Feline Pancreatitis: Exocrine Pancreas Insufficiency in Cats

Feline pancreatitis, or more specifically exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, is a rare but serious condition. Fortunately, this problem is fairly easy to solve, but is extremely life-threatening if left untreated.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, also called pancreatic insufficiency and maldigestion syndrome, occurs when the pancreas fails to release the enzymes that are required to properly break down food. When a feline has this condition, the starches, proteins and fats that are required for a cat’s proper nutrition cannot be turned into pieces that are small enough to be absorbed by the intestinal tract. Therefore, the food remains undigested and passes out in the cat’s stool whole. The feline does not benefit from any nutrition the food can provide and is essentially starving, although she may be constantly eating. Chronic inflammation of the pancreas, an infestation of flukes or cancer can cause feline pancreatitis.   

Symptoms of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Cats who have feline pancreatitis often display the same symptoms and follow the same patterns. The affected cats will seem extremely hungry, even though they are constantly eating. Cats who have feline pancreatitis will lose weight and have high amounts of stool that can be loose and strong in odor. The stool may also be watery without any form at all. Because of the high amount of fat in the feces, the cat’s anal area and stool appears greasy. In addition, these cats will have poor hair coats and depending on the diet, may have large pieces of fat in their stool. Many times, cats who have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency will also have diabetes mellitus.

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Insufficiency

Typically, feline pancreatitis is initially diagnosed based on the appearance of the animal. The doctor will then perform laboratory testing that will measure the amounts of enzymes in the cat’s blood. Symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are similar to those associated with hyperthyroidism and inflammatory bowel disease. Therefore, your cat’s veterinarian will often perform additional tests to rule out these diseases as well.

Treatment of Feline Pancreatitis

While there is treatment available for feline pancreatitis, it is often expensive and is a life-long process. In order to treat the missing pancreatic enzymes, they need to be replaced. This can be accomplished by administering medication that contains pancreatic enzymes from other sources. These medications are made using freeze-dried, ground hog and cattle pancreas and contain large amounts of the same types of enzymes that are lacking in the affected cat. The medications are available in either pill or tablet forms and should be given 30 minutes before eating. Typically, the powder variety is recommended for cats. Cats who have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are often placed on low-fiber diets and may need vitamin supplementation.

It is not recommended to treat feline pancreatitis with products that are not specifically made for the treatment of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. There are many supplements that are advertised to aid in digestion, however they do not contain the appropriate enzymes that cats with this condition need.