Treating Pancreatitis In Cats Treatment Options Available to Cats With Pancreatitis

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The pancreas is one of the most important organs in your cat's body. So if your feline has been newly diagnosed with pancreatitis, you probably have many questions. Find out here what treatments are available to cats suffering from this dangerous disease.

The pancreas is a small organ with a big job — it produces enzymes and hormones that regulate the digestion and movement of food in the body. Pancreatitis, which is the inflammation of this crucial organ, occurs when the digestive enzymes escape from the place in which they are stored, resulting in the pancreas digesting itself and all surrounding tissues. This can result in a whole host of problems for the cat’s body, and if not treated promptly, the condition can be fatal. Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of pancreatitis in cats.

Causes of Pancreatitis in Cats

Figuring out the cause of your cat’s pancreatitis can be tricky — in 90% of cases, the cause is never identified. However, there are risk factors that veterinarians believe can contribute to the development of the condition, including:

Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Cats

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Increased rate of respiration
  • Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver) is often caused by pancreatitis

Consequences of Pancreatitis in Cats

Pancreatitis is usually confined to the area around the pancreas. Diabetes might stem from pancreatitis if the pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin. Damage to the nearby liver is also common. In severe cases, pancreatitis can also spin out into one or more of the following:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Weber-Christian syndrome (in which body fats are destroyed)
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (causes abnormal bleeding and clotting)
  • Brain damage

Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Cats

Pancreatitis can be difficult to diagnose. The usual procedure involves a physical examination, blood work, urinalysis, and an ultrasound, but these evaluative measures are only diagnostically definitive in a few cases. An actual biopsy of the pancreas is the only way to definitively diagnose pancreatitis, but it is a serious surgical procedure that can cause further trauma to an already sick cat. In most cases, an assumption is made based on symptoms and any evidence gathered in the diagnostic procedures, and then treatment is started.

Treating Pancreatitis in Cats

If the cause of pancreatitis is known, then the cause should be treated. However, most cats are not that lucky, since the cause is usually not known. For the majority, their treatment often involves a lot of supportive care, such as:

  • The hospitalization of the cat, so as to receive fluid therapy to combat dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea
  • Giving them medicines to treat nausea and pain
  • If the cat is not eating, a feeding tube may be implanted
  • Food may be withheld if the cat is vomiting
  • Plasma transfusions can help to prevent the development of certain conditions such as disseminated intravascular coagulation
  • Digestive enzyme supplements are beneficial in some cases

If a cat survives an episode of acute pancreatitis, chances are high that it will be able to live a normal life. In chronic cases, however, the condition can come and go, and a diet change, as well as a lifetime of medication, may be necessary. Since the cause is often unknown, there is no real way to prevent pancreatitis. Instead, you should contact your veterinarian at the first sign that something is wrong.

Feline Pancreatitis Treatments: How To Care For Your Cat

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:

  • Fluid Therapy

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 its 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.

  • Food and Nutrition

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.

  • Medications

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.

  • Plasma Transfusion

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.

  • Supplements

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 infectionsfeline infectious peritonitisfeline distemper, inflammatory bowel disease, and exposure to certain insecticides or medications.

In these cases, the specific cause should be treated, and 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.

What is the survival rate for cats with pancreatitis?

Studies show an impressive 78% survival rate in cats with pancreatitis. However, a delay in getting to the vet can worsen this rate and result in higher mortality. While cats suffering from this disease seldom need a hospital stay, they must get ongoing home care. As a pet parent, you should learn to recognize the signs and seek timely treatment from a specialist. In most cases, they recommend anti-inflammatories and pain relief to address the symptoms and ensure comfort for your feline companion. Your pet may require fluid therapy if it has dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea. It may also need a feeding tube if it fails to ingest orally or vomits. Plasma transfusions may be recommended to prevent severe conditions such as disseminated intravascular coagulation. 

What is the quality of life for a cat with pancreatitis?

According to Andie Lenhard, a veterinarian, most cats with pancreatitis hardly show any symptoms. They only vomit, which pet parents consider normal for cats. Even severe cases may not show the classical signs, such as fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Your cat may lose weight only if she has suffered from pancreatitis for some time. In fact, you can expect your pet to have a relatively normal and healthy life even after being diagnosed with pancreatitis. Moreover, the majority of cats with acute pancreatitis recover without any long-term consequences with prompt treatment. However, chronic pancreatitis can affect your cat’s quality of life, necessitating long-term treatment and care. Therefore, timely diagnosis and prompt treatment are the best ways to preserve your pet’s quality of life.

Is a cat with pancreatitis in pain?

Abdominal pain is common in human and canine pancreatitis. However, studies show that it is reported only in 10-30% of cases of feline pancreatitis. This does not mean that your cat is not experiencing pain, but it may not be showing its pain due to its stoic nature. Most cats can hide signs of pain from owners and veterinarians because of this characteristic. Melana Cruz, a vet assistant, says that cats are good at hiding their illnesses and wounds. Pet parents should watch out for signs like not eating or drinking, behavior changes, and hiding behind furniture. A friendly kit may suddenly become mean or anxious, or one that is indifferent to you petting is now very clingy. These signs may indicate that your cat needs a vet.

Can a cat recover from severe pancreatitis?

The prognosis for recovery for cats with pancreatitis is generally very good for the mild to moderate forms of the disease, though repeated episodes may happen. However, the disease can be fatal for cats suffering from severe forms of acute pancreatitis. Research shows that the hypoechoic pancreas has a higher treatment cost, longer duration of hospitalization, and higher mortality. Timely treatment can help save your pet as the disease requires IV fluids, painkillers, and anti-nausea medication. Your cat may require a feeding tube during the recovery phase until its appetite improves. The earlier your cat gets back to eating normally, the better the recovery prognosis. 

How can I treat my cat’s pancreatitis at home?

Although not all cats with pancreatitis need hospital admission, your vet is the right person to decide whether you can treat the condition at home. It is recommended only in cases of mild and manageable disease rather than severe and acute forms. According to Randall Haveman, a former veterinarian, the degree of illness should be your guide. Your pet will need antibiotics and anti-nausea drugs for pain and vomiting. Further, you will have to provide it with a low-fat, highly digestible diet. Forced feeding may be needed to ensure proper nutrition in case of low appetite. Home care may also include administration of IV fluids for a dehydrated cat. You can learn to do it at home or take your cat for an outpatient veterinary visit. 

Can food cause pancreatitis in cats?

Fatty foods may trigger pancreatitis in cats, causing vets to avoid feeding them excessive fat during treatment. Most cats with pancreatitis struggle with low appetite, making it important to ensure they do not lose weight. Notably, there are no specific diets for the condition, but you can offer different ones to identify the one that works for your feline companion. Since cats with pancreatitis may have co-occurring conditions like diabetes mellitus and inflammatory bowel disease, you must consider them while choosing a diet for your pet. It should be balanced with the right nutrient mix yet not have the ingredients that may worsen your cat’s medical symptoms. You can add appetite stimulants and pain treatments to help your pet’s appetite.

More on Cat Health

All About Cat Examinations -- What to Expect at a Vet Visit
How to Prevent Dental Health Problems in Cats
What Can Affect a Cat's Lifespan?

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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