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Everything you need to know about pancreatic cancer in cats

Grey and white cat at the vet
© Shutterstock

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer in cats are often nonspecific and vague. Although this health condition is quite rare in felines, it can very quickly become a fatal complaint.

By Dawn Parrish

Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:53

What is pancreatic cancer in cats?

The pancreas V-shaped organ is necessary to produce insulin and digestive enzymes. It is crucial to not only maintain healthy levels of blood sugars but also for the digestion process itself. The pancreas in cats is located below the spleen and behind the stomach. Carcinomas or malignant cancer tumours develop on the pancreas. Malignant Adenocarcinomas are often diagnosed in cats which are serious and can be fatal. Pancreatic cancer in cats is usually a very aggressive form of disease. Cancer cells very quickly metastasize and spread to other areas in the cat’s body.

Inflamed pancreas is located behind the ribs ©Shutterstock

Causes of Pancreatic cancer in felines

As the actual causes of pancreatic cancer in cats is mainly unknown, the disease is known as “idiopathic”. Because it is diagnosed more commonly in senior cats and is more familiar with certain family lines and breeds, it could be due to genetics. However, unless you have a detailed feline family tree that reports incidences of pancreatic cancer, it’s more difficult to generalise.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer in cats

It can be especially difficult to diagnose cancer of the pancreas in cats. Cancer and its devastating effect take hold before any real symptoms appear. While your cat may show no symptoms, the malignant tumours can develop. Her stomach may look swollen due to a tumour or even a fluid collection in the abdomen area. When you rub her tummy she will cry out in pain, or withdraw from your touch.  This is more probable if you touch the upper right side of the cat’s body.

Likewise, your cat may appear to suffer from any of the following health conditions, without you realising its pancreatic cancer at the root.

Fever, jaundice, abdominal pain, digestion problems, weight loss, lethargy, weakness are all symptoms of Pancreatic cancer in felines.  If your cat appears to not have much of an appetite, yet still looks quite bloated when she stretches out, there could be a tumour present.

How is pancreatic cancer in cats diagnosed?

A medical examination at the vet’s surgery will be needed in the first place. Any lumps, swelling or pain around the cat’s abdomen area will be examined. It is likely that a group of blood counts, profile and urine analysis will be requested. Certainly, a lipase count will be needed, which monitors the pancreas enzymes. X-rays or ultrasound scans may also be taken to check for any tumours or mass in the cat’s abdomen. The appropriate treatment programme is advised.

An ultrasound examination can help to diagnose cat pancreatic cancer ©Shutterstock

Treatment options for feline cancer of the pancreas

As a result of a positive tumour diagnosis, surgery will be instigated. If the cancer is at an early stage, surgery may remove all the cancerous cells. Because malignant tumours are known to spread very quickly to other parts of the body, further treatment will be needed. Unfortunately, if your cat has pancreatic cancer that has developed quickly, chemotherapy and radiation treatments will not have any benefit.

Nutrition during treatment for pancreatic cancer in cats

If your cat is to receive treatment for pancreatic cancer, proper nutrition is essential. Adequate nutritional support is essential to maximise therapy response times and to improve her quality of life. Supplements, vitamins and minerals will also maintain your cat’s strength and improve the healing process following surgery.


If your cat has been given the terrible diagnosis that she has pancreatic cancer, you will be overwhelmed with emotions. Above all, the best thing you can do is to make sure she isn’t suffering and to make sure she is comfortable. Discussions with the vet will help you to decide on the best course of treatment. Even more important, if the diagnosis and prognosis isn’t good news, prepare yourself for bad news. Fill your cat’s final time with you with happy memories and of course ensure that she doesn’t suffer any pain or discomfort.

The prognosis can often be very poor due to the late diagnosis.  Consequently, some cat owners opt to have the cat put to sleep, often during surgery for cancer, if the prognosis isn’t a good one. The cat is already anaesthetised at this point and doesn’t suffer any further pain or anxiety.

Pancreatic cancer in cats can be difficult to spot and diagnose. Symptoms often begin at low-grade, but by the time severe signs appear, it is often too late to treat. In most cases, keeping the cat comfortable, alleviating any pain and offering comfort and support are the only options available.