How to Recognize and Treat Pancreatitis in Cats

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How to Recognize and Treat Pancreatitis in Cats

Pancreatitis in cats can be a difficult disease to diagnose and treat. It can involve many parts of the digestive tract and mimic other diseases. Learn more about pancreatitis in cats, symptoms to watch for, treatment, and more in this article.

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What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis means inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a vital organ located near the stomach. It normally works to produce enzymes that help the body digest and absorb nutrients from the digestive tract. The pancreas also produces the insulin hormone which regulates glucose (blood sugar) in the body.

Pancreatitis in the cat often involves inflammation of the liver and intestinal tract as well. Cats may develop acute or sudden onset of pancreatitis with symptoms ranging from mild or severe. Continued or recurring episodes of acute pancreatitis can develop into chronic pancreatitis, meaning the inflammation persists over a long period of time.

Causes of Pancreatitis in Cats

Normally, the enzymes made by the pancreas are inactive and only become activated to begin digestion once they reach the small intestine. During a case of pancreatitis, the enzymes become activated before they reach the small intestine and begin digesting the pancreas itself, resulting in pain, discomfort, and a wide range of symptoms.

At this time no specific cause has been determined for pancreatitis in cats. Studies have shown that pancreatitis may occur secondary to other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diabetes mellitus (DM).

Read more about DM by clicking on the following link:

Diabetes in Cats

Signs of Pancreatitis in Cats

Most often, signs of pancreatitis range from lack of energy and decreased appetite to signs involving the gastrointestinal tract such as nausea, vomiting, painful stomach, diarrhea, dehydration, and fever. In more severe cases, sudden shock or death may occur.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Cats

Often, determining if a cat has pancreatitis is based on symptoms, bloodwork, x-rays, and/or abdominal ultrasound. There is also a test that evaluates an enzyme produced by the pancreas called feline pancreas-specific lipase, and when elevated, indicates pancreatitis.

Treatment of Pancreatitis in Cats

Managing and treating pancreatitis depends on early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Treatment focuses on “turning off” the production of enzymes by the pancreas. This allows the pancreas to “rest” and heal.

Cats diagnosed with moderate to severe pancreatitis need to be hospitalized and nursed back to health. Your vet may start treatment by providing your cat with hydration and electrolytes through an IV. Other medications will be given via injection to manage pain, nausea, diarrhea, infection, and inflammation.

If your cat is also diagnosed with diabetes mellitus or inflammatory bowel disease, your vet will discuss additional medications, diet changes, and what to expect moving forward.

Preventing Pancreatitis in Cats

Cats that have had pancreatitis are more likely to develop the disease in the future. If your cat has been diagnosed previously, talk to your vet about what you can do to help prevent a reoccurrence.

Because no specific reason has been found to cause pancreatitis in cats, prevention is challenging. Annual health and wellness exams continue to be important, especially if your cat was previously diagnosed with pancreatitis.

Keep a close eye on your cat’s daily behavior and activity. Keep a journal of any changes such as decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity, or sleeping more than usual. If you notice any changes, make an appointment with your vet to determine the next steps.

Potential Problems with Chronic Pancreatitis

A damaged pancreas may lead to a decreased production of digestive enzymes. This can cause improper digestion of food, also known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). Your vet will discuss treatment options if your cat develops EPI.

Chronic pancreatitis may also result in a decreased production of insulin, causing diabetes mellitus (DM). There are different treatment options available depending on the severity and ability of your cat to regulate their blood sugar including diet and medications.

When to Contact a Veterinarian

Have you noticed mild signs such as decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea? Or is your cat sleeping more than usual, less active, and possibly running a fever? All of these signs are an indication that you should schedule an appointment with your vet. The sooner your vet determines the cause of your cats’ illness, the sooner the appropriate treatment will help them feel better.

Read more:

Vomiting and Diarrhea in Cats

Hyperthyroidism in Cats

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Published: 2/19/2021
Dr. Denise Michanowicz, Veterinarian

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