Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, which often primarily affects the exocrine or digestive enzymes. It can be acute or chronic, with the chronic form being more common in cats.
Pancreatitis can have many causes, including trauma, parasites, infection, and drug reactions. However, more than 90 percent of all pancreatitis cases in the cat have no identifiable cause. Siamese cats may have a genetic predisposition.
Unlike dogs, cats with pancreatitis do not usually show vomiting or abdominal pain as their initial sign. In more than 50 percent of affected cats, lethargy, poor appetite or not eating, dehydration, increased respiratory rate, and a lower-than-normal body temperature are the initial signs. Many cats may have concurrent hepatic lipidosis, cholangiohepatitis, or inflammatory bowel disease. Only about 35 percent of the cats with pancreatitis will vomit.
Diagnosing pancreatitis can be problematic. Ultrasound is one of the best methods, in the hands of an experienced examiner. New blood tests for feline trypsinlike immunoreactivity and pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity both show promise. If the cat is not in severe, acute distress, a pancreatic biopsy is diagnostic, but severely ill cats are anesthetic risks. Anemia may be present. Hypoalbuminemia may lead to fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
Treatment: Treatment is complicated. All cats with pancreatitis will need extensive fluid therapy and careful monitoring of their electrolytes. If the cat is vomiting, food may need to be withheld, but ideally not for more than 48 hours or hepatic lipidosis can occur. A feeding tube inserted by your veterinarian into the small intestine, or special liquid nutrition given via an intravenous line, may be needed for as long as seven to ten days. Pain control is essential.
Dopamine to stimulate blood flow can be beneficial. Medications to control vomiting and gastric acid may be needed. Antibiotics are rarely indicated. Corticosteroids and metronidazole may be important for chronic cases.
Severe acute pancreatitis can lead to rapid kidney failure, respiratory failure from pulmonary edema, disseminated intravascular coagulation, and death. Plasma administration may be very important for these cases. Peritoneal dialysis, which is only available in certain veterinary referral centers, may be valuable with acute cases.