Pancreatitis in cats
The pancreas is an organ in the body located close to the stomach. It produces enzymes that assist in the digestion of food and hormones such as insulin that regulate sugar levels. When inflammation of the pancreas occurs, this is known as pancreatitis. It can be acute or chronic in nature. The cause of pancreatitis in cats is not always known. It is often accompanied by inflammation of the liver and the intestine, a condition referred to as triaditis. It can therefore be associated with a range of symptoms that often overlap with symptoms of gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease and other diseases. Learn more about pancreatitis in cats with our vet.
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What triggers pancreatitis in cats?
In most cats, the cause of pancreatitis is unknown (idiopathic). It appears to occur spontaneously, without any known trigger. However, in some cases it can be associated with other risk factors such as:
Restriction of blood supply (pancreatic ischaemia)
Trauma: for example, a road traffic accident or a fall from a height
Infectious agents and diseases: Feline Parvovirus, Toxoplasma gondii, Feline Herpesvirus and Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Increased calcium levels (hypercalcaemia)
Organophosphate insecticide toxicity: these can be found in some flea collars and garden products
Medications such as aspirin and glucocorticoids.
Hepatic lipidosis (a specific type of liver disease commonly seen in cats) or cholangitis (inflammation of the bile duct system). Pancreatitis is present in approximately 40% of cats with hepatic lipidosis and usually carries a poorer prognosis
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Symptoms of pancreatitis in cats
Symptoms can include:
Lethargy and loss of appetite - most common
Vomiting and abdominal pain - less common in cats with pancreatitis than dogs
Drooling (hypersalivation) - usually a sign of nausea
Fever is possible - often the body temperature will actually be low (hypothermia)
Diarrhoea - occasional
Diagnosis of pancreatitis in cats
Several tests are often recommended. These are used to confirm a diagnosis of pancreatitis, as well as to check for other underlying diseases, or risk factors, such as hepatic lipidosis. Tests include:
General blood tests (complete blood count, serum biochemistry profile) and urine analysis
Serum feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLI). This specific blood test measures an enzyme called lipase, which is produced by the pancreas. It is pancreas‐specific and species‐specific
Imaging, such as abdominal ultrasound, is used to assess inflammation of the pancreas. This is an extremely useful diagnostic tool. However, it is largely dependent on the skill level of the vet and the quality of the ultrasound machine
Biopsy of the pancreas - a sample is taken under general anaesthesia and analysed by the laboratory
What can you do for a cat with pancreatitis?
Treatment of pancreatitis in cats aims to:
Provide supportive care
Eliminate triggers or risk factors
Replace electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as rehydrate. Both of these are achieved by providing intravenous fluids. Therefore, most cats with pancreatitis are require hospitalisation
Control vomiting and nausea with anti-sickness drugs. These are often given even if there is no vomiting, as nausea can be hard to recognise
Provide analgesia for abdominal pain. This is an important aspect of the treatment plan, even if the cat is showing no obvious signs of pain, as some degree of pain is always present
Most cats with pancreatitis, unlike humans, rarely have infectious complications such as the formation of an abscess or a bacterial infection. Therefore, antibiotic treatment is rarely indicated.
In some cases, additional medication may be required. For example, antacids may be used to protect the stomach lining. A high proportion of cats with pancreatitis can have low cobalamin (vitamin B12) concentrations, in which case, this can be supplemented with a weekly injection.
What should I feed a cat with pancreatitis?
Food should be gradually re-introduced as soon as possible. This should be done over 4-6 meals a day, for a few days. If your cat is refusing to eat, an appetite stimulant may be given. There is little evidence to support dietary fat restriction in cats with pancreatitis. Ideally, the diet should be easily digestible, high in protein, low in carbohydrate and with a moderate fat level. Depending on concurrent diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, a novel protein diet or hypoallergenic diet may be required.
How to prevent pancreatitis in cats
Feed a good quality diet appropriate for your cat’s age
Maintain a healthy weight for your cat
Avoid high-fat diets and table scraps or food that you would usually prepare for yourself
Minimise exposure to organophosphate insecticides or unnecessary medications
When to see your vet?
Inappetence or anorexia
If you would like further advice on anything you have read in this article you can book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our FirstVet vets for advice, treatment, and if necessary, referral to your local vet.