By Dr. Laura Noaker

VERGI 24/7

Have you ever had a finicky cat that lost weight and became lethargic, yet no cause could be found? One possibility is that your cat was suffering from pancreatitis. This inflammation can be very serious. 

Pancreatitis happens when digestive enzymes begin to auto-digest the pancreas instead of food. Once thought to be rare in cats, it is now recognized more frequently due to improvements in tests. There is no effective way to prevent it since 95% of the time, the cause is unknown.

The diagnosis of pancreatitis can be very challenging. A vet will rely upon the cat’s clinical signs, multiple blood tests, and imaging results, including abdominal ultrasound. 

The most specific blood test is known as “feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity”, or fPLI but no one test is 100% accurate. X-rays do not generally show specific changes although they may be recommended to rule out other common causes of decreased appetite and vomiting. However, ultrasound examination can identify changes to the pancreas in up to ⅔ of cats. A biopsy is not generally recommended. In general, it is likely that a fairly accurate diagnosis can be made with a combination of clinical signs and diagnostic tests. 

Treatment mainly consists of managing the clinical signs. Hydration and fluid support are critical because dehydration is a very common finding and fluid loss can be severe enough to affect blood pressure. In these cases, cats will require intravenous fluid therapy in the hospital. In less severe cases, fluids can be given under the skin. 

Also, anti-nausea medications are recommended, even in cases where vomiting is not seen. One of the most common anti-nausea medications, maropitant (Cerenia), has also been shown to help decrease abdominal pain in animals. If additional pain medication is needed, opioid medications may be prescribed

Early nutritional support is key in the treatment of feline pancreatitis. Studies have shown that the earlier a cat gets back to eating, the better the prognosis. Proper nutritional therapy not only helps cats recover more quickly, but prevents other complications of prolonged anorexia such as hepatic lipidosis aka “fatty liver”. 

The prognosis for cats can vary as widely as the clinical severity of the disease. For cats with mild to moderate forms of the disease, the prognosis for recovery is generally very good, though repeated episodes are possible. Pancreatitis can, however, be fatal in cats with very severe forms of acute pancreatitis. 

If your cat has stopped eating for any reason, a prompt visit to your veterinarian is warranted. The key to successful treatment is to maintain a high index of suspicion and to seek early treatment.