Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer in Cats

Pancreatic cancer in cats is a rare, terminal cancer. It's uncommon for a cat to live more than a couple months after diagnosis. Cancerous masses in the pancreas, known as insulinomas, cause the pancreas to release high levels of insulin, which in turn cause imbalances of glucose in the bloodstream.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer in Cats

Pet owners may be able to catch the earliest symptoms of insulinomas if they pay close attention to their cat's behavior. Following exercise, the cat may seem extremely tired, more so than normal. The cat may develop muscle twitches and a lack of coordination.

Cats often lack an appetite and lose weight as a result. Nausea and vomiting increase. If the tumor grows large enough, the abdomen might swell and become extremely painful to the touch. If the tumor obstructs the flow of bile, jaundice occurs. At your veterinarian's office, the abdomen will be palpated to see if a mass can be felt.

As the duty of the pancreas is to maintain the proper blood sugar levels in the body, having cancerous cells quickly impacts a cat's health. When the blood sugar levels become too low, insulin shock occurs.

Diabetic Insulin Shock

Because insulinomas create an imbalance in blood sugars, diabetic shock is often the point at which pet owners notice something is wrong. As the insulinomas grow and alter blood sugar levels, there is one key symptom: loss of consciousness. You may notice extreme weakness and possible seizures before the collapse, but this doesn't always occur in every case.

If your cat does collapse, seek urgent veterinary care. The clinic will order blood tests to check the glucose levels over a span of time. Once continual low glucose levels are seen, ultrasounds or MRIs are ordered. These imaging tests pinpoint the location and size of the tumor.

Treating Pancreatic Cancer in Cats

Feline pancreatic cancer is rarely treatable. Surgical removal of the cancerous portion of the pancreas can be performed. Steroids and chemotherapy may be ordered to help maintain glucose levels and kill cancerous cells. Management of the symptoms of feline pancreatic cancer is usually the preferred path.

If you do opt to have the pancreas removed, maintenance of the insulin levels requires strict monitoring to prevent insulin shock. You will need to feed your cat small, low-sugar meals throughout the day. Frequent veterinary checks are necessary to monitor your cat's health and sugar levels.

This form of cancer in cats can spread quickly to other organs. Removing the pancreas may get rid of one tumor, but the tumor can appear in other areas. For this reason, most vets advise keeping your cat comfortable for the remainder of his life and not forcing the cat to go through a painful surgery.

Because many cats develop nausea and vomiting, switching to canned food is usually easier on the animal. The nutrients are absorbed quickly and many cats simply prefer the flavor. Medications to control the nausea and vomiting are possible. If the cat is showing signs of dehydration, IV fluids may be required.

Pain is controlled though prescription pain medications. If the medications stops working effectively, it's often best at this point to have the animal euthanized.