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When the pancreas stops working properly, the results are very severe and often fatal. You may remember that the pancreas produces digestive enzymes. When this does not occur, the body
is unable to absorb nutrients because the food is never digested. This is called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) and results in animals who appear to be starving to death. They are thin, have poor hair coats, low energy and generally very large amounts of malodorous feces. EPI is easily treated by adding digestive enzymes to the food.
If the pancreas is assaulted in any way (sudden diet change, infection, trauma, etc.), it can release digestive enzymes into itself or surrounding tissues – and thus digest these organs to a degree. This inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis. This can be low grade smoldering disease, especially in cats. It can also be quite dramatic leading to rapid failure of multiple organs and death. Treatment usually requires hospitalization and special feeding regimens, sometimes for very extended periods of time. Unfortunately, pancreatitis is quite common.
The pancreas also produces insulin. Failure to do this adequately results in diabetes. Dogs almost always get insulin dependent diabetes, meaning that diet doesn ™t help much – they will always need insulin injections. Cats sometimes can regain pancreatic function with weight loss and diet control. The pancreas can also develop tumors which produce too much insulin causing seizures and death.
by Bonnie Markoff, DVM, ABVP