The pancreas plays an important role in your cat’s body -- it produces enzymes and hormones that aid in digestion and regulate blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, some cats will suffer from pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of this critical organ that occurs when the digestive enzymes it produces go rogue and the pancreas begins to digest itself and surrounding tissues.
Pancreatitis can be difficult to treat for one main reason -- in 90% of cases, the cause of the condition is not known. Due to this fact, most pancreatitis treatments are limited to supportive care to manage symptoms.
Supportive Care for Feline Pancreatitis
Supportive care for your cat will depend on the severity of their condition as well as their symptoms. Common supportive treatments include:
Most cats suffering from pancreatitis also suffer from dehydration, often due to vomiting and diarrhea. Your cat may need to be hospitalized in order to receive fluid therapy and have their electrolyte levels monitored. Intravenous fluids are often supplemented with dextrose to correct low blood sugar levels and potassium to reverse abnormalities in potassium concentration. B-12 may also be added if a deficiency is noted.
Fluid therapy is initially used to treat shock or reverse dehydration, but it may be continued after stabilization to regulate fluid levels.
If the cat is vomiting, your veterinarian may recommend withholding their food. However, food withholding should not last for more than 48 hours or the cat may develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver).
If the cat is not eating, your veterinarian may implant a feeding tube to ensure that your cat is receiving adequate nutrition.
Once your cat begins eating again, your veterinarian may suggest a special diet that is bland, low in fat, and easy to digest. Cats with acute cases of pancreatitis may be able to return to their regular diet once they recover. Cats with severe or chronic cases, however, may need to be on a special diet long-term.
Depending on their symptoms, some cats may require medication. These can include analgesics to treat pain, antiemetics, antidiuretics, or antacids to control vomiting and diarrhea, antibiotics to treat any secondary infections, or anti-inflammatory medications for chronic cases.
In severe cases, pancreatitis can lead to serious conditions such as respiratory failure, kidney failure, disseminated intravascular coagulation, and death. For some cats, plasma transfusion that corrects clotting deficiencies may be the only way to avoid such outcomes.
Pancreatitis often destroys a large number of cells that are responsible for producing digestive enzymes. When this happens, it can hinder food digestion. Digestive enzyme supplements may help to correct this problem.
What if the Cause Is Known?
There are risk factors that can contribute to the development of pancreatitis, and in some cases (around 10%), your veterinarian may be able to determine the underlying cause of the condition. Common risk factors include physical trauma, parasitic infections, feline infectious peritonitis, feline distemper, inflammatory bowel disease, and exposure to certain insecticides or medications.
In these cases, the specific cause should be treated, and the pancreatitis may subside.
Feline Pancreatitis Prognosis
The prognosis will depend on a number of factors, including the severity of your cat’s condition, how quickly treatment is sought, and your cat’s response to treatment.
Cats who recover from an acute case of pancreatitis (one that occurs suddenly) may go on to live normal, healthy lives. Cats who are suffering from chronic pancreatitis (in which the condition is recurring) may require long-term treatment, including medication and a special diet.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent feline pancreatitis, and the best you can do is seek treatment for your cat at the first appearance of symptoms.
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