When you think about it, the pancreas is a lot like a cat: It typically goes about its business (of producing hormones and digestive enzymes) without a lot of fuss, but it definitely has a volatile and mysterious side that shows itself when the organ becomes inflamed.
The pancreas pulls double duty in the body. It produces hormones such as insulin and glucagon, which help maintain an appropriate level of glucose in the blood. But it also makes digestive enzymes that enable the body to use carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy. That multitasking is all well and good, but it can cause confusion when a veterinarian is trying to diagnose a cat with pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is one of the most baffling diseases veterinarians see in cats. The signs of pancreatitis can be difficult to spot. Loss of appetite, lethargy, dehydration, weight loss, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea can be symptoms of pancreatitis — and of many other illnesses. And some cats won't present with any of thse symptoms: My own family cat, Varmie, had none of the typical signs of pancreatitis except for loss of appetite. Varmie’s case is a good example of why you should take your pet to the vet if you notice any changes in appetite, thirst, activity or elimination.
Another reason pancreatitis is such a puzzle is because we usually don’t know what causes it. In 90 percent of the cases we see, we don’t know why the pancreas has become inflamed. In cats, pancreatitis isn’t associated with obesity, high-fat foods, steroids or other drugs, as it is in dogs, but it can be linked with liver and/or inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, cats as young as 5 weeks and as old as 20 years can develop pancreatitis.
As with any feline health problem, diagnosis begins with a medical history and a physical exam. Common signs we may see on examination of a cat who turns out to have pancreatitis are dehydration, low body temperature (or sometimes a fever) and icterus, a yellowish discoloration of the gums, whites of the eyes and ear tissue. We may also feel a mass in the abdomen, or note that the abdomen is painful when palpated.
Diagnostic tests don’t give us a definitive answer, but they can sometimes help. A blood test that measures what’s called pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLI) can give some useful answers, but results may not be available for a week or more.
An abdominal ultrasound may or may not indicate that the pancreas is inflamed, but certain findings are consistent with pancreatitis. On the other hand, some cats show no abnormalities on ultrasound but still have severe pancreatitis. One of the advantages of an ultrasound is that it may rule out or detect other diseases that cause similar symptoms.
A biopsy would let us know for sure that we were dealing with pancreatitis, but it’s a very bad idea to anger the pancreas. Poking and prodding at it to obtain a biopsy sample can trigger inflammation and make the condition much worse. Usually, our goal is to be as noninvasive as possible with both diagnosis and treatment.
Often, the best we can do is to start treating the cat’s symptoms while we wait for the results of the fPLI test. For instance, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-emetics if your cat is vomiting or pain-relief medication if the abdomen is tender. Antibiotics may be prescribed if your vet suspects that bacteria from the intestinal tract have traveled up the bile and pancreatic ducts to the pancreas, causing infection and inflammation. Cats who aren’t eating may need hospitalization for tube feeding.
Intravenous fluids are important, too. Giving fluids makes up for any fluid loss the cat may have experienced from vomiting, diarrhea or simply not drinking enough water. It also helps to improve blood flow through the pancreas.
If you’re lucky, your cat will have only a single acute bout of pancreatitis. Unfortunately, some cats develop chronic pancreatitis. That’s a low level of constant inflammation that can cause the cat to become deficient in digestive enzymes. Cats with chronic pancreatitis may need enzyme supplements to help them digest their food.
Pancreatitis isn’t easy to diagnose or treat, but it’s something your veterinarian may consider when nothing else seems to explain your cat’s illness.
More on Vetstreet.com:
The holiday season is upon us, and many of us want to include our furry family members in the celebrations. As you prepare for the holidays, remember that it is important to try and keep your pet’s exercise and feeding routine as normal as possible. To help you along in this magical time of year, the team at Felton Veterinary Hospital has compiled some tips for celebrating the holidays safely with your pet.
The Tree — Perhaps the quintessential holiday icon, the Christmas tree can pose some health hazards for dogs and cats. You may want to secure the tree to the wall, so that it can’t tip over. Watch carefully that pets don’t drink the Christmas tree water, which could cause stomach upset or diarrhea.
Poisonous Plants — Holly, mistletoe, and poinsettias all pose serious risks to pets if ingested. Substitute silk flowers and place them high up where they cannot be ingested.
Tinsel and Lights — Kitties especially love tinsel and twinkling lights, and often can’t resist bringing them down for some chewing. However the nibble can result in a swallow, which can lead to digestive tract issues, possibly requiring surgery. Hang them high, or decorate your tree with something else.
Ornaments — Glass and delicate ornaments can break, possibly cutting a paw or mouth. Keep ornaments to soft felt or wood, and again you may want to hang them high to avoid curious paws from reaching them.
Common holiday foods that we all love to share can pose some serious health risks for our pets. If you want to share with your pets, keep it simple – a small piece of well cooked, lean turkey meat, unseasoned carrots or green beans, or a dollop of pumpkin puree can all be lovely treats for your furry friends this season. To avoid a trip to the emergency veterinary service this holiday season, here are the top holiday foods for pets to avoid.
Pets are creatures of routine and habit, and holiday visitors and loud gatherings may be stressful for them. To keep them calm and happy, here are some tips
A Quiet Place — Make sure your pet has a comfortable quiet place inside to retreat to if they wish. A crate or a room away from the action can let your pet calm down and give them a welcome break from the action.
Prep Ahead — let your guests know that you have pets, in case of allergies.
Exotic Pets — Exotic pets may be especially stressed by gatherings. Keep them safely away from the hubbub of the holidays.
Watch the Door — make sure your pet cannot slip out during comings and goings and get lost.
Microchip and Tags — Speaking of lost, make sure pets have a well-fitting collar and tags to make sure they can be identified if lost. Better yet, a microchip with up-to-date registration information can be your pet’s best chance of a reunion with you, should they slip out and get lost.
Clear the Food — Make sure food is cleared away before your pet can counter or table surf. Many a case of pancreatitis has been started by pets that get to a carcass or trash can during the holiday feast.
Wrapping Paper and Ribbon — Trash should be cleared away immediately, before curious pets can be tempted.
If you have other questions or concerns about how to keep your pets safe during the holidays, don’t hesitate to contact us. With a little planning and preparation, you can include your pets safely in your holiday celebrations!