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The pancreas is a small organ in your cat’s body, located near the stomach. It is responsible for making hormones that help regulate blood sugar (insulin, glucagon, and others), and for making digestive enzymes that help your cat break down their food for digestion.
If damage to the pancreas is temporary and reversible (meaning the pancreas can heal the damage), then it is called acute pancreatitis. If the pancreas is damaged to the point it cannot completely heal, the condition is called chronic pancreatitis, meaning it will likely not fully heal and will be a lifelong concern.
This damage is caused by the pancreas accidentally digesting itself. The pancreas makes digestive enzymes in an “off” state, meaning they don’t work until they are turned to an “on” state. In a normal, healthy cat, the enzymes get into the digestive tract before they turn from an “off” state to an “on” state. In a cat with pancreatitis, something has prevented this movement, and the digestive enzymes turn “on” inside the pancreas. This is bad, because unlike your cat’s digestive system, the pancreas does not have a way to protect itself from digestion. The enzymes go to work, damaging the cells around them.
Pancreatitis is one of the most common pancreatic disorders in cats. It is most often idiopathic, which is a medical term for “we aren’t sure what caused that.” Because the direct cause of pancreatitis is usually unknown, treatment can’t be directed at a direct cure. Instead, your cat will be given supportive care. Supportive care involves giving the body what it needs so it can focus on healing.
Unfortunately, pancreatitis is a very serious diagnosis in cats, and can lead to death. If you think your cat is showing signs of pancreatitis, call your veterinarian.
What Causes Pancreatitis in Cats?
The cause of pancreatitis in cats is almost never known — 95% of cases have no observable cause.
A few infectious diseases can cause pancreatitis in cats, as can trauma to the area, but other than these obvious cases, pancreatitis is an idiopathic disease. We know that it happens, and what happens, but we simply do not know what causes it most of the time.
How Do I Know If My Cat Has Pancreatitis?
It’s important to know as a cat parent that you can’t know for sure if your cat has pancreatitis or not. It’s a tough diagnosis even for a vet because the signs and symptoms overlap with those from a lot of other conditions. Some of these conditions are fairly harmless, some are very serious. If your cat shows any of the signs and symptoms of pancreatitis and they do not self-resolve quickly, be sure to give your vet a call. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
If you are working with your vet on the process of differential diagnosis (a medical term for going through the list of things that can cause the symptoms you’re seeing until you find the right one), keep pancreatitis in mind. If you’ve tested for several different conditions and all come back negative, and your beloved companion isn’t getting better, ask your vet if it’s worth looking for pancreatitis.
Signs and Symptoms
Pancreatitis should be on the list of suspected problems when your cat shows any or all of the following (and should be higher on the list the more of these signs and symptoms are shown):
- Lethargy (lack of energy and zest for life)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abnormally low or high body temperature
- Abdominal pain
Sometimes pancreatitis does not show any signs or symptoms, especially at first.
How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
As mentioned, diagnosing pancreatitis can be tough. The symptoms as listed above can belong to many other health conditions. We strongly recommend that you work with your vet and follow their guidance on what to test for first, but if you’re not getting anywhere and your pet isn’t recovering, ask your vet if it would make sense to test for pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is diagnosed using the following:
- Your reported history of your cat’s signs and symptoms
- Imaging tests like ultrasounds or x-rays
- Laboratory tests on the blood, including a newer “Pancreas-Specific Lipase” test
Frustratingly, these tests are not always conclusive, meaning pancreatitis can be diagnosed by process of elimination, meaning your pet tests negative for everything else that could cause their symptoms.
How Is Pancreatitis Treated?
Pancreatitis has to be caught early to be treated with a high chance of success. The best way to treat pancreatitis is to allow it to rest.
Your cat’s body only instructs its pancreas to make the digestive enzymes that are hurting it if your cat drinks or has food. The best way to treat pancreatitis is to withhold all oral food and water and provide these things intravenously — directly into their bloodstream. Unfortunately this means treating pancreatitis often involves hospitalization for your kitty. If all goes well, their pancreas will get a break from the enzymes hurting it, allowing it to heal.
Medications may also be used as follows:
- Pain medications and anti-inflammatories for the pain and inflammation the disease causes
- Antibiotics for any infections
- Anti-diarrhea and anti-vomiting medications
Sometimes your cat may be diagnosed with other conditions that are sometimes related to pancreatitis, like diabetes or problems with their gut. Medications to treat these may be given as well.
Sometimes pancreatitis is advanced and quite serious. In this case the treatment listed above will be more intense and last longer, and other medications may be used to support your cat’s body if they are at risk of going into organ failure or shock. This happens if pancreatitis isn’t caught in time, making it critical to let your vet know if you suspect anything seriously wrong with your feline friend.
Does CBD Work For Cats With Pancreatitis?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the two main parts of the hemp plant used medicinally. The other is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is used both medicinally and to get a recreational high.
If you use a hemp product with your cat, be sure it’s THC free. THC leads to more side effects in pets than CBD-only products.
CBD’s role in pancreatitis is supportive. It is an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medication that can also help with relaxation and easing anxiety. Just like the pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications listed above, it helps your cat feel better during the recovery process, and does not directly cure or treat the condition.
What CBD Is Best for My Cat’s Pancreatitis?
A CBD oil product formulated like the oils we sell is best for a few reasons:
- It is THC free. THC is associated with the panic and anxiety attacks pets experience on hemp extract products. We don’t have any in ours specifically to avoid this.
- It is formulated with MCT oil. MCT oil is the fraction of coconut oil that is liquid at room temperature. Critically, it does not require pancreatic enzymes to digest. MCT oil is used as a healthy nutritional supplement in animals. It has been shown to decrease seizure activity and is part of ketogenic diets. It helps carry CBD to your cat’s bloodstream through the tissue lining their mouth — they get some of the benefit without even having to swallow!
- It is weight-based. Our oils are available in many potencies specifically formulated for your pet’s weight. The dose we use is the most evidence-based available: 1-2mg/kg twice daily. See our dosing calculator here.
- Our facility is registered with the United States Food and Drug Administration.
- Our oils are all certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture. Our facility has been inspected and approved by the USDA to meet the rigorous requirements of this certification.
- We provide third-party lab Certificates of Analysis for every one of our CBD products, available here. These are done by a reputable third-party lab, proving that our products contain what we say they do — and nothing else. No pesticides, no heavy metals, no bacteria, no THC. Just CBD in a broad-spectrum extract that helps your cat without harmful toxins!
- We are a small, independently owned, professional, ethical company. We respond to our customers, answer questions, and care about your pet with the love only fellow pet owners can know. When you call or email us, you reach a human that loves animals and is directly involved in our mission to provide quality products and information about CBD to pet owners everywhere.
What Can I Expect After My Cat’s Pancreatitis Is Treated?
If your cat’s pancreatitis is caught in time and treated well, providing the organ a chance to rest and recuperate will result in healing. Life will return to normal for you and your special friend!
Pancreatitis that is not caught quickly or that progresses so fast it caused significant damage before treatment can lead to permanent harm to either the part of the pancreas that makes insulin or the part that makes digestive enzymes.
If the part that makes insulin is permanently damaged, your cat may develop diabetes mellitus and require insulin therapy for the rest of their life.
If the part that makes digestive enzymes is permanently damaged, your cat can develop pancreatic insufficiency and require supplements of pancreatic enzymes in their food.
Severe permanent damage to the pancreas can lead to lifelong problems with digestion that will need to be managed on an individual basis. This will involve good communication and cooperation with your veterinarian.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that causes it to digest itself and is usually idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, dehydration, weight loss, nausea/vomiting, jaundice, and abdominal pain. Diagnosis involves lab tests, imaging tests, the history of symptoms reported, and physical exams. Treatment involves supportive care, such as withholding food and water and providing them intravenously, as well as pain and anti-inflammatory medications. CBD can be used to provide relief from pain and inflammation, and should be dosed carefully under the guidance of a veterinarian.