If there was an award for “difficult feline disease,” feline pancreatitis would be on the list. It’s hard to diagnose, hard to treat, and hard to pinpoint what’s causing it. Feline pancreatitis is relatively rare, reportedly affecting less than 2% of cats.
Although the disease is rare, it is very serious and can be fatal, so it’s important for cat parents to learn more about feline pancreatitis and how to treat it.
Quick Overview: Pancreatitis in Felines
other names: pancreas inflammation
common symptoms: Vomiting, weight loss, loss of appetite (anorexia), abdominal pain, diarrhea.
diagnosis: General blood work, especially measurement of serum pancreatic amylase and lipase, feline-specific pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLI), ultrasound, X-ray. Due to its invasive nature, pancreatic biopsy is rarely used.
diagnosed as a cat: often
need to continue taking medication: No
available vaccines: No
Treatment programs: The mainstay of treatment consists of anti-nausea/vomiting drugs, appetite stimulant drugs, pain relievers, and fluid therapy. In mild cases, subcutaneous fluids may be sufficient, but more severe cases may require intravenous fluids.
home remedies: Small, frequent meals and encouraging eating are critical to recovery.
What exactly is the pancreas? The pancreas is known to secrete insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. However, the pancreas is more than just an insulin-secreting machine.
This oddly shaped organ is located under the stomach on the right side of the body. From a functional point of view, the pancreas has two parts: endocrine and exocrine. The endocrine part secretes insulin. The exocrine portion secretes digestive enzymes that travel down the small intestine to help break down food.
These digestive enzymes are so potent that the pancreas hides them and keeps them still until they reach the small intestine. This is important to remember when we talk about what happens during pancreatitis.
Causes of Pancreatitis in Felines
Although there are multiple potential etiologies of feline pancreatitis, the etiology is unknown in most cases (>90%). Some potential causes include severe blunt trauma (fall from a height), infectious diseases (toxoplasmosis, feline infectious peritonitis), and adverse drug reactions.
How does pancreatitis happen?
Although the exact cause of pancreatitis in cats remains unknown, we do know what happens when the pancreas becomes inflamed: Those digestive enzymes that are safely tucked away activate prematurely and start attacking the pancreas.
These enzymes don’t just work on the pancreas, though. In severe cases of feline pancreatitis, these enzymes attack the liver and, rarely, the brain and lungs. In short, enzymes can wreak all kinds of havoc on the body.
symptoms of pancreatitis
With all this physical devastation, you’d think an affected cat would be visibly sick. Well, that wasn’t always the case. Some cats don’t have any or only mild symptoms of pancreatitis. Other cats were very ill. Additionally, feline pancreatitis tends to be chronic, occurring periodically throughout the cat’s life.
Symptoms of feline pancreatitis are often vague and nonspecific:
Vomiting and abdominal pain may also be present, but are less common than the other symptoms.
In severe cases, cats may become jaundiced (yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes) and may be in shock.
Diagnosis of pancreatitis
Because the symptoms of pancreatitis are so vague, your veterinarian will need to run several diagnostic tests to figure out exactly what’s going on with your cat.
Unfortunately, basic diagnostic tests (routine blood work, x-rays, abdominal ultrasonography) often fail to indicate pancreatitis in one way or another. They may indicate that something is not normal, but do not specifically indicate that the cat has pancreatitis.
Pancreatic biopsy is helpful in diagnosis. However, taking a biopsy can further inflame the pancreas, making pancreatitis worse. Also, if the cat is already very ill, anesthetizing them for a biopsy could put their life in jeopardy.
The most definitive diagnostic test for feline pancreatitis is a blood test called the feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLI) test – quite a lot!
The test measures levels of lipase, a digestive enzyme released by the pancreas. Even though the test is highly accurate in diagnosing feline pancreatitis, the results need to be evaluated along with all other diagnostic and physical examination findings to make a final diagnosis.
Treating pancreatitis in cats is supportive care. Of course, it would be ideal to identify and eliminate the root cause, but in many cases this is not possible. According to the Natural Medicine Library, the survival rate for feline pancreatitis is estimated to be about 77%.
One aspect of supportive care for feline pancreatitis is intravenous fluid therapy.
This rehydrates the cat’s body, flushes inflammatory chemicals from the body, and ensures adequate blood flow to and through the pancreas.
For vomiting cats, it is traditionally recommended to “rest” the pancreas by depriving food and water for 2-3 days.
However, there is a new idea that the GI tract heals better when food passes through it. If the veterinarian decides to stop feeding and drinking, the cat must start eating again after the rest period. This is because cats who do not eat for several days develop a fatty liver (fatty liver syndrome). You certainly don’t want your cat to develop another serious medical condition besides pancreatitis.
Read more: Top 5 Best Cat Foods for Pancreatitis
Appetite-stimulating drugs can improve appetite in sick cats.
If none of these work, a feeding tube is needed. Either way, cats with pancreatitis need nutritional support to regain strength and avoid hepatic fatty deposits.
Along with these supportive measures, pain relievers can be taken to relieve abdominal pain.
A cat may not exhibit pain, but it may be present and require treatment. Anti-nausea medications may also be given.
Cats with mild disease or no symptoms do not need all of these supportive treatments. For these cats, a diet with high-quality protein and moderate fat, and perhaps some probiotics, is usually all that is needed. However, if they refuse to eat, they may need an appetite stimulant.
Mild pancreatitis has a good prognosis, while severe pancreatitis has a poor prognosis.
Cats who have recovered from their first episode of pancreatitis may experience it again. Unfortunately, chronic pancreatitis damages the pancreas more and more over time, leading to a decline in pancreatic function. Additionally, chronic pancreatitis puts cats at risk for other diseases such as fatty liver, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Feline pancreatitis is a serious disease that is difficult to diagnose and treat. Depending on the severity of the disease, a sick cat may require rigorous veterinary treatment.
Although it can be difficult to know if your cat has pancreatitis, it is best to take your cat to the veterinarian if you notice any symptoms of pancreatitis (anorexia, lethargy, etc.). Your veterinarian will do everything in his power to return your cat to good health and good health.
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