What are Acute Pancreatitis?
This condition is not fully understood and seems to have no identifiable causes. However, it warrants immediate veterinary attention and may be life-threatening. Acute pancreatitis should not be confused with chronic pancreatitis, which is a recurring condition.
Acute pancreatitis in cats is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed and causes digestive enzymes to transfer into the abdominal cavity, which may cause damage to nearby organs. Digestive enzymes are designed to be inactive until they reach the small intestine. With acute pancreatitis, these enzymes activate prematurely while in the pancreas. This will lead to the pancreas essentially digesting itself.
Symptoms of Acute Pancreatitis in Cats
The following symptoms are not specific to acute pancreatitis, but are most commonly seen in cats diagnosed with the condition. If you notice your cat exhibiting any of these symptoms, seek emergency veterinary treatment immediately.
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Signs of pain
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy and weakness
Causes of Acute Pancreatitis in Cats
The cause of acute pancreatitis in cats is not well understood. In fact, the condition continues to puzzle veterinarians. Some cats may die from one single episode of pancreatitis, while others may experience it once with no further problems. Some cats may develop a recurring form of the condition.
The identifying feature of pancreatitis is the premature activation of digestive enzymes in the pancreas. An increased white blood cell count is usually also observed in cats with acute pancreatitis, but this is not always the case, and it may not be associated with acute pancreatitis at all.
There are some suspected causes of the condition based on previous cases. They include:
- Parasitic infection
- Allergic reactions to certain drugs
- Liver disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Diagnosis of Acute Pancreatitis in Cats
Diagnosing acute pancreatitis can be tricky. The pancreas does not show up easily on x-rays, although your vet may take one in order to ensure there are no intestinal obstructions present. Tissue biopsy is currently the only definitive diagnostic method available, and is not advised for seriously ill cats.
First, your vet will perform a thorough physical examination, followed by blood tests and ultrasounds. If your cat is healthy enough, your vet may conduct a tissue biopsy. Be sure to inform your vet of any medications your cat is currently taking. Your vet will also require your cat’s complete medical history, so be prepared to provide details about its health.
Due to the difficulty in diagnosing the condition, acute pancreatitis is often underdiagnosed in cats, and therefore not treated correctly in many cases.
Treatment of Acute Pancreatitis in Cats
No single treatment method exists for acute pancreatitis in cats. Treatment will depend on the severity of the condition. Almost all cases of acute pancreatitis will require a lengthy hospitalization, usually lasting two to four days, as well as supportive nutritional and pain management treatments.
The best way to treat acute pancreatitis is to prevent the affected cat from eating and drinking normally. This will cause enzyme production in the pancreas to slow, allowing the pancreas to rest and begin to heal. Intravenous fluid therapy is typically utilized in order to reverse dehydration and maintain fluid levels. A feeding tube is almost always placed in order to maintain adequate caloric intake. Anti-inflammatory and pain management medications, usually analgesics, are prescribed in cases of acute pancreatitis as they help to relieve symptoms. Medications to control vomiting and diarrhea will also be prescribed if your cat requires them.
Toward the end of the hospitalization, your vet will gradually reintroduce your cat to eating traditional food. If your cat is still suffering from a decreased appetite, your vet may administer appetite stimulants. If another underlying cause or condition exists, your vet will treat it during this time.
Recovery of Acute Pancreatitis in Cats
Recovery and prognosis will depend on the severity of the condition, when it was diagnosed, and the effectiveness of treatment. Always follow your vet’s post-treatment instructions carefully.
Dietary changes may be required in some cases. Your vet will advise you based on your cat’s specific needs. Upon your cat’s return home, ensure it has a warm, safe place to rest. Always administer any prescribed medications exactly as directed. Do not give your cat any pain medications made for human use unless explicitly instructed to do so by your vet.
Your vet will schedule follow-up appointments as appropriate to monitor your cat’s progress until they appear to be back to normal. The vet may test for feline diabetes during these appointments, as this can sometimes develop following acute pancreatitis.
Provided that the condition has been diagnosed early and treatment has been successful, your cat should make a full recovery. However, there is a chance that the condition will recur and develop into chronic pancreatitis. If the condition recurs, contact your vet immediately.