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Pancreatitis in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, Warning Signs

Pancreatitis in cats can be a challenging condition to manage and treat, and it can be life threatening if not addressed properly. It can often be seen alongside other conditions, making diagnosis more difficult. Prolonged hospital stays or daily medications may be required to help your cat improve. Watching your beloved cat become seriously unwell in a short space of time can be heartbreaking.

Table of Contents

  • What is Pancreatitis in Cats
  • Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Cats
  • Understanding the Difference Between Pancreatitis and Other Conditions
  • Causes of Pancreatitis in Cats
  • Cat Breeds Prone to Pancreatitis
  • Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Cats
  • Treatment for Pancreatitis in Cats
  • Long-Term Management and Prognosis
  • End-of-Life Considerations
  • FAQs

What is Pancreatitis in Cats

Pancreatitis in cats is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a small organ in the abdomen near the small intestines with two main functions. Firstly, it produces hormones (Insulin and glucagon) which can cause diseases such as diabetes mellitus and, secondly, producing enzymes to help digestion. It can often be seen with liver and intestinal inflammation, known as triaditis (three organs affected). In feline pancreatitis, the enzymes assisting digestion can be released in the pancreas itself, causing inflammation and self-digestion of the pancreas. However, in cats there is no known trigger, and it often can occur spontaneously.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Cats

There can be a wide range of symptoms of pancreatitis in cats including vomiting, lethargy, decreased appetite, nausea, weight loss, diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain. In very severe cases death can occur. There are both acute and chronic forms of the condition, although it is usually classified depending upon clinical signs and timeframes.

Understanding the Difference Between Feline Pancreatitis and Other Conditions

Lots of conditions can have similar signs to feline pancreatitis, but there are some differences between these conditions and diagnosing these is vital to ensure correct treatment is started.

Diabetes mellitus can cause weight loss, but also causes an increased appetite and increased thirst. Diabetes can be diagnosed by blood tests showing hyperglycaemia (persistent high blood glucose) and glucose in the urine. Affected cats can have a slow progression over time, and it is often overweight older who are cats affected.

Of course, diabetic cats can also develop pancreatitis – but in any cat with pancreatitis, we would expect to see signs of lethargy, weakness, abdominal pain and a loss of appetite.

Liver disease can also cause weight loss, vomiting and general signs of being unwell. Diagnosis can be reached by blood tests indicating abnormally high liver enzymes and sometimes an ultrasound scan showing abnormalities in the liver. Liver disease can affect cats of any age. Liver disease often involves pancreatic disease as well in cats, and it can be difficult to separate the two, but this is why blood tests are invaluable, helping your vets to focus in on the main organ affected.

Intestinal disorders can cause diarrhoea and weight loss, but often with a normal or increased appetite. There can be a few ways to diagnose these disorders including stool samples which may show signs of infection or parasites, and blood tests which may show altered folate or cobalamin levels.

Causes of Pancreatitis in Cats

Lots of factors have been linked to what causes pancreatitis in cats, but there is no single established reason. Many things may contribute, however in a high proportion of cats the cause is never known.

Infections can be linked to some cases of pancreatitis in cats, potentially including Toxoplasma gondii (a very common parasite in cats so perhaps not a helpful finding!), and viruses may account for some causes. A recent trauma affecting the abdomen may trigger pancreatitis, as can the pancreas being handled during abdominal surgery. Some medications or toxins can affect the feline pancreas also.

Cat Breeds Prone to Pancreatitis

Any breed can develop cat pancreas issues, but it appears that Siamese cats are affected more often. It can be a problem for any age of cat and either sex can be affected. It is worth being more vigilant with the oriental breeds.

Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Cats

Diagnosis of pancreatitis in cats can be challenging, as it often requires multiple tests to be performed in order to diagnose and exclude other conditions. History and clinical examination may lead to suspicion of feline pancreatitis, with routine blood tests showing an inflammation.

A blood test for feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLI) is a blood test that can be performed. This is the most specific diagnostic test for pancreatitis, and it is highly sensitive. This means that it will pick up the majority of cases.

Diagnostic imaging such as x-rays can help to rule out other conditions in the abdomen. An ultrasound scan can identify the pancreas, but it is difficult to identify all cases of pancreatitis.

Treatment for Pancreatitis in Cats

Treatment for cats with pancreatitis can include medications, diet and other supportive care. Often cats affected will be hospitalised initially, to allow fluids to hydrate them (as many are dehydrated) and medication to be given intravenously, so it is quicker to work and hopefully allows a quicker response.

Medications including anti emetics (anti-sickness) and pain relief will be given. Cats will often hide signs of pain, so, in conditions we know to be painful, it is important to treat them with pain relief. Medications to reduce stomach acid may be given to reduce any damage to the oesophagus from acid and prevent ulcers from forming.

It is vital that your cat starts eating as soon as possible, as they can develop hepatic lipidosis (a serious liver condition) if they do not eat for a period of time. Feeding tubes are often placed to provide calories directly into the body, or appetite stimulant medication may be given. A diet that is high in calories and also tasty, is important. A low fat content of the diet is not vital (unlike in dogs), and any good quality diet can be suitable. Warming the wet food up, offering it little and often, or even some hand feeding can help to encourage them to eat.

Long-Term Management and Prognosis

The long-term prognosis for cats with pancreatitis can be variable, some cats improve with lots of supportive care whereas others sadly deteriorate over time, and it can be fatal in some cases.

The average life expectancy for cats is between 12-18 years, and the older a cat is when they develop pancreatitis the higher the risk of them having concurrent diseases and therefore having a worse long-term prognosis. They often can have kidney disease or overactive thyroid which can affect appetite and weight further.

Long term management involves careful monitoring, watching nutrition, regular weigh-ins to ensure weight is being gained and is stable, and often medications longer term. As well as the pancreatitis symptoms, other signs of aging may have an effect on your cat.

Age-Related Risk Factors

Many age-related changes can increase susceptibility to feline pancreatitis or make treatment much more difficult. A decreased immune system can lead to a poorer response to treatment of pancreatitis or can mean a cat is more likely to become unwell. A decreased immune system can also lead to viral diseases and infections predisposing a cat to pancreatitis. Intestinal changes close to the pancreas, including tumours, can cause increased inflammation, leading to inflammation of the pancreas as well. Diabetes causes an increase in blood glucose which leads to damage of the pancreas. Diabetes mellitus is caused by change in production of insulin from the cells in the pancreas, often resulting from damage of the pancreas.

End-of-Life Considerations

It is important to consider a cat’s quality of life once there is a pancreatic diagnosis. It is a difficult condition to manage and can involve considerable cost and heartbreak, while watching a lack of improvement over time. Severely affected cats will often require long term treatment involving both hospital stays as well as at home care. It requires lots of time and care, as well as understanding signs of them worsening, which may be subtle. Important things to think about are whether the cat is improving regularly on checks or showing signs of pain or discomfort.

If the pain cannot be controlled adequately then it is important to consider whether it is fair to continue, or whether the kindest thing would be to say goodbye peacefully and gently. Whether they are eating, comfortable and happy are important markers for deciding whether to continue treatment or to consider giving them a peaceful euthanasia. Whether a cat will tolerate multiple medications to be given daily is another important consideration, as many will not tolerate or enjoy regular handling for this, thus leading to high stress and unhappiness for the cat.

Life expectancy can sadly be quite short for cats with pancreatitis, although there are variations. Choosing whether to say goodbye is never easy, but support is available from your vet, or our team of care coordinators, who are specially trained to help you assess the situation, to make any decisions easier and ease the transition. Whan the time comes to let your cat go, our home visit vets can give them a gentle and peaceful euthanasia.

FAQs

Can diabetes cause pancreatitis in cats?

Diabetes causes hyperglycaemia which can cause pancreatic inflammation. And inflammation of the pancreas can in turn lead to damage to the cells that secrete insulin. So, both diseases can be linked and seen together.

Can Pancreatitis in Cats Be Prevented?

As the trigger of pancreatitis in cats is unclear, it cannot truly be prevented.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Pancreatitis in Cats?

Long term effects of pancreatitis can lead to other abnormalities of organs including diabetes, and intestinal problems and cats can have relapses and repeated episodes in the future.

How Can I Support My Cat with Pancreatitis at Home?

You can treat pancreatitis in cats at home supportively by encouraging them to eat small meals little and often, ensuring they get any mediations prescribed and watching for any signs of things worsening.

Sources:

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pancreatitis-in-cats
https://www.vets4pets.com/pet-health-advice/cat-advice/pancreatitis-in-cats/
https://icatcare.org/advice/my-cat-has-pancreatitis/

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To ensure accuracy, a professional vet has reviewed and verified the information presented in this article. It is important to note that when it comes to making decisions about euthanasia for your pet, there are no easy answers. It is always recommended to seek advice from your own veterinarian before making any decisions.