The pancreas is a pink/tan lacy organ that has two big jobs. First, it secretes insulin to control blood sugar levels. Second, it produces enzymes that flow into the intestines to digest food. In a normal pancreas, these powerful enzymes are stored in special compartments and then secreted into the pancreatic duct when needed. If the pancreas becomes inflamed, the normal architecture is disrupted, allowing enzymes to leak out of their storage compartments into the actual tissue of the pancreas. They digest the pancreas and cause even more inflammation which causes more leakage and inflammation. Eventually, pancreatitis occurs which translated means inflammation of the pancreas. If left untreated, the inflammation may “kill” the entire organ leaving the cat unable to digest its food (pancreatic insufficiency) or regulate its blood sugar (diabetes mellitus).
Unfortunately, pancreatitis is a common problem in cats. Dogs and humans with pancreatitis suffer nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In cats, the signs are much more vague, often just anorexia and/or lethargy. By the time people realize the cat is ill, significant pancreatic damage may have already occurred.
To catch this disease early, I recommend feeding a precise, measured amount of food twice per day and then monitoring your cat’s consumption. If consumption decreases and the cat starts sleeping more, seek veterinary care immediately.
P.S. In a nod to a friend and Catholic monk who has devoted his scientific career to diabetes research, I should mention that Fr. Cyprian Weaver, O.S.B., Ph.D., Ph.D., refers to the pancreas as the “Sacred Organ”.