Inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that helps digest food and produces insulin, is known as pancreatitis. Any pet can suffer from pancreatitis, but is most common in cats. Prompt medical attention is key to helping your kitty survive a bout of pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening.
During a pancreatic attack, digestive enzymes from the pancreas spill into the abdominal area and begin to destroy nearby organs, starting with the pancreas itself and the liver. Pancreatitis can be acute—short and intense—or chronic, which means attacks are milder but recurrent. Severe, untreated pancreatitis can cause brain damage and even death. With prompt and aggressive treatment, however, cats can recover completely from acute pancreatitis, according to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center website.
Most of the time, the cause of a pancreatic attack in a cat is unknown, says the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center website. Too much fat in the cat's diet, and eating a lot of fatty food in a short period of time, are possible causes, according to petMD. Injury to the pancreas can cause it to become inflamed. Pancreatitis can also be triggered by parasites and bacteria and sometimes occurs as a reaction to certain medicines.
If your feline companion is suffering from pancreatitis, he will likely stop eating and lose weight as a result. It is also likely that he will be inactive and appear very tired. He may vomit or have diarrhea. If the problem has spread to his lungs, you may notice him having trouble breathing. Other symptoms may include lower-than-normal body temperature, rapid heart rate and abdominal pain that worsens after he eats.
To determine if your kitty is suffering from pancreatitis, your veterinarian may order blood tests to measure insulin and pancreatic and liver enzymes. X-rays may be taken to see if there is injury to the pancreas. Your kitty may also need to undergo an ultrasound of the abdominal area, which allows the veterinarian to see if the pancreas is enlarged. A needle biopsy is sometimes performed at the same time as the ultrasound.
Treatment for pancreatitis will focus on correcting the underlying cause, if it is known. Otherwise, treatment will consist of only support care. In order to rest the pancreas, veterinarians typically recommend that the cat not eat or drink anything for a few days. To keep your feline friend from becoming dehydrated during this time, the veterinarian will give her fluids through an IV, especially if she has been throwing up. Your kitty may also need to take painkillers to keep her comfortable, and medication to control vomiting. Surgery is sometimes necessary, but only in severe cases. If your cat is diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, you will need to switch her permanently to a low-fat diet.
Pancreatitis is more common in female cats than in males, according to petMD. Siamese cats may be more prone to pancreatitis than other breeds. Senior cats are also more susceptible.
Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.