What is pancreatitis in cats?
The pancreas is a digestive organ that sits next to the stomach and produces the enzymes to digest food, as well as the hormone insulin that regulates blood sugar. In pancreatitis the pancreas becomes inflamed and swollen; this can happen suddenly (acute) or can be a more prolonged condition (chronic). In most cases the underlying trigger is unclear and is likely to vary between cats. There is evidence that possible causes include infectious or inflammatory diseases, toxins and trauma.
A cat’s anatomy is different to a dog’s in that they have a common duct (opening) between their pancreas, liver and gut. This means that when there is inflammation or infection in one of these organs, it is likely to spread to the other organs. For instance, if a cat has gastroenteritis, they can be prone to developing pancreatitis. When all three organs are inflamed (pancreas, liver and gut) the condition is called triaditis.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in cats?
The signs of pancreatitis in cats can be very non-specific and variable. They also range from mild to very severe, but typically include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst and urination
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting (but a less common sign in cats than dogs)
- Diarrhoea (but a less common sign in cats than dogs)
- Jaundice if the liver is also affected
It is important to contact your vet straight away if you think your cat may be suffering from pancreatitis as it is a painful condition and can be severe in some cases.
How is pancreatitis in cats diagnosed?
The symptoms of pancreatitis in cats are non-specific and can be quite vague, and it may be confused with gastroenteritis, for example. The vet may be suspicious of the condition particularly if there is significant abdominal pain. In order to reach a definitive diagnosis they will normally recommended blood tests (that include a specific test for pancreatitis) and an abdominal ultrasound scan that can reveal inflammation and swelling in the pancreas. Using the ultrasound scanner, the vet can also check the liver and gut, as these organs are often also affected to a degree.
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How is pancreatitis in cats treated?
Treatment will vary according to the severity of the condition. If your cat is only mildly affected, they are likely to be treated at home using a combination of anti-sickness medication, pain relief, a bland and easily digested diet (this is important) and rest. Some cats will also benefit from vitamin B supplementation, as this can be low if they have concurrent gastrointestinal disease.
In more severe cases, the cat will need to be hospitalised for an intravenous drip, very strong pain relief (usually opioids), anti-sickness medication, tempting to eat and supportive nursing case. It can be very difficult to get some cats eating again, and this period of anorexia can cause more damage to the liver through fatty change. We therefore sometimes have to place feeding tubes to allow us to administer nutrition until their appetite returns and they start eating for themselves again.
Pancreatitis in cats prognosis
Most cats go on to make a full recovery, although some are prone to suffer from recurrent bouts throughout their life. It is important to keep a close eye on your cat as the key is to act early! If you have any concerns then please speak to your vet.