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Pancreatitis in Cats

Feline pancreatitis can be life-threatening.

Pancreatitis is a serious condition in which a cat's pancreas overreacts and begins to digest itself and sometimes surrounding tissues.

What Is Feline Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is an organ in the front of the abdomen, near the left kidney. The feline pancreas produces glucagon, which helps make blood sugar, and insulin, which helps keep blood sugar levels stable. When the cells that produce glucagon and insulin are disturbed, the result is diabetes mellitus.

The pancreas also secretes enzymes into the small intestine which help break down proteins, fats, and carbs. Pancreatitis occurs when these enzymes begin their activity early, before they get to the intestine, leading to breakdown of the pancreas itself and surrounding tissue.

What Causes Pancreatitis in Cats?

The cause of feline pancreatitis isn't known. However, scientists believe that it may be triggered by some or all of the following:

What Are the Signs of Pancreatitis in Cats?

Cats suffering from pancreatitis may show some or all of these signs:

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased or absent appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Jaundice

Note: Dogs with pancreatitis often have vomiting and show pain when their abdomen is touched. However, cats don't often show those two signs; they usually have much more vague signs of pancreatitis than dogs.

How Is Feline Pancreatitis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of pancreatitis in cats begins with a history of clinical signs conducive to it. The veterinarian will probably then perform bloodwork, which may show nonspecific CBC changes and possibly increased liver values. X-rays may rule out other causes of lethargy and inappetence, and an ultrasound may show vague increased opaqueness around the pancreas and possibly mild free fluid in the abdomen.

Feline pancreatitis may be diagnosed with a surgical biopsy, which is not often done because cats suffering from this illness are usually quite sick and not good candidates for anesthesia and surgery.

A spec fPL test (feline pancreas-specific lipase) may be run by certain labs, and most veterinarians consider this to be a good diagnostic test for feline pancreatitis.

Treatment of Pancreatitis in Cats

Cats that are presumed to be suffering from pancreatitis are treated with supportive care. Hospitalization for IV fluids, pain medications, and other medications as indicated and sometimes the placement of a stomach tube for feeding may all be performed.

Prognosis for Cats with Pancreatitis

Some cats with pancreatitis may die suddenly due to an acute case of the illness. Others might get better but then relapse with another bout later. Still other cats might improve but have a low-grade chronic pancreatitis after the first acute occurrence.

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