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Pancreatitis: Information and Definitions

January 28, 2007 by Maria-Elena Cloherty, DVM

This is a disease that annually strikes many animals, most notably our cats and dogs. The importance of this article is to make owners aware of the signs, symptoms, diagnostics, and treatment options should their pet be afflicted. Also, I have added information regarding how to avoid the disease &/or its recurrence. We did not have “known” documented cases of pancreatitis in cats, until recently, and have found that it is present in similar numbers in cats as in dogs. Parasitism, and cystic disease are also problems we see in our feline friends. The animals most often seen with this disease are obese, middle to older, and female.

The glandular organ known as the pancreas, hangs much like a curtain just beneath the stomach from the proximal portion of the small intestine. Its role is to produce enzymes to aid in digestion of food, and the produce insulin most important for blood sugar regulation. It is the antagonism of glucagon & insulin that release or store sugar supplies in the body. When there is inflammation of this organ, this is pancreatitis, and this can be a life-threatening condition. This condition is so extremely debilitating, painful, and it is critical that you see your vet ASAP to begin therapies to stop the progression of this disease. It is the “leaking” of the digestive enzymes from this organ into neighboring organs within the abdomen that can lead to scarring & permanent changes. Some of the “changes” that we see lead to Diabetes Mellitus, and Chronic Pancreatic Insufficiency, the latter which causes difficulty in the digestive process.

Acute Pancreatitis

As defined, this is inflammation of the pancreas occurring abruptly with little or no permanent pancreatic change. It is because it comes on so quickly, that you must know the signs/symptoms to mention to your vet. In many cases, the cause is unknown, but experts surmise that the following may represent etiologic agents for the disease process trauma, abscessation, concurrent diseases, high fat diet & in circulating blood, food borne toxins, certain drug therapies and organophosphate insecticides, and pancreatic duct obstruction. Cats have some other potential causes such as infectious agents (toxoplasma, herpes, FIP, and feline parvovirus), as well as, cholangiohepatitis and fatty liver.

Things to look for in your pet are fever (C-100-103 F, D-99.5-102.5 F), rapid heart rate (C-140-220, D-60-180), and vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, loss of appetite, and dehydration, respiratory distress, and jaundice.

Your vet will use various testing methods to diagnose your pet. The most common are history, clinical signs, x-ray and ultrasound (this is the most useful). A blood test called trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI) is very helpful in the diagnosis of this disease, as well as an increased blood sugar level (in cats, which can also become diabetic post-episode since insulin producing parts of pancreas may be affected as well).

The most common treatments are usually supportive in nature including, total parenteral nutrition, a feeding tube directly into the intestine, pain medication, +/- a transfusion of plasma, and/or antibiotics. They may also prescribe low fat, high fiber diet for life.

Chronic Pancreatitis Insufficiency

Chronic pancreatitis comes about due to numerous bouts of acute pancreatitis, and this leads to an absence of digestive enzymes, which causes malabsorption of food.

Things to look for with chronic pancreatitis are the following: soft, pale, voluminous stools, weight loss, and greasy soiling around the rectum. The vet will often use the TLI test, the confirmation of disease comes about with the finding of a decreased normal value.

The way this chronic form is treated is by the use of replacement therapy of pancreatic enzymes in the diet, diet change, injections of vitamin B12 every 7 days in cats for one to two months, and antibiotics to treat bacterial overgrowth.

- Maria-Elena Cloherty, DVM


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