It can be very upsetting and difficult to understand if your cat has been diagnosed with pancreatitis. The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen (belly) that serves several functions in the body. It is located near the stomach and small intestine and is involved in the production of digestive enzymes as well as insulin for blood sugar control. Unfortunately, ‘pancreatitis’ (pancreatic inflammation) is quite common in cats. It can also be found in humans and dogs.
What exactly is pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. We don’t know why this happens in most cases, but in cats, it may be related to inflammation of the liver and intestines (called ‘triaditis’). It is most common in middle-aged to older cats, but we have seen it in younger patients as well. Because the pancreas produces digestive enzymes, when it becomes inflamed, these enzymes can be released into the pancreas and surrounding tissues, causing damage and pain. This can be fatal in severe cases because it affects other organs and blood pressure.
Cats with pancreatitis may exhibit a variety of symptoms, the most common of which are eating less or refusing to eat at all, vomiting, and being lethargic (tired, not moving around as much). Cats express pain differently than humans, so the only signs may be less interaction with the family, more sleeping, resting, and sleeping in different places, and less grooming. Affected cats may lose weight, become dehydrated, and develop a dull, scurfy coat. Cats with chronic (long-term) pancreatitis may develop diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) and exhibit signs of weight loss and increased drinking/urinating.
Making a pancreatitis diagnosis
Your veterinarian will diagnose pancreatitis using a combination of the symptoms you describe, physical examination, blood tests, and additional tests such as an ultrasound scan. Mild pancreatitis can be difficult to diagnose, so treatment is sometimes given on the assumption that this is the cause of the illness.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for feline pancreatitis. Your veterinarian will treat the symptoms/signs of pancreatitis as well as the underlying cause
if it is known, and most cats will recover over time. Severe pancreatitis will necessitate your cat is admitted to the hospital and receiving intravenous fluids as well as medications, including pain and nausea relievers. Some cats will not survive, but the vast majority will be able to return home.
Many cats with pancreatitis are reluctant to eat, and some may require a feeding tube to recover or drug treatment to improve appetite. Force-feeding cats can have a negative impact on their appetite and will not meet their nutritional needs. Cats with pancreatitis may feel ill and in pain, and medication may be prescribed for at-home administration to alleviate these unpleasant symptoms. A cat should be tempted to eat at first and may require a liquid diet through the feeding tube. Later, the cat’s diet may be altered, for example, to treat intestinal disease.
Is it possible to prevent pancreatitis?
If pancreatitis is linked to disease in other organs, such as the liver or intestine, these conditions may need to be treated as well. Dietary changes may be made to accommodate the circumstances. Low-fat diets are discussed for dogs with pancreatitis but are rarely appropriate for cats whose diet is high in fat and protein. We cannot, however, prevent cats from developing pancreatitis. Maintaining a healthy weight, feeding a high-quality diet, preventative healthcare (vaccinations, worming, and flea control), and regular checkups at a Cat-Friendly Clinic are the most important things we can do to keep our cats healthy.