The pancreas has among its functions, the production and secretion of digestive enzymes and the production of insulin . Digestive enzymes are essential for the digestion of food, while insulin helps control metabolism and blood sugar levels.
Feline pancreatitis is a very common disease in cats. It is often secondary or accompanied by another disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, or liver disease
It is a condition that does not usually develop acutely, but rather chronically, so its symptoms do not appear suddenly, which makes its detection more difficult.
If you want to know more about this disease, in this article I describe pancreatitis in cats, its causes, its symptoms and its treatment .
What is pancreatitis?
The pancreas is a vital organ found on the right side of the abdomen adjacent to the stomach. It produces enzymes to aid in the digestion of food and hormones such as insulin, which regulate blood sugar or glucose metabolism.
When inflammation of the cat’s pancreas occurs , the condition is called pancreatitis . When the disease occurs, it is often accompanied by inflammation of the liver and intestine. This multi-organ inflammatory process is sometimes called triaditis .
There is no age, gender, or racial predisposition for pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis can take a mild, edematous form or a more severe hemorrhagic form.
Some cats that recover from an acute episode of pancreatitis may continue to have recurrent episodes of pancreatitis. This is called chronic pancreatitis .
What Causes Feline Pancreatitis?
Normally, pancreatic enzymes are produced in an inactive state and travel through the pancreatic duct to the duodenum, part of the small intestine. Once they reach the small intestine, they are activated to begin digestion. With pancreatitis, these enzymes are activated prematurely in the pancreas instead of the small intestine; in this case, the pancreatic enzymes begin to digest earlier than they should.
The specific causes of pancreatitis remain unknown. It is believed that it may be due to an excess of fat in the diet or by ingestion of insecticides or other toxins. In some cases, trauma , for example being hit by a car, has been associated with cases of the disease.
Infections such as toxoplasmosis and feline infectious peritonitis have been cited as possible causes of pancreatitis, as have factors such as adverse drug reactions, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, and parasitic infection.
What are the clinical symptoms of pancreatitis in cats?
Usually the clinical signs are diffuse, especially compared to dogs, so it is not easy to recognize that a cat is sick.
If your cat has pancreatitis, you can observe the following:
- Threw up.
- Signs of fever
- Decreased appetite.
- Abdominal pain.
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
The standard diagnosis will include a medical history of the animal, a complete physical exam, blood tests, and ultrasound . Blood tests usually reveal an elevated white blood cell count; however, an elevated white blood cell count can also be caused by other conditions besides pancreatitis.
If there is an elevation of pancreatic enzymes in the blood, the diagnosis is confirmed, but many cats with pancreatitis will have normal levels of pancreatic enzymes. In recent years, a new pancreatic test has been achieved to diagnose pancreatitis, even though the levels of pancreatic enzymes are normal.
X-rays may show changes associated with inflammation in the area of the pancreas with severe hemorrhagic pancreatitis. However, they are sometimes helpful in ruling out other disorders, such as a bowel obstruction, which can have symptoms similar to pancreatitis. Ultrasound studies may be more helpful by showing inflammation in the pancreas or the surrounding area.
In any case, the only way a definitive diagnosis can be made is through a biopsy, but this involves a surgical or laproscopic procedure that may not be advisable for a seriously ill and physically weakened animal.
Treatment of pancreatitis in cats
There is no single treatment method for acute pancreatitis in cats . Treatment will depend on the severity of the condition. Almost all cases of acute pancreatitis will require a long hospital stay, usually lasting two to four days, as well as supportive nutritional treatments and pain management.
The best way to treat acute pancreatitis is to prevent the affected cat from eating and drinking normally. This will cause the production of enzymes in the pancreas to decrease, allowing the pancreas to rest and begin to heal. Intravenous fluid therapy is used to reverse dehydration and maintain fluid levels. A feeding tube is almost always placed to maintain adequate caloric intake.
Anti-inflammatory and pain-control medications, usually analgesics, are prescribed in cases of acute pancreatitis. Medications to control vomiting and diarrhea will also be prescribed if your cat requires them.
Oral food will slowly resume as the cat begins to feel better and the symptoms of pancreatitis subside.
If your cat has chronic pancreatitis , she may experience flare-ups of symptoms that can be severe enough to require veterinary intervention. These outbreaks may also need symptomatic care at home, such as controlling vomiting, injecting fluids, and administering oral medications.
Long-term prognosis of feline pancreatitis
Recovery and prognosis will depend on the severity of the condition, the time it was diagnosed, and the effectiveness of treatment.
The evolution of feline pancreatitis can take several paths. The cat may have a perfectly normal pancreas but then develop, for no reason and suddenly, a very acute and very severe case of the disease.
The cat may die as a result of that single acute attack, or it may recover and never experience a problem with its pancreas again. But more often than not, the cat recovers from the initial acute attack and then develops chronic pancreatitis.
Most cats recover without long-term consequences. However, with severe or recurrent pancreatitis, one or more of the following problems can develop:
- If a significant number of cells that produce digestive enzymes are destroyed, it can cause a lack of proper digestion of food. This is known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiencyand can be treated with daily administration of enzyme tablets or powder in food.
- If a significant number of insulin-producing cells decrease, diabetes mellituscan occur . This can usually be treated with daily insulin injections.
- When the form of chronic pancreatitisoccurs , several diseases can occur that are difficult to diagnose. These cats may have several days of poor appetite, fever, and lethargy. In some cases, diabetes mellitus can develop last.
Feeding cats with pancreatitis
The first thing in case of pancreatitis, is to get the cat to eat again. Cats that stop eating for any reason are at high risk for a life-threatening disease called liver lipidosis . So what kind of food is the best?
When dogs develop pancreatitis, it is a necessary protocol to keep them away from food until the vomiting subsides and then begin feeding them a low-fat diet. However, this is not the case for cats. Vomiting is not such a serious problem in cats with pancreatitis, and low-fat foods have not been shown to be necessary.
The key with cat food is easy digestion and offering small amounts . You should not give your cat food that causes an upset stomach, so it is best to avoid foods rich in fat. Low-fat foods are probably the safest, as they are least likely to irritate the stomach.
Most experts recommend canned food over cat food . Canned or wet foods are rich in meat and protein. When choosing wet foods, check the ingredient list carefully. Look for moist food high in chicken, turkey, or rabbit. These proteins are rich in nutrients and easier to digest than other proteins.
Another important part of your cat’s diet, once she has received therapy for pancreatitis, is drinking plenty of water . Hydration therapy is one way to treat pancreatitis, so keeping fluid levels high is essential. Make sure your cat has easy access to clean water.
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