Pancreatitis in Cats: A Serious and Potentially Life-Threatening Disease

pancreatitis-in-cats

The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen located very close to the stomach, intestines and liver. It produces insulin which is necessary for keeping the body’s blood sugar stable. It also produces enzymes necessary for the proper digestion of food. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, digestive enzymes are  activated within the pancreas and the pancreas basically begins to “eat/dissolve” itself. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic.

Causes

Not much is known about what causes pancreatitis in cats. The consensus among conventional veterinarians is that there is no known cause. It is believed that trauma, a viral or parasitic infection, or exposure to toxins may cause pancreatitis in some cats. Holistic veterinarians believe that there may be a connection between gastro-intestinal inflammation and pancreatitis, possibly caused by biologically inapprorpriate ingredients in highly processed commercial cat foods.

Symptoms

The most common signs of pancreatitis are lethargy and lack of appetite. Other symptoms include weight loss and dehyndration. Less than 50% of cats with pancreatitis vomit or show signs of abdominal discomfort. Some cats will have a fever or become jaundiced, but that’s fairly rare.

Diagnosis

Since there are no clear, overt symptoms, the cat’s veterinarian will need to run tests to make a conclusive diagnosis. Tests may include bloodwork, urinalysis, x-rays and/or ultrasound, and possibly a biopsy.

Treatment

Treatment focuses on correcting dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, both of which are common in cats with pancreatitis. Cats may be given intravenous or subcutaneous fluids. Depending on the severity of the condition, cats may need nutritional support via a feeding tube. Additional treatment will vary depending on any underlying conditions and may include pain medications, antibiotics or steroids.

Prognosis

The prognosis is very variable depending on the severity of the case. Unfortunately, pancreatitis in cats is often chronic and will most likely recur over time. If enough pancreatic tissue is damaged, secondary complications can occur. One is diabetes, as the insulin producing cells are damaged, another is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, as the cells that make digestive enzymes are damaged. In severe cases, the bile duct becomes obstructed.

Can pancreatitis be prevented?

Since so little is known about the causes of this condition, there are no definitive recommendations on how to prevent the condition. Since digestive enzymes play such an important part in a cat’s general health, supplementing your cat’s diet with a good enzyme product may help reduce the pancreas’ workload and reduce the risk of further episodes of pancreatitis.

While chronic pancreatitis is more common, the acute form can be life-threatening, and early diagnosis and treatment are critical.

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12 Comments on Pancreatitis in Cats: A Serious and Potentially Life-Threatening Disease

  1. Tina H
    November 20, 2016 at 11:21 am (3 months ago)

    Unfortunately my beloved 8-year-old cat McLuhan (we called him “Kitty”) passed away from an acute case of pancreatitis a few months ago. The criticalist who took care of him in the emergency clinic believed he had not been diagnosed the year before by my vet, when Kitty had a week-long spell of vomiting and zero appetite which cleared up all by itself (I now regret not taking him in for testing after it cleared up, but as you’ll see I don’t think my vet would have been able to diagnose him anyway). A month before my cat died, he developed eosinophilic granulomas (aka “rodent ulcers”) and it didn’t seem to clear up despite all the tests and meds. (Note: such ulcers have NOTHING to do with pancreatitis. It was a red herring.) Then over the course of that month he started becoming a bit lethargic, but we didn’t really notice it. Otherwise, he was himself. No vomiting, no lack of appetite (except ONE day a few days before it all went downhill — but then he ate again). In that month period, the ulcers weren’t clearing up and so we were trying different things to eliminate the problem — e.g. he might have developed an allergy or sensitivity, so I changed our laundry/dish detergent brands, bought him new water/food bowls, etc. Unfortunately, he’d always been picky about his water bowl, and he refused to drink out of the new one. In kittenhood he had trained me to turn on the tap for him so he still had a source of water, but I don’t think it was enough. I think possible dehydration over the last week or two lead to his undiagnosed pancreatitis becoming severe. It was only THREE days before he died that he started showing definitive symptoms. He went from being Kitty to a cat I barely recognized. He kept throwing up and looked extremely ill. It looked like he had given up, and was too sick to be anything but sick. He peed himself and didn’t clean his fur. He just sat in his stink, looking miserable. There were many distressing signs that showed up in this very short 24-hour period. The vet was too slow in getting tests and procedures done–to him, the blood work checked out–so I rushed Kitty to the emergency vet clinic where an ultrasound finally showed he had a severe case of pancreatitis. He was hospitalized for a couple of days but unfortunately his kidneys gave out and he had only hours left to live before we euthanized him. It all happened so fast.

    There was one warning sign that I didn’t pay enough attention to in that month between him developing the strange lip ulcers and his death: lethargy. The thing is, my cat has always been an extremely curious, energetic and playful cat. It’s not that he STOPPED being playful during this time, but I did notice he was spending more time napping than he used to. But when I fussed over him he put on a brave face and romped around with me as if nothing was amiss. Cats will do anything to hide signs of illness—it’s instinctual. In the wild, hiding signs of weakness helps cats survive from predators. In retrospect, I know that I’m still guilting myself for not doing enough when in reality pancreatitis can be extremely difficult to diagnose and the symptoms are unpredictable.

    The reason I’m leaving this comment is so that any cat owner reading this entry can know that sometimes the signs of pancreatitis are so hard to miss that you may be losing critical time in getting the cat diagnosed and treated. In my case, the case was too severe and my beloved cat died. He was only eight years old. Diagnosis is difficult for vets, too, because often the blood work doesn’t quite spell it out. I can’t blame my vet and yet… I still do.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 20, 2016 at 12:43 pm (3 months ago)

      I’m so sorry about Kitty, Tina. Thank you for sharing your experience. It really illustrates what a complex disease this is. I hope you’ll stop feeling guilty eventually, but I know it’s impossible to not second guess yourself after such a terrible loss.

      Reply
  2. Katie
    November 7, 2016 at 3:59 pm (4 months ago)

    This is a very timely article for me as my 17 year old cat was diagnosed with this last week. I had been out of town for a few days and when I got home I noticed that he wasn’t eating. My cat sitter wouldn’t have noticed this since he hides when she is there. After taking him my vet and getting a blood test, they said it was Pancreatitis. He was given sub-Q fluids, anti-nausea meds, antibiotic shot, appetite stimulant and pain meds. He bounced back after a few days and is back to himself and eating normally.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2016 at 5:22 pm (4 months ago)

      I’m so glad he’s doing better, Katie!

      Reply
  3. NancyE
    November 7, 2016 at 11:48 am (4 months ago)

    I have a cat who I’ve been treating for chronic pancreatitis for a month shy of two years. At the beginning, my vet put him on IV fluids for two days. Unfortunately after the first day he had a urinary blockage and we ran to the emergency vet that night – but that was a blip, of course. Long-term we’ve had him on Cerenia 5 days a week for inflammation and nausea, Dexamethasone every other day for inflammation and asthma, Buprenorphine gel for pain, and he gets melatonin at night – I confess I don’t know what that is for, although I know it’s a sleep aid. And he gets a B-12 shot every 4 weeks. At any rate, I think it’s given him a very good quality of life.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2016 at 5:20 pm (4 months ago)

      It sounds like you’re doing everything you can for him, Nancy. Sounds like he’s doing well!

      Reply
  4. Janine
    November 7, 2016 at 9:06 am (4 months ago)

    Thank you for the information!

    Reply
  5. Sue Brandes
    November 7, 2016 at 8:31 am (4 months ago)

    Thank you for the post.

    Reply
  6. Fur Everywhere
    November 7, 2016 at 7:45 am (4 months ago)

    Carmine has chronic pancreatitis, and it has taken us a long time to figure out a good combination of medications for him. Great information. Thank you for sharing this, Ingrid!

    Reply
  7. Les
    November 7, 2016 at 5:47 am (4 months ago)

    Thank you Ingrid, what a frightening disease. What are the symptoms that owners can keep an eye out for?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2016 at 6:04 am (4 months ago)

      See the article for symptoms, Les.

      Reply
  8. Raine
    November 7, 2016 at 2:05 am (4 months ago)

    This is definitely not an illness I’ve given any thought to in respect to cats. Hopefully I never have to deal with this with one of my guys. Thank you for the information and I’m going to start them on the enzymes -better safe than sorry.

    Reply

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