet.

Best of health to you and your animals, and we hope this helped to provide some context when you look at enzyme formulations for your pet.

We believe all dogs and cats benefit from a daily multi-enzyme supplement.


Related: Signs Your Pet Needs Enzymes

Probiotics & Enzymes: Dosage for Pets Explained

digestive enzymes enzymes systemic enzymes

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