The pancreas is a gland involved in regulation of insulin, a hormone involved in balancing blood sugar levels. If the pancreas is dysfunctional, it leads to metabolic disorder and fluctuations in blood sugar.
There are two forms of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Both types of pancreatitis have similar symptoms, so examination by a veterinarian is required to distinguish between them.
Acute pancreatitis starts quickly, with a sudden onset of symptoms. Usually, symptoms are more severe with this type of pancreatitis. A single episode of acute pancreatitis generally has a good prognosis, and is unlikely to cause long-term pancreatic damage. However, an acute episode may be a one-time occurrence, or it may trigger ongoing chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis occurs over a long period, and usually shows mild symptoms. Cats with chronic pancreatitis have episodes of acute pancreatitis in addition to their chronic condition. These repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis, combined with constant low-level damage from chronic pancreatitis, cause significant damage to the pancreatic tissue. Over time, the amount of functional pancreas is reduced, leading to long-term disorders such as diabetes mellitus and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Up to 90% of pancreatitis cases in cats have no identifiable cause.
Pancreatitis is common in cats, but does not appear to be related to consumption of rich and fatty foods as it is in dogs.
This disease is potentially life-threatening. Cats that are not eating, lethargic, or vomiting require prompt veterinary medical attention.
The cause of most cases of pancreatitis in cats is unknown. The damage caused to the pancreas is caused by the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas itself. During pancreatitis, these enzymes are secreted into the pancreas tissue instead of the digestive tract as they would during normal pancreatic function.
Typically, cats do not show obvious symptoms of pancreatitis.
Cats that are not eating and lethargic require prompt veterinary care, even if these symptoms do not seem severe.
Diagnosing pancreatitis in cats is challenging. Cats show few symptoms of pancreatitis, and the symptoms they show are vague and do not point to the condition specifically.
Generally, cats that are lethargic and not eating often require multiple diagnostic tests before the pancreatitis is confirmed. Tests include:
Treatment of pancreatitis primarily focuses on supportive care, as there is no definitive cure for this condition. Cats often require extended hospital stays to fully recover from a pancreatitis episode and transition back to eating on their own.
The treatment strategy will vary depending on the cat’s overall state of health and the severity of symptoms. Treatment may include a combination of the following:
Acute pancreatitis with mild symptoms carries a good prognosis if caught early and treated aggressively. The prognosis for acute cases may be guarded depending on severity and especially if concurrent fatty liver disease is present. Acute pancreatitis can lead to fatal complications. Cats that survive an episode of acute pancreatitis are at risk of developing long-term effects.
The root cause of pancreatitis is usually unknown in cats, so it is difficult to prevent. The disorder is not contagious. There is not a strong correlation between high fat intake and pancreatitis as has been reported in dogs. Routine annual veterinary wellness checks are recommended for all adult cats which may help detect disorders like pancreatitis in early stages. As with many chronic conditions, early detection and treatment are key to supporting best outcomes.
Pancreatitis is considered common in cats. It is thought to affect between 1.5-3.5% of cats, but presumed to be underdiagnosed due to subtlety of symptoms.