Pancreatitis used to more commonly inflict dogs, but the diagnosis is on the rise in cats.
Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition of the pancreas, an organ near the stomach and liver. The pancreas is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels and the production of enzymes needed to digest food. The causes of pancreatitis are not known. Chronic pancreatitis is thought to be due to chronic inflammation. An acute case of pancreatitis is believed to be caused by trauma, an acute systemic infection or getting hit by a car. In dogs, pancreatitis is usually caused by a high-fat diet, this doesn’t appear to be true for cats.
Pancreatitis in cats is an under recognized and under diagnosed disorder for two reasons. The symptoms are vague and (as of right now) there are little (but not none) cat-specific testing protocols. With dogs, they tend to vomit and their abdomen is painful. In other words, you can tell that your dog is in pain and where it’s coming from. For cats, who are very good at hiding any kind of illness, they typically tend to get lethargic and lose weight. Some cats suffering from pancreatitis do vomit, but they rarely experience abdominal tenderness.
For a vet to diagnose pancreatitis in your cat, he will need a full patient history and perform a thorough physical exam. If your vet practices acupuncture, he may notice a tensing or change in heart rate if he activates the pancreatic point. An inflamed pancreas can be visible on an ultrasound. Or, there are cat-specific blood tests that can help to determine how the pancreas is doing.
The prognosis of cats affected with pancreatitis varies. An acute case of pancreatitis has the poorest prognosis as the cat will need intensive care in the hospital. The chronic form of pancreatitis offers better odds, but is dependent on how well the cat responds to treatment and if the feline has developed other diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease.
The treatment of chronic pancreatitis include maintaining hydration levels (either through intravenous or subcutaneous fluids), providing antiemetics if vomiting occurs and pain medications. If your cat comes through the disorder, a change in diet and vigilant observation will be undertaken next since these are the best options for keeping chronic pancreatitis manageable. A special food isn’t necessary, but a nutritious, consistent, reliable diet is essential. Keeping a careful eye on your cat will make it easier to spot problems and get him back to the vet before problems worsen.
Rarely, chronic pancreatitis can lead to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). EPI is categorized by manic eating, weight loss and extremely foul-smelling poop or diarrhea. EPI is usually caused by insufficient production or release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. This causes the pancreas to break down and the body is unable to properly digest food. This is why a common precursor to EPI is pancreatitis. Rarer causes of EPI are obstructions of pancreatic ducts due to tumor formations or parasitic infections. EPI is not curable, but treatments are quite successful with the supplementation of pancreatic enzymes from cows or pigs. (There are powders and capsules you can purchase that contain the enzymes or get a cow or pig pancreas from your butcher.) Most cats respond to the enzyme supplementation within a week.
Again, EPI is a very rare disorder and even finding information on it is not easy. Awareness is steadily growing though.