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Acute Pancreatitis in Cats

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Acute pancreatitis results from sudden inflammation of the pancreas and is characterized by activation of pancreatic enzymes that can cause the pancreas to begin digesting itself. The pancreas lies in the upper abdomen alongside the first portion of the small intestine (called the duodenum) and between the stomach, liver and right kidney. It produces bicarbonate to neutralize stomach acid and several enzymes that facilitate digestion.

The cause of acute pancreatitis is poorly understood. Predisposing causes include obesity, high fat diet, liver disease, infection and recent abdominal surgery.

Acute pancreatitis can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. The body's reaction (systemic reaction) to the inflammation often determines the severity and prognosis. Recurrent bouts of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis and may contribute to other disorders such as diabetes mellitus or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

What To Watch For

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Weakness


    Diagnostic tests are needed to identify acute pancreatitis and exclude other diseases. These may include one or more of the following:

  • A complete medical history and a complete physical examination including careful palpation of the abdomen to check for pain or abdominal masses.

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to evaluate the severity of the inflammatory process as well as to check for anemia and low platelet count.

  • Serum biochemical tests to evaluate your cat's general health and to determine the effect of pancreatitis on other body systems.

  • Serum enzyme tests including amylase and lipase are usually measured; however, these tests are not ideal and can be normal in cats with pancreatitis. The serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity is a newer test that has been used to determine if pancreatic enzymes are being released into the bloodstream; however, the value of this test is still in question.

  • Abdominal X-rays to evaluate for haziness in the region of the pancreas (right cranial quadrant)

  • Abdominal ultrasound examination to evaluate for swelling of the pancreas, presence of pancreatic abscess or cyst or presence of peritonitis. During ultrasound examination, a specialized probe is applied to the abdomen and an image is generated on a monitor by the reflection of ultrasonic waves from the organs of the abdomen. This procedure is not painful and is well-tolerated without sedation.

  • Serum Feline Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity (PLI or fPLI) concentration is the most reliable test for diagnosis of pancreatitis. This blood test is sent to an outside laboratory. A "SNAP" test that can be done at the clinic but is not considered a reliable test.


    Severe pancreatitis can be life-threatening and requires intensive therapy. Treatment for acute pancreatitis may include the following:

  • Food and water is withheld for 24 to 72 hours so as to rest the pancreas. This approach may be sufficient for cats with mild pancreatitis.

  • Fluids may be administered subcutaneously or intravenously to correct dehydration and to provide the cat's daily fluid requirements during the period that food and water are withheld.

  • Food and water is gradually re-introduced if your cat responds favorably in the first few days. A bland diet (low in fat) is offered in small quantity if your pet has improved and has not vomited for at least 24 hours.

  • Abdominal pain is treated by cage rest, withholding food and water and administration of pain medications as necessary.

  • Antibiotics may be administered to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections.

  • Surgery may be necessary in severe cases and those complicated by pancreatic abscess, pancreatic cyst, or peritonitis.

    Home Care

    At home, administer as directed any medications prescribed by your veterinarian and follow any special dietary recommendations.

    Observe your cat's general activity level, appetite and attitude. Watch for loss of appetite, lethargy, or vomiting. Feed a low fat diet so as to maintain a normal body weight for your cat. Avoid exposure to table scraps, garbage, or other sources of high fat foods.

    Schedule regular follow-up visits with your veterinarian to monitor your cat's progress and promptly identify any recurrence of pancreatitis.

    Preventive Care

    Acute pancreatitis is difficult to prevent. Attempts to prevent pancreatitis may include:

  • Weight loss in obese cats followed by maintenance of a normal body weight.

  • Feeding a low fat diet.

  • Avoidance of table scraps.

  • Attempts to lower blood fat (lipid) concentration in animals with abnormal blood lipid concentrations

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