The pancreas may not be a well-known organ like the heart or liver, nor possess an iconic shape like the kidneys, or the intestines. Most of the time the pancreas goes unnoticed—however, when inflamed, this small organ can turn on the body, and destroy it from the inside out. 

Pancreatic inflammation in cats (i.e., pancreatitis)—like the pancreas itself—is a condition that can fly under the radar, or come roaring in like a rampaging lion. The nonspecific signs and often unknown cause are frustrating for veterinarians and cat owners alike. How can you prevent a  painful, potentially deadly condition that you can’t explain?  

With pancreatitis, the best thing you can do is bring your cat to Just Cats Clinic for routine exams and bloodwork, and educate yourself on this painful and dangerous condition. 

Normal pancreatic function in cats

For its unobtrusive nature, the pancreas carries out critical work manufacturing products for the body’s essential functions. The first are insulin and glucagon, metabolic hormones that regulate blood sugar. The second are a collection of digestive enzymes that are sent through a duct to the small intestine, where they break down proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates. 

Pancreatitis in cats

When pancreatic inflammation occurs, digestive enzymes—which are usually inert until they reach the small intestine—are activated. The irritating enzymes begin to digest the pancreas itself, causing swelling, bleeding, organ damage, and tissue death. The enzymes exit the pancreas to the bloodstream and abdominal cavity, creating widespread inflammation, and attacking the nearby liver.

Pancreatitis causes in cats

Unfortunately, 90 to 95 percent of pancreatitis cases are idiopathic, meaning their cause is unknown. While dogs can experience pancreatitis after consuming rich or fatty foods, a dietary link is not suspected in cats. Several conditions that increase the likelihood of feline pancreatitis include:

  • Inflammatory diseases — Cats with inflammatory bowel disease or cholangitis are often predisposed to pancreatitis
  • Trauma — Blunt impact to the abdomen, such as a fall from height
  • Infectious disease — Especially feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Parasites — Specifically, toxoplasma
  • Toxins —Exposure  to organophosphate insecticides
  • Medications — Some medications have been proven to cause pancreatitis in humans and dogs, and are best avoided in cats.

Pancreatitis signs in cats

Pancreatitis may occur as an acute or chronic condition. Acute pancreatitis is more noticeable and progresses more quickly, while chronic cases may go undetected until a flare occurs (i.e., acute-on-chronic). In either case, signs are nonspecific, and may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Weight loss
  • Fever or hypothermia
  • Vomiting 
  • Abdominal pain

If your cat is experiencing any of these signs, or behaving abnormally, schedule an appointment at Just Cats Clinic. Pancreatitis is not a wait-and-see condition, and should not be treated with over-the-counter or at-home therapies. 

Pancreatitis diagnosis in cats

Our veterinarians will examine your cat, review their history and clinical signs, and recommend an ultrasound and bloodwork to image the pancreas, and determine a diagnosis. Pancreatitis is commonly diagnosed using a blood test called a Spec FPL, which looks for elevations of lipase (i.e., a digestive enzyme).

Pancreatitis treatment in cats

Pancreatitis treatment depends on the severity of your cat’s clinical signs and test results. If bloodwork suggests liver or kidney damage, or widespread inflammation, aggressive supportive care is required, to prevent further injury or death. Treatment focuses on addressing the cause, if known, resolving clinical signs, and preventing long-term damage.

Cats with moderate to severe pancreatitis are hospitalized and given intravenous fluids, to correct dehydration, improve pancreatic blood flow, and remove toxins. Pain and anti-nausea medications are administered to control vomiting and discomfort. Restoring the cat’s appetite is always a priority—the sooner a cat eats, the better their prognosis.

Pancreatitis prognosis in cats

Cats with mild or acute pancreatitis who recover after treatment are likely to have a good long-range outcome, although they may experience pancreatitis again in the future. Chronically affected cats may require medication or diet change, to control potential flare-ups. Severely ill cats, or cats with pancreatitis-induced organ damage, have a guarded to poor outcome. 

Pancreatitis prevention and risk reduction in cats

Without a known cause for most cases, prevention is nearly impossible. Fortunately, cat owners who are knowledgeable about their cat’s condition become vigilant caretakers, and bring in their cat for prompt treatment at the first hint of trouble.

Routine preventive care at Just Cats Clinic will optimize your cat’s health and identify pancreatitis in its earliest stages, when treatment and prognosis are more successful. Take these additional precautions, to reduce your cat’s risk: 

  • Follow your veterinarian’s care recommendations for other conditions, such as IBD or liver disease
  • Do not use organophosphate-containing pesticides in cat areas, and store them out of reach
  • Never give your cat non-veterinary-prescribed medication
  • Keep your cat at a healthy weight, because obese cats are more likely to suffer from pancreatitis. If you need help with a weight loss plan, talk to your veterinarian.

While you cannot know if your cat will suffer from pancreatitis, disease awareness and general knowledge can improve their chances for a successful recovery. If you think your cat may be suffering from pancreatitis, schedule an appointment at Just Cats Clinic.