The pancreas is a pale pink gland just under and to the right of the stomach and liver. It has two main functions. First it has an endocrine function in that it makes insulin which regulates the metabolism of sugar. And second it has an exocrine function in that it makes digestive enzymes that are secreted into the intestine to assist with normal food digestion.
Pancreatitis is defined as any inflammation, injury or disease to the pancreas. Pancreatitis can be brought on by the cat eating large amounts of very fatty foods (for example table scraps). Pancreatitis can also be brought on by eating spoiled or contaminated food or water. And lastly cases of pancreatitis can be associated with abdominal trauma (getting hit by a car), toxoplasmosis, infectious diseases (FIP and FIV), and cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts).
Pancreatitis can either happen slowly (chronic inflammation) or quickly (acute inflammation). Chronic pancreatitis can result in scar tissue forming in the pancreas, which in turn decreases the ability of the pancreas to function properly. Pancreatitis can become very severe if left untreated. The pancreas itself contains digestive enzymes. These enzymes are normally found in the pancreas in an inactive state. It is only when they are released into the intestine that they are activated and can perform their digestive functions. However, when the pancreas becomes inflamed these enzymes can be activated inside the pancreas. This can lead to permanent pancreatic damage.
Symptoms to look for:
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of appetite
Your vet will perform blood tests to look for two specific digestive enzymes (lipase and amylase) and the cat’s white blood cell count. Elevated levels of these enzymes usually point to pancreatic problems. Some veterinarians will also perform an ultrasound to look at the pancreas, this can sometimes be helpful. An ultrasound of an inflamed pancreas often reveals an enlarged pancreas surrounded by fluid. There is also a new test that looks for TLI (Trypsin-like immunoreactivity) which seems to be a good indicator of pancreatitis. However the technology needed to run this test is unique and the test can only been run in certain facilities, thus depending on your vet and where you live this test could take weeks to get results from.
Treatment is usually to withhold food and water for 24-36 hours to allow the pancreas to rest and enzyme levels to return to normal. Medications may be given for the pain and vomiting, and fluid therapy may also be used so the cat does not become dehydrated. Solid food (lower in fat and easier to digest) will then be gradually reintroduced.
Cats who have pancreatitis once are at risk for getting it again so if your cat does have pancreatitis you will need to monitor him/her and watch his/her diet forever.
The best preventative medicine is to feed your cat a vet-approved, low-fat, high-quality diet. Also minimize giving your feline table food as it is high in fat. Lastly, make sure your cat eats out of very clean food and water bowls and try to minimize ‘garbage-picking’ if possible.