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Acute Pancreatitis in Cats

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize acute pancreatitis and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

  • Your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. The abdominal will be carefully examined by palpation to test for abdominal pain and abdominal masses.

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to evaluate for infection or inflammation, anemia, and low platelet count.

  • A serum biochemical profile to evaluate the general health of your cat and the possible effects of pancreatitis on other body systems.

  • Urinalysis may be recommended to evaluate your cat's kidney function and check for urinary tract infection.

  • Serum enzyme activities including amylase, lipase, and trypsin-like immunoreactivity may be recommended to evaluate for pancreatitis. Some of these enzyme activities (amylase, lipase) are readily available but may be of limited value in the diagnosis of pancreatitis, especially in cats. Trypsin-like immunoreactivity is a test that likely will require shipping of a serum sample to a specialty laboratory.

  • Abdominal X-rays may be recommended to evaluate the region of the abdomen in which the pancreas is located (right cranial quadrant) and to help eliminate other potential causes of your cat's symptoms.

  • X-rays taken after administration of a radiographic contrast agent (GI series or barium series) may be recommended if intestinal obstruction is suspected.

  • Abdominal ultrasound examination may be recommended. This test may help identify abnormalities within the pancreas and other abdominal organs. Ultrasound examination may identify masses, cysts, or abscesses within the pancreas and also can identify biliary obstruction caused by pancreatic swelling. This examination may require referral to a veterinary specialist.


    Treatment of acute pancreatitis must be individualized based on the severity of your cat's condition and other factors that must be analyzed by your veterinarian. Treatments may include:

  • If your cat has mild acute pancreatitis, outpatient treatment including withholding of food and water for a short time to rest the pancreas may be recommended. Your veterinarian also may recommend subcuanteous administration of fluids, drugs to control vomiting, and, in some cases, antibiotics to prevent or control bacterial infection. In this situation, regular follow-up visits to your veterinarian are important to insure the condition does not progress and that your cat does not become dehydrated.

  • If pancreatitis is moderate or severe, hospitalization likely will be recommended and additional tests and treatments will be performed. Treatment consists primarily of intravenous fluid therapy, withholding of food and water to rest the pancreas (NPO for "nothing per os"), drugs to control vomiting and, in some cases, antibiotics to prevent or control infection. As the animal responds to treatment, water and a bland diet are gradually re-introduced.

  • Abdominal pain may be treated with cage confinement and analgesic mediations such as meperidine or butorphanol.

  • Antibiotics may be used to control or prevent bacterial infection.

  • Surgery may be necessary for complications of pancreatitis such as pancreatic abscess, infected pancreatic cyst, peritonitis or biliary obstruction.

  • Plasma or blood transfusion or abdominal lavage (flushing of the abdomen with sterile fluids) may be used to promote the removal of activated enzymes from the peritoneal space.

  • A body-wide clotting disorder (disseminated intravascular coagulation) occasionally may complicate pancreatitis and require additional treatment including heparin administration.

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