Feline pancreatitis is inflammation of a cat's pancreas that can disrupt its normal functions and cause other symptoms as well. An inflamed pancreas is a serious problem, because the organ serves two vital functions in the body. It produces hormones -- insulin and glucagon -- that balance blood sugar. It also produces digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase, and proteases, which enable the body to use carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy.
Symptoms of Pancreatitis in Cats
In cats with pancreatitis, there are few overt symptoms. The most common signs are lethargy and lack of appetite. Since cats naturally sleep a lot and many are finicky eaters, these symptoms are often mistaken for normal feline behavior.
Some cats show signs of a tender abdomen, vomiting, and fever, but they tend to be the exception. That's why a good rule of thumb if you're a cat guardian is to make an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice any changes in kitty's weight, appetite, thirst, elimination, or behavior.
Feline Pancreatitis Follows Chronic GI Inflammation
A puzzle surrounding feline pancreatitis is what causes it. In a small percentage of cats, the condition has its roots in trauma to the pancreas, a viral or parasitic infection, or exposure to a toxin like organophosphates typically found in pesticides. In some cases, a clear correlation to dietary indiscretion can be made. My brother's cat knocked over a bottle of olive oil one night and licked it all up, which caused acute pancreatitis.
Certain drugs are also known to trigger bouts of pancreatitis, including phenobarbital, prednisone and other glucocorticoids, and diuretics.
However, in my experience, most cats who develop chronic or recurrent pancreatitis also suffer from inflammation in their gastrointestinal tract in the form of enteritis, gastritis, colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The underlying reason for most GI tract inflammation in pets is food allergies.
Since one of the jobs of the pancreas is to secrete enzymes to aid digestion, when your kitty's GI tract becomes inflamed and starts to malfunction, the pancreas overworks itself trying to produce a sufficient amount of digestive enzymes for use by the intestines.
Processed cat food lacks natural enzymes. The prey cats eat in the wild supplements the enzymes produced by the body, which reduces the workload on the pancreas. Fed a processed diet, over time your kitty's pancreas can become inflamed and stressed from the extra work required to produce enough enzymes.
The pancreas also produces insulin to balance blood sugar. The high carbohydrate content of manycommercial cat foods requires high levels of insulin, which is taxing to the pancreas.
When your cat's pancreas is overworked and can no longer do its job well, pancreatitis is the result.
Diagnosing Pancreatitis in Cats
Since many kitties don't have overt symptoms of pancreatitis, and many of the symptoms they do have are associated with several other feline diseases, a number of diagnostic tests are typically required to arrive at a confirmed diagnosis. These can include a physical exam, complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry panel to include pancreatic enzyme levels, urinalysis, x-rays, ultrasound, and biopsy.
Biopsies of the pancreas are not recommended, however, because they tend to trigger inflammation and can make a bad situation worse.
I have found functional GI testing to be very beneficial in diagnosing underlying maldigestion and malabsorption in chronic pancreatitis cases. Addressing the health of your cat's gut can make all the difference in the world. The goal of both diagnosis and treatment is a noninvasive approach.
The most accurate test for pancreatitis in cats is the feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLI) test. This is also the best test to use after your pet has been treated to insure the pancreatitis is truly resolved.
Avoiding Future Flare-ups
Treatment of feline pancreatitis starts with getting the patient through the crisis phase of the disease. If your cat is anorexic, this usually means hospitalizing him so he can receive intravenous fluids (the cornerstone of pancreatitis treatment) and supportive medications until the crisis subsides.
Once your kitty's condition is stabilized, one of the best things you can do to avoid another flare up is to supplement her diet with digestive enzymes. I recommend supplemental enzymes even if your cat is consuming a fresh food diet.
I recommend you also offer your cat a high quality probiotic and transition her to a moisture-rich, carb and grain free novel protein diet to reduce the risk of future episodes of pancreatitis.
Unfortunately, pancreatitis often recurs. It's a serious disease that can result in complications like diabetes, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver), bleeding and clotting disorders, and even brain damage.
I recommend you partner closely with your veterinarian to give your cat the best opportunity to stay well.
Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com
Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.
By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.
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