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Pancreatitis in Cats

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Detecting and Treating Pancreatitis in Cats _ ASPCA Pet Health Insurance _ tabby cat playing with a gray mouse toy

Pancreatitis can be a life-threatening condition for cats, and it can come on suddenly. It’s good to know the symptoms, so you can get your cat the medical care they need as soon as possible.

What is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is a small but vital organ that aids in the digestive process. It is located on the right side of a cat’s abdomen, next to their stomach. The pancreas produces insulin, which helps the body metabolize glucose or sugar. It also secretes enzymes into the small intestine to help break down food after it has passed through the stomach.

What Causes Pancreatitis in Cats?

Pancreatitis happens when the pancreas becomes inflamed, and the pancreatic tissue leaks digestive enzymes. With a normal, healthy pancreas, enzymes are activated once they reach the small intestine. However, in the case of pancreatitis, enzymes become activated prematurely, when they are still located in the pancreas.

Pancreatitis can also affect the liver, kidneys, and intestines since they are so close to the pancreas.

Pancreatitis can eventually lead to bleeding, shock, and even death.

Triggers of Pancreatitis

The exact determinant of pancreatitis is not known, but there are a number of triggers that can cause inflammation of the pancreas. These include:

  • Infections
  • Diseases, such as diabetes
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Medications
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Trauma to the abdominal area
  • Triaditis, which is an inflammatory liver or intestinal disease

It’s also thought that a diet high in fat can contribute to pancreatitis, which makes it all the more important to feed your cat healthy and nutritious foods.

woman cuddling a cat on her lap

Healthy Diet Tips for Cats

Cats should be given a high-quality cat food that’s appropriate for their age to help avoid conditions like pancreatitis. Either dry or wet food or a combination of both is typically fine for most felines, although older cats may do better with wet food.

In addition, you can supplement their diet with cat safe fruits and veggies, bits of tuna, or pieces of skinless, cooked chicken or turkey. Cats also love treats but keep in mind they often contain lots of fats and sugars that can contribute to obesity and related health issues, like heart disease and joint issues. A few treats are fine but don’t go overboard.

Even if your cat is on a healthy diet, don’t forget about exercise. Cats need to get in some activity every day to help maintain their weight and overall health. You can help your cat get moving by playing an interactive game with a safe toy or starting up a game of chase with a catnip-filled ball.

If you have any questions about a healthy diet or exercise routine for your cat, be sure to talk with a veterinarian. They can offer weight loss advice that is suited to your cat’s specific needs.

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Cats?

Pancreatitis can happen to cats of any breed or age, although cats with certain conditions, like diabetes, may be more at risk. There are a number of clinical signs that can indicate pancreatitis in cats, such as:

  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Swelling and tenderness of the abdomen

Some of these symptoms can be caused by other issues, like an intestinal obstruction or exposure to a toxic plant or other harmful substances.

It has also been found that oftentimes pancreatitis in cats is accompanied by other diseases, such as liver disease, or fatty liver disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. In any case, it’s best to get your cat to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

white kitten with green eyes lying on its back

How is it Diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will likely gather information about your cat’s medical history, perform a physical exam, conduct a blood test, and perform an ultrasound. X-rays do not typically show abnormalities of the pancreas, but they may be done to rule out other illnesses.

A biopsy is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis. However, your veterinarian may not recommend a biopsy depending on the age and condition of your cat. In some cases, it’s better to start treatment for pancreatitis without putting the cat through this invasive procedure.

Although your veterinarian can perform procedures to help with the diagnosis, pancreatitis has been known to be a difficult disease to diagnose. Many veterinarians do rely on the symptoms a cat is portraying in order to make a diagnosis conclusively. Because of this, it is important to take note of any behavior or health changes your cat may be experiencing and relay these concerns to your veterinarian.

Can it be Treated?

For feline pancreatitis, there is no magic pill that can cure this disease, but there are treatments that can help alleviate the symptoms. Initially, a cat with pancreatitis may need to be hospitalized and receive stabilizing treatments, such as fluid therapy and a feeding tube, if the cat is unable or refusing to eat. Medications for pain, inflammation, and nausea may also be prescribed.

The prognosis for cats with pancreatitis varies depending on the severity of the condition and the overall health of the cat.

Some cats do very well and appear to recover completely, while others need ongoing care. In a case of mild pancreatitis, many cats can be treated by simply resting their pancreas, thus allowing their body to virtually heal itself. This resting period is achieved by withholding oral fluids and food. In cases of acute or chronic pancreatitis, the cat will probably have recurrences, and the symptoms may flare up in response to stressful changes in the cat’s routine. For instance, a cat may become symptomatic due to:

  • The arrival of a baby, which can mean a lot of noise and chaos in the home, as well as less time and attention for kitty
  • Moving to a new home or apartment
  • The addition of a dog, cat, or other pet in the home
  • An important person in their life moving out of the house, like a teen going off to college
  • More time spent alone, such as when children in the house go back to school, or the cat parent gets a new job with different hours

While most cats will recover from pancreatitis without any long-term or lasting effects, cats who experienced a worse case of pancreatitis will be at a higher risk of developing a resultant health problem. In order to catch potential issues early on, it’s essential to take note of any changes to your cat’s eating, sleeping, or playing behaviors.

Medications to control symptoms of pancreatitis may need to be adjusted during these times of stress. If your cat has a flare-up, contact your veterinarian immediately. Remember: never give your cat any medication without professional medical advice. Human anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers, including Aspirin, Tylenol, and Advil, can be very toxic to cats.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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