Pancreatitis in cats is a silent killer. It reportedly affects only 2% of cats, but current studies show that over 40% of cats may be suffering from pancreatitis.
The underdiagnosis of this gastric disorder is a wake-up call for cat owners to be on high alert when it comes to this disease.
To bring more awareness of how dangerous pancreatitis in cats is, we will give you a rundown of its causes and effects on feline health. You will also learn the symptoms to look out for and suitable treatments for pancreatitis in cats.
What happens when a cat has pancreatitis?
First, let’s understand the different functions of the pancreas. It is a vital organ that is tasked to produce digestive enzymes, which aid in breaking down food in the gastric tract.
The pancreas also produces insulin that is responsible for the regulation of blood sugar.
In the process of food digestion, inactive pancreatic enzymes are sent to the small intestine via the pancreatic duct. Once they reach the intended area, the enzymes are activated to initiate food digestion.
Pancreatitis a gastrointestinal issue characterised by the inflammation of the pancreas. When a cat suffers from pancreatitis, premature activation of the enzymes in the organ occurs.
This inadvertently causes the pancreas to digest its own pancreatic tissue, not only causing inflammation but also pain and swelling.
What triggers pancreatitis in cats?
The main cause of pancreatitis in cats remains unknown. However, experts have found a few risk factors that can heighten the risk of pancreatitis development in cats including:
Medical conditions particularly feline herpesvirus, feline infectious peritonitis, feline parvovirus, and Toxoplasma gondii can degenerate the health and function of the digestive tract organs including the pancreas.
These in turn may lead to pancreatitis in cats.
Drug-induced pancreatitis can happen to humans and dogs. However, when it comes to cats, this is an uncommon occurrence. But feline pancreatitis due to drugs is still a possibility that cannot be ruled out.
Accidents such as being hit by a car or falling off from a high place can damage a cat’s pancreas, which often leads to acute pancreatitis. Physical forms of abuse such as hitting and kicking also produce the same outcome.
Hypotension and Ischaemia
Hypotension means the lowering of blood pressure, whilst ischaemia is used to describe the shortage of blood supply. These are also triggered by the onset of acute pancreatitis.
Can food cause pancreatitis in cats? According to anecdotal evidence, food containing high amounts of fats may induce pancreatitis in cats. However, this is not a significant predisposing factor unlike in dogs.
What are the 2 types of pancreatitis in cats?
Pancreatitis is commonly classified into 2 types: acute and chronic conditions. Here’s how they differ from each other:
1. Acute Pancreatitis
A sudden episode of pancreatitis is considered acute. Although it is often a one-time attack, its effects can be highly debilitating and require aggressive treatment to avoid it from progressing into a life-threatening condition.
2. Chronic Pancreatitis
Unlike acute pancreatitis, this type is a recurrent condition. Since it happens repetitively, chronic pancreatitis can cause permanent changes in the pancreatic tissue in the long term.
Chronic pancreatitis is more common in cats than its acute form. Studies show that it is linked to other serious feline medical problems particularly diabetes mellitus, hepatic lipidosis, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Regardless of what type of pancreatitis a cat has, it should be brought to the vet’s attention immediately for proper treatment.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis in cats?
Cats instinctively hide any sign of illnesses as their way of protecting themselves from threats. However, this is dangerous as the disease tends to be overlooked.
Thus, cat owners must keep a close eye on their feline companions for any sudden physical and behavioural changes.
Here are the most common clinical signs of pancreatitis in cats that you need to watch out for:
Some symptoms of feline pancreatitis show more consistently than others. According to a study involving 40 cats, 100% of them shows signs of lethargy, 90% exhibited anorexia, and 68% suffered from hypothermia.
Other clinical signs are less seen such as vomiting (35%), abdominal pain (25%), and diarrhoea (15%).
Note that the symptoms of pancreatitis mimic clinical signs of other health problems or diseases in cats. Diagnosis from the vet is necessary to accurately determine whether these symptoms are caused by pancreatitis or by another illness.
Keep in mind that early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to effectively manage pancreatitis in cats. Thus, even the mildest symptoms such as lethargy and lack of appetite should warrant a trip to the vet.
How long can cats live with pancreatitis?
Cats with pancreatitis may not live long if the disease is left untreated. Pancreatitis can greatly damage their digestive tract as it can trigger the development of other gastric problems.
Triaditis is a common occurrence in cats with pancreatitis. It refers to the concurrent inflammation of the pancreas, small intestines, and liver. 50–56% of cats suffering from pancreatitis have triaditis.
Aside from that, bile duct obstruction, vitamin deficiency, and intestinal lymphoma can also simultaneously appear with pancreatitis.
All of these will further complicate the condition of affected cats and lower their chances of living long and healthy lives. For this reason, vets highlight how early treatment is important in saving them and getting a better prognosis.
How is pancreatitis in cats diagnosed?
Vets diagnose pancreatitis in cats by using a variety of methods. These include examining your cat’s medical history and giving her a physical check-up.
They may perform abdominal radiographs and ultrasound as well as blood tests, including complete blood count and biochemical profile.
However, in some cases, these methods do not provide definitive results. Thus, vets may need to use a blood test called feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLI) test.
It is the best and most effective tool in detecting markers of pancreatitis, especially with cats that have moderate or severe conditions.
How to treat pancreatitis in cats at home
Before we give you the answer, we want to remind you that home remedies are a good option in managing your cat’s pancreatitis.
However, it should never replace the necessity for vet treatment, as feline pancreatitis requires careful and comprehensive supportive care.
So let’s move on to the common home remedies for cats with pancreatitis. Treating the condition at home usually involves the application of 2 methods:
Digestive Enzyme Supplementation
Pancreatitis is very taxing on your cat’s pancreas. Allow the organ to rest and recuperate by giving her digestive enzymes. These assist in breaking down protein and fats so that they become highly digestible. In turn, it lowers the work that her pancreas needs to do for digestion.
Before you administer the supplements to your cat, be sure to consult the vet first. Generally, digestive enzymes are safe to use, but it is not recommended for pregnant cats and cats with kidney disease or liver disease.
Only use digestive enzymes that are marketed for cats. Using ones that are specifically designed for humans or other animals may contain ingredients that are toxic for your feline friend.
Switching to a New Diet
What should I feed a cat with pancreatitis? Unlike dogs, switching to a low-fat diet doesn’t make a significant impact in managing pancreatitis in cats, but they can still benefit from it. So focus on building a healthy low-fat diet for your furry friend.
Your cat’s food must mainly consist of highly digestible ingredients. Avoid high-fibre cat food that typically contains corn, legumes, potatoes, quinoa, rice, soy, tapioca, and wheat.
These grains can worsen the inflammatory condition of your cat’s pancreas.
Will drinking lots of water help pancreatitis?
Some cats with pancreatitis experience diarrhoea and vomiting. Encouraging your cat to drink more water will help delay dehydration. If both symptoms continue for more than 24 hours, bring her to the vet ASAP.
How is pancreatitis treated in cats by the vet?
More research still needs to be done to find a cure for pancreatitis in cats. The current treatment for this disease is focused on providing the right supportive care to effectively manage its debilitating effects.
Here are the different types of treatment that vets use to resolve pancreatitis in cats:
IV fluids with electrolyte supplementation may be given to cats to prevent dehydration. It also helps provide good blood flow to their pancreas.
Pancreatitis is a pain-inducing disease, and pain relief drugs will be administered to counteract this problem.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may also be prescribed to reduce pancreatic inflammation. Cats that are frequently vomiting will be given anti-nausea medication.
Do antibiotics help pancreatitis in cats?
Yes, antibiotic therapy may be performed in cats with severe pancreatitis or systemic inflammatory response syndrome. This is due to the risk of secondary sepsis and bacterial translocation.
Vitamin absorption may be affected due to pancreatitis, which can lead to vitamin deficiency and then anaemia. Supplements will be provided such as cobalamin or vitamin B supplements to avert such risks.
It is common for cats with pancreatitis to experience weight loss and anorexia. Proper nutrition is crucial to prevent the development of hepatic lipidosis. Low-fat food that is rich in protein may be recommended by the vet.
Cats that lack appetite will be administered with appetite stimulants. The use of a feeding tube may be necessary if they continue to refuse to eat meals.
Severe pancreatitis in cats can progress to fatal conditions such as kidney failure, respiratory failure, and even death. Plasma transfusion may be the only life-saving procedure that can prevent these from occurring.
Is pancreatitis treatment expensive?
Pancreatitis in cats treatment cost
The medical bill for feline pancreatitis treatment is expensive as it can run from £700 to over £1,000. This is another harrowing problem that owners need to face should their cats develop pancreatitis.
Remember that for most felines, this condition is recurrent. This means they will need frequent trips to the vet, which will add more expenses to their medical bills.
Can a cat recover from pancreatitis?
Yes, most cats recover from pancreatitis so long as they are given timely supportive care. According to a study, 122 (77.7%) out of 157 cats survived pancreatitis and were discharged. Amongst the 35 nonsurvivors, 16 (46%) died whilst hospitalised and 19 (54%) had to be euthanised due to clinical deterioration.
How long does it take a cat to recover from acute pancreatitis?
Cats with acute pancreatitis have a slow recovery rate. It may take them a few weeks or more before their condition is stabilised. In comparison, mild cases of pancreatitis only take around 2–3 days for them to recover.
Pancreatitis in cats: When to euthanise?
Letting go of a beloved feline companion is an utterly difficult and heartbreaking decision to make.
Unfortunately, in some cases, it is the only way to save a cat from the misery of her condition. If her pancreatitis becomes more and more severe and the chance of recovery is low despite continuous treatment, then euthanasia may be considered.
Although this is a painful choice that often comes with regret, it is a far better option than watching your cat slowly succumb to the disease with each passing day. Your vet will advise you when it is the right time for this decision to be made.