Pancreatitis is, unfortunately, a common condition in cats. It can occur for any number of reasons: drug reaction, reaction to chemicals like flea products, vaccines, or pathogens. One big reason to have an inflamed pancreas is diet. It can be a food that the body has not seen before and that was introduced in a large amount suddenly, a food that doesn’t agree with that body, or just overeating a lot of food at once, especially if it is a new food. I (Dr. Blouin) find that a cat that has been eating just one brand of food for a long time may be more prone to pancreatitis when they undergo a sudden change.
The pancreas is an organ that secretes enzymes to aid digestion. So when an animal overeats and consumes quite a bit more than they usually eat, that organ is called upon to make a lot of enzyme all at once and it gets stressed. This can occur if an animal really likes a food and simply gobbles down a ton of it!
The stressed pancreas will then leak enzymes into the blood stream and into the surrounding tissue. This is painful and the patient often runs a fever from all that burning of the insides. Also, these enzymes inflame the rest of the digestive tract and can slow it down causing constipation or cause it to spasm causing diarrhea.
Apart from diarrhea or constipation, some other signs of pancreatitis are vomiting and lack of appetite. You might expect that when your digestive tract is inflamed and painful, putting food into it is not usually what you want to do. Also, the inflammation that causes constipation or diarrhea affects the stomach as well and can lead to vomiting.
The first part of treating pancreatitis is that we give the body lots of fluids to rinse out the built-up body products and pancreas enzyme that is now floating around loose. This takes from a few days to over a week depending on the animal’ response. The best way to do this is to put in an intravenous catheter and hospitalize the patient to really flush them out. The second best way to do it is by subcutaneous fluids where we inject a volume of fluids under the skin once or twice daily. Cats usually tolerate fluids under the skin very well and this is often something that we can teach pet parents to do for their cats at home.
The second step is to treat the pain. Humans get this condition too and we know from their reports that it is super uncomfortable to feel like your insides are burned by enzymes.
The third part is to keep the patient eating enough to meet their daily energy requirements. We can calculate that amount using a formula. We can give appetite stimulants to get them to eat on their own or we can assist them in eating with syringed food. One must be careful when doing the latter so as not to cause them to choke (aspirate) on the food.
Finally, we treat the inflammation caused by the leaking enzymes. We can use steroids to do this. In our clinic, we usually use natural products like homeopathics and herbs as steroids can have undesirable side effects.
We treat this condition frequently with good results and return to quality of life. Some cats can have chronic pancreatitis that never really goes away completely but gets better allowing them to be comfortable. The two main ways of managing chronic pancreatitis are through diet and stress reduction. Often these cats have some level of food sensitivity and a big part of controlling the inflammation is finding a food that they are less reactive to. Stress can also play a big role in chronic pancreatitis and we usually recommend stress reducing measures such as using Feliway diffusers, daily interactive play, and daily use of catnip.
Remember, the sooner we treat problems, the easier they are to treat. If you notice anything not quite right about your kitty, please give us a call right away!