On the one hand, it is an
endocrine organ that produces essential
hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, which control the level of
sugar in the blood. These hormones
are released from the pancreas
directly into the bloodstream.
The pancreas also functions
as an exocrine organ, releasing
enzymes into the small intestine that are essential for proper
digestion of the proteins, fats,
and carbohydrates found in food.
These enzymes are released
through little ducts that open
directly into the intestine, rather
than into the bloodstream.
There are several ways that things
can go wrong with the pancreas.
The most common disorder is
diabetes, which occurs as a result
of inadequate or improper secretion of insulin.
Although any age of cat may
be affected, middle-aged and
older males are at increased risk.
Obesity is a predisposing factor. Interestingly, Burmese cats
are four times more likely to be
stricken with diabetes compared
with domestic shorthaired cats.
The classic clinical signs are
excessive thirst (polydipsia),
increased urination (polyuria),
extremely good appetite (
polyphagia), and weight loss. Some
diabetic cats exhibit weakness in
their rear legs, a condition called
The diagnosis is usually
straightforward, and the presence
of a high blood sugar in conjunction with sugar in the urine confirms the diagnosis.
Treatment of diabetes involves
administering twice daily injections of insulin under the cat’s
skin. Diets that are high in protein
and low in carbohydrates are also
an important part of the management of diabetes. In fact, a small
percentage of diabetic cats can
be managed solely with a change
in diet. Most cats, however,
require insulin injections. In some
diabetic cats, early diagnosis and
aggressive dietary and insulin
therapy may cause the diabetes
Pancreatitis (inflammation of the
pancreas) is another common disorder. The clinical signs of pancreatitis vary widely and can include
poor appetite, fever, vomiting,
diarrhea, lethargy, and abdominal
pain. For years, veterinarians have
grappled with diagnostic tests for
The disorder cannot be diagnosed based on historical or clinical signs alone because the signs
mimic many other diseases in cats.
Some cats with pancreatitis might
have an elevated white blood cell
count, a mildly elevated blood
sugar, and a mildly decreased
calcium level, but these findings
are non-specific and inconsistent. X-rays are rarely helpful.
Ultrasound is better but is costly,
The pancreas, often weighing no more than 6 to 8 ounces, plays a huge, multifaceted role in maintaining your cat’s health. What’s amazing about it is that the pancreas acts like two organs in one.
Big things come
in small packages,
this feline organ.
BY DR. ARNOLD PLOTNICK,
M.S., D.V.M., ACVIM
SO WHERE IS THE PANCREAS?
Shaped like an upside-down V, the left lobe of the pancreas is nestled up
against the stomach, while the right lobe runs alongside the duodenum (the
first part of the small intestine).