Pancreatitis in Cats
The pancreas is part of the endocrine and digestive system, which is integral for the digestion of foods, producing the enzymes that digest food, and producing insulin. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the flow of enzymes into the digestive tract can become disrupted, forcing the enzymes out of the pancreas and into the abdominal area.
If this occurs, the digestive enzymes will begin to break down fat and proteins in the other organs, as well as in the pancreas. In effect, the body begins to digest itself. Because of their proximity to the pancreas, the kidney and liver can also be affected when this progression takes place, and the abdomen will become inflamed, and possibly infected as well. If bleeding occurs in the pancreas, shock, and even death can follow.
Inflammation of the pancreas (or pancreatitis) often progresses rapidly in cats, but can often be treated without any permanent damage to the organ. However, if pancreatitis goes long-term without treatment, severe organ, and even brain damage can occur.
Pancreatitis can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects dogs, please visit this page in the petMD health library.
There are a variety of symptoms that may be observed in cats, including:
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Weight loss (more common in cats)
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
There are several possible causes of inflammation to the pancreas. Some of them are:
- Concurrent inflammatory bowel disease or liver disease. The combination of inflammatory disease of the liver, pancreas, and intestines is so common in cats that it has its own name — "triaditis." It is safe to assume that most cats diagnosed with one of these conditions have some degree of the other two as well.
- Diabetes mellitus
- Certain types of infections (e.g., toxoplasmosis or feline distemper)
- Abdominal trauma
- Exposure to organophosphate insecticides
One other suspected cause, rare because of its geographical probability, is scorpion stings. The venom from a scorpion can cause the pancreas to react, leading to inflammation.
Unlike with dogs, inflammation of the pancreas is not related to nutritional factors in cats. In many cases, no underlying cause for pancreatitis can be determined.
Although pancreatitis can occur in any animal breed, it has been found to occur more frequently with cats, specifically the Siamese cat. Inflammation of the pancreas is also more common in females than in males, and more common in elderly cats.
Your veterinarian will check for the presence of gallstones, and for a condition referred to as reflux. A full blood work up will be ordered to see if there are any nutrient imbalances, and X-ray imaging will be used to look for evidence of any blunt damage to the pancreas. Pancreatic and liver enzymes will be measured to analyze for increases of either in the bloodstream. Insulin will me measured to check for normal levels, since inflammation can cause insulin producing cells in the pancreas to be damaged, possibly leading to diabetes.
In some cases, an ultrasound will be performed to look for mass tissue growths, cysts, or abscesses in the body. A needle biopsy may also be taken along with the ultrasound.
The results of specific tests for pancreatitis (fPLI or SPEC-FPL) can diagnose many cases of feline pancreatitis, but sometimes exploratory surgery is necessary.