Clinical Signs of Feline Pancreatitis

Understanding the symptoms of feline pancreatitis is key to getting your pet the help it needs. Many cats never show the full range of symptoms making it hard to know if your pet is ill.

With feline pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes inflamed. Digestive enzymes attack the pancreas and nearby liver. Left untreated, feline pancreatitis causes toxins to build up in the body. Brain damage and respiratory troubles can occur unless you seek medical care.

Function of the Pancreas

Located under the stomach, the pancreas serves two functions with cat digestive systems. First, it produces glucose and insulin to help regulate the body's blood sugar levels. Second, it releases digestive enzymes into the intestine helping with the digestion of food.

Reasons Why Enzymes Escape the Pancreas

Many cases of feline pancreatitis remain mysteries. However, known causes include:

  • exposure to insecticides containing organophosphate
  • feline distemper
  • genetics
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • ingestion of antibiotics, heart medications, seizure medications and immune system suppressants
  • severe injury to the abdomen, such as getting hit by a car
  • toxoplasmosis

Specific breeds, especially Siamese cats, seem to be more susceptible to this disease.

Watch for the Key Symptoms

Lethargy occurs in every case of feline pancreatitis. Many cats lose their appetite and become dehydrated. A cat throwing up may have pancreatitis, but not always. Symptoms do not show up in every case. They include:

  • abdominal pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • jaundice
  • low body temperature
  • vomiting

Many diseases share some of the same symptoms. Anytime cat eating habits change and the cat becomes listless, visit your vet. He will run tests to rule out or confirm pancreatitis in your pet.

Tests Your Veterinarian Uses

One of the problems with feline pancreatitis is that is usually appears simultaneously with other diseases. Cats with pancreatitis usually test positive for fatty liver disease, IBD and an inflammation of the liver or bile ducts. Feline vomiting occurs with many of these so vets spend time ruling out diseases before they diagnose pancreatitis.

Ultrasounds can prove helpful if the pancreas is visibly swollen. Blood tests prove effective in diagnosing in some cases of pancreatitis, but not all. Blood tests look for low calcium levels. However, only half of cats with pancreatitis develop calcium deficiencies. Used together, these tests help veterinarians know if they are dealing with pancreatitis.

The Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity test checks lipase levels. Before the test is used, a cat cannot eat for 12 hours and then lab results take up to two weeks to process.

The only fail-proof test involves a biopsy of the pancreas. A needle enters the pancreas and then the tissue sample is checked under a microscope. Anesthesia is required for a biopsy. Recent advancements prove that a laparoscopy may be the least evasive way to diagnose this troublesome disease.

Treatment Plans

The best way to treat feline pancreatitis is to find the underlying cause and treat it. This is not always possible, however.

Many vets prefer to provide a cat with IV fluids to keep him hydrated. Pain medications are offered and antibiotics or steroids are used as necessary.

Dietary changes become necessary. Smaller amounts of food served more frequently during the day help prevent relapses.