Pancreatitis in cats is a common gastrointestinal condition with a variety of symptoms, which makes it easy to overlook. It’s essential to understand the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention because if left untreated can progress quickly in cats and can be life-threatening.

What is Pancreatitis in Cats?

The pancreas is an organ that forms part of the endocrine and digestive system. It produces hormones such as insulin, which supports blood sugar levels (endocrine function). It also secretes a controlled amount of digestive enzymes into the intestinal tract, which activates in the small intestine aiding with digestion (exocrine function).

Pancreas anatomy explained

Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. The exocrine function will become affected. The digestive enzymes will start activating early and cause the digestion in the pancreas and other parts of the body, such as the liver and kidney.

Pancreatitis in cats is often found concurrently with other diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (inflammation of the intestines) and cholangitis (inflammation of the liver), this is due to the proximity to each other. The simultaneous inflammation of these three organs refers to “Feline Triaditis”.cat at the veterinary clinic I Love Veterinary

What is the cause of Pancreatitis in Cats?

In most cases, pancreatitis isn’t linked to a specific cause. There are different causes, some of them are:

  • Abdominal trauma: This could involve the recovery from a road traffic accident. 
  • Genetics: Siamese cats are more prone to the condition. 
  • Adverse medication reactions: An example of a drug-associated with pancreatitis in cats is Azathioprine.
  • Infections: May cause pancreatitis in particular feline leukemia virus and feline herpes virus.  
  • Diseases: Such as inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes mellitus.
  • Toxic substances: For example, organophosphates.

Clinical Symptoms of pancreatitis in cats

There are no clinical signs that are specifically related to pancreatitis in cats; therefore, it’s essential to observe the pet and look out for any of the following symptoms:

  • Absent appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, and fever: less common signs of pancreatitis in cats
  • Abdominal pain: this might be difficult to notice as cats are good at hiding discomfort.
  • Jaundice.
  • Coagulation abnormalities. 
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • Acute shocks or sudden death in chronic cases.cat at the veterinarian being examined I Love Veterinary

How is it Diagnosed?

When a case of pancreatitis is suspected, there are a few methods that a veterinarian can use to diagnose pancreatitis.

  • Snap tests for pancreatitis in cats: Feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLI) is known as the most accurate test to determine pancreatitis. It measures a lipase (enzyme) in the blood, and the values increase when there is an inflammation in the pancreas.
  • Abdominal ultrasound: Is another way of diagnosing feline pancreatitis. An ultrasound can show irregular pancreatic margins, hyperechoic fat, and abnormal size and shape of the pancreas.
  • Radiographs and complete blood count: can help with a further study of other concurrent issues, for example, diabetes mellitus.
  • Surgery: Such as exploratory laparotomy to observe any abnormalities.
  • Pancreatic biopsy: This method helps to prove a definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis.

cat with eyeglasses and a book

How is Pancreatitis Treated in Cats?

Treatment will vary depending on the patient and the case of severity, but the following steps are necessary for the successful treatment of pancreatitis:

  • Hospitalization: The condition can rapidly progress, it’s crucial to monitor for any signs of deterioration and restrict physical activity of the cat to allow recovery.
  • Pain relief:  Pain management is an important part of the healing process. Pancreatitis can be painful for cats and may cause lethargy and abdominal pain.
  • IV- Fluid therapy: To treat dehydration in case of vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Antiemetic treatment: To control nausea.
  • Crystalloids: To correct electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhea. 
  • If the cat is not vomiting, nutrition should be moderate in fat and high in proteins.

Additional treatment:

  •  Surgery: In some severe cases, to remove any blockages and accumulation of peritoneal fluid.
  • Treat other concurrent conditions.cat eating kibble I Love Veterinary

Prevention

Prevention of pancreatitis depends on the individual cat. But here are some must-dos to prevent pancreatitis:

  • A high-quality diet can help prevent complications and other diseases. 
  • Avoid contact with toxic drugs and substances.  
  • Regular veterinary examinations.

Summary

Pancreatitis is a severe condition and needs to have a prompt treatment and diagnosis to avoid worsening. The prognosis depends on the severity of the case and complications. It can also affect dogs; if you would like to learn more, we have an article with everything you need to know about pancreatitis in dogs.

Article written by Arais Conde, Vet Tech in Ireland. Find out more about her by visiting her Instagram or Portfolio.