Pancreatitis in cats

Pancreatitis in cats

Feline pancreatitis is a disease that frequently affects cats, but can often go unnoticed. This happens because it normally occurs progressively, giving symptoms that are not specific and common to other diseases such as weight loss or lack of activity.

However, feline pancreatitis can also appear suddenly with very severe symptoms and compromise the life of our cat. Therefore, it is important to know how to identify it in order to act as soon as possible if it develops. Next, we talk about feline pancreatitis, its symptoms, and its treatment.

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What is feline pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammatory disease of the pancreas that can affect cats of any age, breed, or sex.

The pancreas is an organ that is part of the digestive system and is close to the liver, leading to the small intestine through the common bile duct. It has an endocrine function (secretes insulin) and an exocrine part (produces digestive enzymes that go to the intestine to digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates).

There are two types of pancreatitis in cats, the acute and the chronic form , depending on whether it occurs suddenly or is recurrent over time; being the chronic manifestation the most common in cats. In general, acute pancreatitis is a severe process and has a high mortality, while in the chronic form, the symptoms are moderate.

What happens in pancreatitis is that the mechanisms, which in normal conditions exist so that pancreatic self-digestion does not occur due to the digestive enzymes produced by this organ, fail and the enzymes are activated early before they are secreted, producing a self-digestion of the pancreas. This generates lesions in this organ and an important inflammatory process.

What are the causes of pancreatitis?

The etiology of this disease is variable, but it is almost always idiopathic (of unknown origin), since it is not possible in most cases to determine the triggering cause.

Feline pancreatitis can be caused by:

  • Drugs or toxics (especially organophosphates).
  • Pancreatic trauma.
  • Blockage of the pancreatic ducts.
  • Recurrent gastrointestinal disease (due to the connection between the pancreas and the intestine, inflammation or infection can spread between both organs).
  • Extension of hepatobiliary inflammation (due to its proximity to the liver).
  • Infectious agents (Toxoplasma, feline infectious peritonitis virus, Eurytrema procyonis).

Symptoms of pancreatitis in kittens


The clinical alterations that pancreatitis produces in cats are highly variable and are not specific to this particular disease, which makes it an underdiagnosed pathology.

Symptoms vary depending on whether it is an acute or chronic presentation, and there may also be animals with subclinical pancreatitis (without showing symptoms until the disease progresses).

The four signs that are seen in almost all cases of pancreatitis are:

  • Anorexia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy or less activity
  • Dehydration

Less frequently, other symptoms such as vomiting, hypothermia, jaundice (yellowing of the mucous membranes), fever or shock may be found.

In acute pancreatitis, cats usually spend a variable period (days-weeks) in which they are not quite well, showing a loss of appetite and less activity and, suddenly, there is a rapid deterioration and more serious symptoms of pancreatitis. Some cats that are apparently well can go directly (without prior signs) to a state of shock derived from acute pancreatitis.

Chronic pancreatitis presents as recurrent episodes over time of variable severity, but usually moderate. Sometimes the owner only observes that his cat begins to “eat strangely”, he may begin to have a fickle appetite and only want cans or grind his teeth when he eats, and these signs are due to nausea and pain. the feline.

How is feline pancreatitis diagnosed?

Symptoms of pancreatitis are very nonspecific, but this disease should be suspected in animals with anorexia, lethargy, or vomiting of unknown cause.

Several tests must be combined for diagnosis:

  • Laboratory tests: blood tests and specific tests like fPLI.
  • Imaging diagnosis: ultrasound and / or radiography.

The definitive diagnosis that confirms that it is really treated is pancreatitis and determines the type, is the biopsy. However, this diagnosis requires general anesthesia and surgery to take the tissue sample and is only done in cases strictly necessary to avoid risks.

Treatment for pancreatitis

The treatment of feline pancreatitis depends on the severity of the process, ranging from the simple administration of analgesics for pain and a specific diet in cases of mild chronic pancreatitis, to intensive care with emergency hospitalization in the most acute cases.

Treatment is supportive and is based on:

  • Pain control with analgesics.
  • Fluid therapy to rehydrate.
  • Control of nausea and vomiting with antiemetics.
  • Antibiotic therapy when necessary.
  • Nutritional management: the cat should eat again as soon as possible and, if it does not eat by itself after a few days, a forced feeding protocol will be started (feeding tubes or total parenteral nutrition).
  • Maintenance of body temperature in cats with hyporthermia (it should always be kept above 37ºC).
  • Stress- free environment .


The prognosis for cats with pancreatitis varies depending on the general condition of the animal and the severity of presentation of the disease.

If the cat shows mild symptoms, it is more likely to respond appropriately to supportive treatment and recover. However, there are no guarantees that the process can be re-produced; inflammation of the pancreas can become chronic in certain cats .

When the cat develops severe symptoms (shock, hypothermia, low blood glucose levels or even kidney failure) and its condition is critical, the cat requires hospitalization and prolonged therapy, in these cases the mortality being high.

If the pancreatitis is severe or becomes chronic, the cat can develop secondary pathologies such as diabetes mellitus or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency , because the functionality of the pancreas can be lost if there are a significant number of cells injured by inflammation or fibrosis with the progression of the disease.

As we can see, feline pancreatitis can become a very serious disease that begins with apparently mild symptoms, so in the event of any suspicion of being unwell in our cat (loss of appetite, that is down or vomiting occurs), we should not wait and it is recommended to go to the vet as soon as possible.


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