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 inappropriate 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 dehydration. 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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23 Comments on Pancreatitis in Cats: A Serious and Potentially Life-Threatening Disease

  1. Amber
    January 10, 2021 at 4:11 am (5 months ago)

    I really appreciate all of the comments here. Like many others here I too have felt an immense sense of guilt surrounding the death of my cat, although the vet assures me I did nothing wrong. They also suspected he may have had lymphoma. It has been very difficult to come to terms with as he got sick the same night I left to visit family for Christmas and he was 100% his normal self when I left. Even in the beginning when he was unwell and my housesitter took him to the vet and they started doing tests I never imagined he would not survive whatever was going on. I made a decision to fly back as I thought I would need to care for him, unfortunately the day after I got back I had to make the heartwrenching descion to put him to sleep because he was not responding to treatment (possibly makes sense if it was pancreatitis associated with lymphoma). My heart is so broken from this and 2.5 weeks later it still feels so surreal. I am just so glad I go back in time to say goodbye. My heart goes out to anyone else reading this going through the same thing.

    Reply
    • Jill
      January 23, 2021 at 9:42 pm (5 months ago)

      Amber, I am so incredibly sorry for the loss of your kitty.
      My cat is 11 and was just diagnosed with pancreatitis back in September 2020. She has also had asthma for over 5 years. We were medicating her to treat both… the asthma was under control, and I thought the newer pancreatitis was as well.
      Just this past Thursday, she began acting funny. Uncomfortable… pacing… diarrhea right in the middle of the floor (she is a very waste conscious kitty, I knew something was very wrong). I called the vet and they saw her that night. She ended up spending overnight at a veterinary hospital, where she was also diagnosed with IBD.
      She was discharged last night and I didnt expect her to bounce back right away.. but she is drinking with her entire chin in her bowl, and when I went to check out how she was doing sitting by her favorite heating vet, I saw that she had clear discharge falling out of her nose. I cannot imagine this is a happy way for her to live, and I told the vet to not be afraid to tell me if it’s time to let her go.
      They seem to think she will be okay, but I truly dont think she is content. I want to give it another day but I feel as though her time is close. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope mine makes sense – I feel as though I’m talking in circles because my mind is all over the place. Love to you and your angel kitty.

      Reply
  2. Sheila Soto
    June 18, 2020 at 7:28 am (1 year ago)

    My 14 yr old Tiger Boy, was just diagnosed today with ACute SEVERE Pancreatitis with possible IBD inflamed Bowel disease. MyVet of 19 yrs was not in & I was concerned of the New Vet but WoW! She really was Proactive, He was immediately tested for Acute Pancreatitis by all the tests needed FMT Specific Enzyme, Lab work was surprisingly normal , Since the Pancreas produces Insulin & digestive enzymes, she treated for both. She has said he is the worse case she has ever seen, but he is Tough Guy. So is wait & see, if he can overcome. How he let me know was he came to me, looked me in the eye & cried, he couldn’t lay down to cuddle as we always do, as his back hurt too much & his gait was almost sideways. He did this about every 5 min.after laying best he could beside me. After 5 times of this I called the Vet & begged to work him in & gratefully they did. He is on Cephalosporins a great broad spectrum, Dextromethorphan, an old dependable steroid, Enzyme meds to stimulate diet & replacement, Iv’s hydration, This Vet is Textbook Classic, how Lucky R we, Thank U Lord! Now is wait & see.He will be in hospital till Friday & only hope I can maintain him at home. I am A Ret.CC Nurse of 30 yrs but when it comes to my Beloved pets everything is A learning Process ! I applaud & have learned much from all Your wonderful knowledge & care to Your Loved Pets, Am so sorry for the losses & fear we may be in that status , too ! Always for my Patients in the Hospitals in Ultimate Danger & dying , Prayed they would not suffer & do the same for my Pets as Many Dr’s would say, It’s “All in God’s Hands Now” It gave us Peace. I truly believe Quality not Quantity is most important When the Time Comes To Love Enough to Let them Go. So We shall See What today Brings ! BTW Did U know Cats can say 36 words, well I at least got Tiger to say “MAMA” every morning when he wakes me up at 2 am, it took 6 mos to train, the book didn’t say how to teach time! God Bless U All & No matter WHAT We R & Were Loved Unconditionally !!!! Sheila

    Reply
    • Sheila Soto
      June 22, 2020 at 5:21 am (12 months ago)

      Tiger was put down due to advanced situation of his Health, I Will Love & miss Him Forever, Thank You!

      Reply
  3. Barbara Sprinkle
    January 24, 2018 at 1:56 am (3 years ago)

    My kitty will be 14 in March and was diagnosed with possible pancreatitis. Her blood work doesn’t show it but an ultrasound shows suspicion. All the symptoms mentioned by others are hers right on. Bless her heart, she still purrs when I hold her and love on her. But I can tell she doesn’t feel well and her eyes look sad. She also started walking a bit funny . . . almost like her rear end waddles. I wonder if that’s part of it too? Or is she just getting weak? My heart is breaking tonight. We’ve already spent over $1100 and don’t seem to be any better.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 24, 2018 at 6:44 am (3 years ago)

      I’m so sorry about your kitty, Barbara. Hind end weakness can be caused by a number of conditions, if you haven’t already mentioned it to your vet, please do so as soon as possible.

      Reply
  4. Amanda
    October 28, 2017 at 10:29 am (4 years ago)

    My 7-year old cat, Einstein, has just been diagnosed with pancreatitis. He has been vomiting once or twice a week for a couple of months but otherwise seemed normal and has been eating. However, I lost his sister to pancreatitis 6 months ago so forced the vets to run tests, which ultimately confirmed his diagnosis with the fpL test. Upon diagnosis, he had slight anemia and elevated glucose, but everything else in the blood and urinalysis was normal. The vet gave him an antibiotic shot (Convenia) and sent me with famotidine to give him every other day and told me to come back in two weeks. Hydration is challenging to follow, but I tried pulling his skin and it pops back into place (and I feed him wet food). Is there anything else I should be doing???? Pressure the vet to put him on fluids?? Digestive enzymes?? I am nervous to watch him decline and don’t know what to do at this point.

    Reply
  5. Tina H
    November 20, 2016 at 11:21 am (5 years 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 (5 years 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
    • Kat
      October 27, 2017 at 8:37 am (4 years ago)

      Tina..I’m so very sorry for your loss. My beautiful boy Riku was diagnosed with this horrible puzzle of a disease 2 months and I have been caring for him, feeding tube, meds, etc….every time we had a bad day I called the vet who assured me to keep moving forward as Riku”s heart was good, no liver damage, etc… the past 2 days were difficult ones. Laying in litter box, diarrhea, vomiting. I went to get his food ready around 4am this morning..told him I’d be right back. I can back in a few minutes and he had taken his last breath without me to comfort him, in a litter pan. He was 8. I cant wrap my head around it when the vet told me he would recover. My beautiful boy is gone from a disease Noone understands My sweet boy and I feel like I failed him.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        October 27, 2017 at 9:08 am (4 years ago)

        Oh Kat, I’m so sorry. My heart is breaking for you.

        Reply
      • Jill
        April 15, 2020 at 4:51 pm (1 year ago)

        Kat and Tina,
        I have experienced this very thing with my sweet Lola. She was 13. I had been treating her at the Vet for several months also. She still passed suddenly we have a huge hole in our hearts. I also feel the tremendous feeling like I failed her. This may be the hardes part of all. I take some comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my sad feelings about the guilt of not being able to help her. Thank you so very much for sharing! I feel for you and I am so sorry for your losses. Cats are so special.

        Reply
    • Judy
      August 9, 2019 at 11:06 am (2 years ago)

      Tina, thank you for sharing your story about Kitty. I went thru the exact same thing 2 weeks ago. My cat was hospitalized for 4 days. Came home and then he went downhill. He also had stones in his pancreases. He was 10 years old. It’s so so sad and hurts. He was in so much pain. I miss and love Luke.

      Reply
  6. Katie
    November 7, 2016 at 3:59 pm (5 years 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 (5 years ago)

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

      Reply
  7. NancyE
    November 7, 2016 at 11:48 am (5 years 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 (5 years ago)

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

      Reply
  8. Janine
    November 7, 2016 at 9:06 am (5 years ago)

    Thank you for the information!

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

    Thank you for the post.

    Reply
  10. Fur Everywhere
    November 7, 2016 at 7:45 am (5 years 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
  11. Les
    November 7, 2016 at 5:47 am (5 years 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 (5 years ago)

      See the article for symptoms, Les.

      Reply
  12. Raine
    November 7, 2016 at 2:05 am (5 years 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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