Pancreatic Cancer in Cats

Pancreatic cancer in cats is rare, but ultimately results in a cat’s death. When a cat has this type of cancer, he will only survive a couple of months, because symptoms don't usually appear until the cancer is in its later stages.

Feline Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas in a cat makes insulin, the product that regulates blood sugar levels and aids in the processing of food. There is no known cause as to why a cat would develop cancer or tumors in his pancreas, but they are seen more often in cats that are older. Feline pancreatic cancer is very aggressive and will usually metastasize (spread) to other organs in a cat’s body.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms in Cats

When a cat has pancreatic cancer, he will lose weight, vomit, have a belly that looks like it’s stretched out, belly pain, will be jaundiced, he may be depressed and he won’t want to eat much. The belly may look bigger or distended because of the actual pancreatic tumor or the build-up of fluids in the cat’s abdomen. Belly pain will be apparent to a pet owner when she rubs her cat’s belly and he withdraws or cries out in pain. The upper right quadrant of a cat’s abdomen will be particularly sensitive if touched. Jaundice in this situation is caused by bile from the liver not being able to flow in the cat’s body; it’ll be noticeable when the whites of a cat’s eyes and his mucous are yellow.

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer in Cats

While completing a physical exam of a cat, a veterinarian will feel the cat’s belly for any pain, swelling or distention, or any lumps. Blood tests will reveal elevated levels of bile in the cat’s system, causing the jaundice. In some cases, a sample of fluid from the cat’s belly will be taken to look for cancer cells.

X-rays of a cat will help confirm the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and can even give a vet a good idea of how the mass looks, and if there's any build-up of fluids. An x-ray will also show if the tumor has displaced other organs. An ultrasound can further confirm the diagnosis of this cancer and what type of pancreatic disease the cat has. If ultrasound is not a diagnostic option, surgery can be used finalize the diagnosis.

Treating Pancreatic Cancer in Cats

Surgery is often elected to remove any tumors from the pancreas. However, this can be difficult if the cancer has spread to other parts of a cat’s body and is too advanced. If a cat does have a procedure done to remove a tumor from the pancreas, he will need to be hospitalized for several days following the surgery, and will need to receive IV fluids. Some pet owners choose to have a cat put down if pancreatic cancer is confirmed during surgery, since the cat is already anesthetized. Chemotherapy and other medical options are typically not considered, as they are not helpful in treating feline pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer in cats has a poor prognosis, because it's usually diagnosed when it’s too late. Comfort care is often the best option for cats with this condition.