Pancreatitis in cats

Pancreatitis is a rare disease in cats, caused by inflammation of the pancreas. They can be acute or chronic. The diagnosis of pancreatitis is difficult because the symptoms are not specific. Sometimes the cat has no symptoms at all. Rapid tests that can be performed in the clinic by veterinarians can help diagnose pancreatitis.

The pancreas is an organ that has both an endocrine function (secretion of insulin and glucagon, hormones involved in blood sugar regulation) and an exocrine function (secretion of digestive enzymes such as pancreatic amylase).

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. They are rare diseases in cats. Most of the time, the cause of pancreatitis is not identified, so we talk about idiopathic pancreatitis.

A distinction is made between acute and chronic pancreatitis:


Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis appears suddenly. The clinical signs can be severe and lead to the death of the animal.

There are two types of acute pancreatitis: suppurative pancreatitis and necrotic pancreatitis. Their origin would be different (infectious cause versus activation of pancreatic enzymes) and they affect cats of different ages (young cats for suppurative pancreatitis versus cats over 7 years old for necrotic pancreatitis).

Pancreatitis can be associated with liver disease, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, etc... The association of pancreatitis, cholangitis and IBD in cats is called feline triad.

The symptoms are not very specific, i.e. they are encountered in other diseases and are not characteristic of pancreatitis: anorexia, depression, weight loss, dehydration, vomiting, abdominal pain, etc. They may also be due to the associated diseases. Pancreatitis should always be considered when there are non-specific symptoms in the cat.

Warning: fasting is very poorly tolerated by cats. A consultation with a veterinarian is essential after 24 hours of fasting. Cats may develop hepatic lipidosis during prolonged fasting. The combination of hepatic lipidosis and pancreatitis has a very poor prognosis.


Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is almost twice as common as acute pancreatitis. They can follow acute pancreatitis.

The chronic inflammation of the pancreas leads to the progressive destruction of the organ. The loss of pancreatic function can lead to diabetes mellitus and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

Some animals express symptoms periodically while other animals are asymptomatic.




The diagnosis

The clinical examination does not usually allow the veterinarian to diagnose pancreatitis. Indeed, the animal presents little specific symptoms or sometimes no symptoms at all (during chronic pancreatitis).

There are rapid tests performed in the clinic that can facilitate the diagnosis. These tests measure the level of specific pancreatic lipase.

Other complementary examinations can be performed to orient the veterinarian: ultrasound, radiography, biochemical analysis, etc...

Only a histological analysis allows a diagnosis of certainty in pancreatitis but it is difficult to perform in routine.



As the cause of pancreatitis is rarely known, treatment is often symptomatic (i.e., aimed at treating the symptoms presented by the animal).

In the case of acute pancreatitis, animals are usually placed on a drip and fed quickly (to avoid the deleterious effects of fasting). Other treatments are often associated: analgesics (if the animal is in pain), anti-vomiting drugs, etc...

In the case of chronic pancreatitis, a low-fat and hyperdigestible diet (on veterinary prescription) is often implemented. Various food supplements to support the functioning of the pancreas can also be implemented (pancreatic enzymes in particular).

Regular follow-ups are necessary, the frequency of the controls is determined by the veterinarian treating the animal.