Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Cats

EPI cat

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency or EPI in cats is a disease of the exocrine part of the pancreas. It crops up when most of the cells that make digestive enzymes are not working as they should.

EPI is not as common as pancreatitis in cats but it is the next most common exocrine pancreatic disorder.

Although there is no cure for EPI in cats, our feline friends cat can go on to enjoy a long and happy life with the right treatment. Read on to find out how to recognize EPI in cats and about all its causes and symptoms.

The Functions of the Pancreas

A cat’s pancreatic cells perform 2 key functions:

  • To produce insulin to get sugar from the blood and into cells
  • To make digestive hormones that can break down food

When the cells stop working properly, cats become ill. If sufficient insulin-producing cells become damaged, cats can develop Type I diabetes. Or, in the case of damage to cells that make the digestive hormones, cats develop EPI.

Once EPI sets in, you’ll have to provide your cat with pancreatic enzyme supplements and necessary treatments for the rest of their life.

Symptoms of Cat EPI

Back in 2016, a study outlined the typical symptoms of cat EPI along with what percentage of cats suffered from them. These were the conclusions:

  • A drop in weight (91 percent)
  • Unformed feces (62 percent)
  • Poorer quality fur (50 percent)
  • Anorexia (45 percent)
  • An increase in appetite (42 percent)
  • Lethargy (40 percent)
  • Watery diarrhea (28 percent)
  • Vomiting (19 percent)

The study also discovered that more than half the cats involved had at least one other health issue. If this applies to your cat, they may have other symptoms too.

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Typical Causes of Cat EPI

Inflammation of the pancreas is the most common cause of EPI in cats but other possibilities include:

  • Defects from birth
  • Cancer that affects the pancreas
  • Obstruction of the duct that joins the pancreas to the intestinal tract

Cats that get into the habit of eating grasshoppers can become infected with a type of parasite, known as a pancreatic fluke. In very serious cases, it can lead to enough damage to the pancreas to cause EPI.

Genetics does not seem to play a significant part in the development of EPI. There are no breeds of cats that are at greater risk than others, and the condition can affect cats whatever their age. 

Diagnosing Cat EPI

Because you’ll also see the signs typically linked to EPI in cats as symptoms of many other diseases, vets will tend to run a series of lab tests. These might include blood chemistry tests and a complete blood cell count.

From these, a vet will be able to spot issues such as anemia, sometimes linked to EPI. 

The most effective test to diagnose Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in cats is the trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI) test. Trypsin is a digestive enzyme that the pancreas produces and is typically present at low levels in the bloodstream.

When cats have EPI, blood-trypsin levels are far lower than you’d normally expect. The test is simple to carry out by drawing blood although cats should not eat  8-12 hours before your vet takes the sample.

Deficiencies in vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, along with changes in folate levels, also a type of B vitamin, are very common in cats with EPI. Your vet will send blood samples to the lab to check the levels of these key vitamins.

Treatment For Cats with EPI

The focus will be on replacing the cat’s missing digestive enzymes, giving vitamin B12 supplements, and give a fat free dieet which is easy digestible. Some cats may also require folate supplements and antibiotics.

You will have to add pancreatic enzyme supplements at mealtimes. Powdered varieties are simple to use and normally effective. On balance, they tend to work better than tablets.

You’ll need to mix any powders well into your cat’s food. If your cat eats the powder on its own, they may well get irritation in the mouth. Some cat owners suggest letting the food sit for a while to allow the powder to diffuse into the food properly. There is, however, no scientific proof that this helps.

After time and when your cat’s symptoms are under control, the idea is to use the least quantity of enzyme supplement that works for your cat.

Using Pancreas Meat as a Supplement

Another way to get pancreatic enzymes into the body is to eat “pancreas meat” from a different animal. You can buy this from a butcher or specialist supplier. If you go down this road, be sure always to wash your hands and any surfaces carefully afterward.

A typical initial dose of pancreas meat is around 30 grams mixed into each meal. However, your vet will be able to advise you on what’s best for your cat. It’s quite possible to grind up pancreas meat and then freeze it in the necessary portions. 

Vitamin Supplements

The majority of cats with EPI will require injections of vitamin B12 every few weeks at the start of treatment. Once their condition begins to stabilize, your vet may start spacing these injections further apart. Switching to an oral supplement might be possible too.

Folate supplementation is also necessary occasionally, at least for a short while. Your vet should check your cat’s vitamin levels regularly to ensure they don’t become deficient again.

Some cats with EPI also start getting an overgrowth of bacteria in their intestinal tract. Antibiotics can help manage this. Most cats only need antibiotic treatment for a month or 2, others may need longer-term therapy.

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Recovering From and Managing Cat EPI

Once the right treatment has begun, most cats with EPI will begin to rapidly feel a lot better. Adverse symptoms typically fade over a few weeks or even days.  

However, should your cat continue to respond poorly to treatment, it’s possible they could be suffering from another health problem as well. Your vet may then want to carry out further diagnostic testing. They may recommend further treatments depending on any issue they find. 

There is no one kind of diet that works for all cats with EPI. Lots of cats with EPI suffer from inflammatory bowel disease as well, so switching to a hypoallergenic diet may be worth trying.

EPI Cats: Book a Timeslot With a Vet Today!

If you think your pet may be suffering from Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, we’d like to hear from you. We have a team of highly qualified vets available to offer help and advice.

Book a time now with one of the team and get EPI in cats sorted once and for all.

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