Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

petMD Blogs

Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Feeding Cats with Pancreatitis

May 10, 2013 / (20) comments

Feline pancreatitis is a maddening disease. It is often difficult to diagnose, veterinarians are usually unsure of its underlying cause, and it can be resistant to treatment. Why then, should making recommendations about what to feed cats with pancreatitis be any different?


First some background. The pancreas is a small organ that is located between the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. It has two main functions: the production of the hormone insulin and the manufacture of digestive enzymes. Pancreatitis develops when the organ becomes inflamed for any of a number (or no particular) reason. Oftentimes the only symptoms associated with pancreatitis in cats are lethargy and a poor appetite. A definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis can require some combination of a blood chemistry profile, complete cell count, urinalysis, fecal examination, specific tests for pancreatitis (fPLI or SPEC-FPL), abdominal X-rays and/or ultrasounds, and even exploratory surgery.


Treatment for pancreatitis involves fluid therapy, pain relief, medications to control nausea and vomiting, antibiotics, sometimes plasma transfusions, and perhaps most importantly, getting the cat to eat again. Cats that stop eating for any reason are at high risk for a potentially life-threatening disease called hepatic lipidosis. Therefore, getting food into cats with pancreatitis is critical, which begs the question, “What type of food is best?”


When dogs develop pancreatitis, it is standard protocol to hold them off food until their vomiting subsides and then to begin refeeding with a low fat diet. This doesn’t hold true for cats, however. Vomiting isn’t such a big problem in cats with pancreatitis, and research has not shown a benefit to low fat foods.


Many cats with pancreatitis are also suffering from some degree of liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease, so the food we pick must also be appropriate for those conditions.


My go-to diets for cats suffering from pancreatitis have the following characteristics:

  • easily digestible
  • moderate levels of protein that come from novel sources or are altered to be hypoallergenic
  • moderate fat levels
  • canned, unless the cat will only eat dry


Several pet food manufacturers make products that fit these criteria, so I’ll try one and if the cat turns her nose up at it, move on to another.


Dietary recommendations are all well and good unless the patient refuses the food. The adage, “It’s better to eat some of the wrong diet than none of the right diet” certainly applies to feline pancreatitis. If a cat will only eat a food that I would normally avoid, she can have it until she’s feeling better and then we have the option of making a gradual shift.


If the cat refuses to eat anything at all, it’s time for a feeding tube. I use nasogastric tubes (threaded through the nose and into the esophagus or stomach) when I think supplementary feeding will be needed for only or a few days, but esophagostomy tubes (surgically inserted into the esophagus) are a better long term solution. One of the benefits of an esophagostomy tube is that we can feed canned food blended with a little water through it. So even if a cat doesn’t want to eat a diet with the characteristics I mentioned above, we now have a low stress way of getting it into her.



Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: Gemenacom / via Shutterstock


Comments  20

Leave Comment
  • 05/10/2013 02:40pm

    About 6 months ago my 15 year old cat Brisket was hospitalized with pancreatitis, liver infection, anemia, and blood clots that pretty much paralyzed his back end. The vet gave him less than a 50% chance of making it through the night. But he did...and I spent the entire next morning, day and night with him at the clinic and my little boy pulled through with no complications since! He's amazing and healthy now and I'm grateful forever to the most terrific vet in Edmonton, Alberta: Dr. Doug Heffelfinger.

  • 08/19/2015 11:48pm

    You must of a Big Vet bill after all that?

  • Another One
    05/10/2013 10:21pm

    It's another one of those problems that a cat is sooooo good at hiding.

    My 18 1/2 year old Ivy Elizabeth (RIP) was doing just fine - or so I thought. Within a 12 hour period she became lethargic and quit eating. Off to the vet! I lost her the next day (she went into respiratory arrest and was subsequently euthanized) and the necropsy showed that she had severe pancreatitis (among a few other things that weren't nearly as serious).

    I've always felt guilty that she felt terrible and I didn't know it.

  • 05/11/2013 04:12am

    Feeling guilty is completely normal and I can definitely relate. I still have guilt over the death of my kitty from acute kidney failure :( It's gotten better over the last 4 years but I understand how you feel....

  • 12/01/2013 11:01pm

    I wanted to hug you when I saw your response. My Abby Cat, is currently at the vet suffering from pancreatitis. I am beside myself feeling worried and guilty that she may have had this for quite sometime and I didn't know until things got bad - she stopped eating. They are certain she has pancreatitis, but they are doing a GI blood work to rule out inflammatory bowel disease.

    My cat has always been a cat the pukes a lot. She is persian and doesn't like to be brushed. Especially on one side near her hind quarters. I use to think it was because when she was little I nicked her there while grooming, but now I wonder if she was in pain. Also she usually pukes at least once a week, which I thought was hair balls. Now I am wondering if it were the first signs of her disease.

    Now, I am just praying she gets to come home.

    Your post reminded me to not feel guilty and remember I am human. So thank you!!

  • 12/02/2013 11:28pm

    I hope Abby Cat is doing OK and has come home.

    We can only do our best when it comes to caring for our non-speaking friends. If only they could TELL us something hurts!

    Thinking back, if I knew then what I know now, the first cat I had as an adult, I could have done SO much better for him. As it was, I did my best with limited knowledge. This is the day prior to the internet and I clearly remember the vet gently suggesting a full blood panel... but it was 30 dollars!

  • 07/25/2013 01:07pm

    my 3 year old male is hospitalized at the vet as of yesterday with Pancreatitis...What food besides the prescription Diet cat food is appropriate for cats to stay on during and after Pancreatitis ??? I would like to know some brand names.
    Also, what kind of treat can be given occasionally ?

  • 07/25/2013 04:06pm

    The answers to your questions depend on the exact nature of your cat's condition. Since I don't have all the details, I can't make a specific recommendation. Talk to the veterinarians who are involved in your cat's case about what foods/treats would be best.

  • 09/09/2013 04:36pm

    You've probably found a suitable food by now but just wanted you to know that my cat has done very well on
    "Royal Canin Hypoallergenic" wet food. I tried rabbit, duck and the venison but he'll only eat the rabbit. Good luck to you and your kitty. -Kim

  • Separating the food
    03/14/2014 06:02am

    Keeping the food away from the wrong cats can be accomplished easily by using a MeowSpace. Not too many people know this solution exists, but those who do are singing its praises.

  • 03/18/2014 04:55am

    My cat has IBD and has pancreatitis recently. She finished 2 weeks antibiotic for pancreatitis, but she is not eating much now. Her vet put her on another 4 days antibiotic for pancreatitis (b/c she thinks that my cat still has pancreatitis) and medication to increase her appetite. She is eating Limited Ingredient dry and canned food (which I think is high in fat). I wonder what kind of food is best for her (for both IBD and pancratitis).

  • 03/21/2014 04:08pm

    If your cat were my patient I would pick a food based on her IBD (one that she would eat) since it doesn't seem to matter what food cats with pancreatitis eat.

  • 08/28/2014 04:44pm

    I'm curious about your statement, both in the article and here, that diet doesn't seem to matter in cats with pancreatitis. My vet insists a low fat diet is necessary. I'm not going to contradict her, but I'd like more information and was hoping you could point me to some more in-depth study and/or information.
    My very lean 18yo neutered Siamese has just been diagnosed (insulin fine) and, of course, I want to keep him as fit as possible in his dotage. Low fat food will be fine, if he eats it, but I'd like to have a better understanding of just how restrictive - or not - I need to be with his diet and why.
    Thank you

  • 08/28/2014 08:08pm

    Here's a link to a good, open access article that talks about diet and pancreatitis in cats. It includes a few references your veterinarian might have access to as well.


  • gurgling sounds
    04/30/2014 07:07pm

    Hi, my 18 year old kitty Peanut has very loud and constant abdominal noises
    and looks very uncomfortable all the time. She squishes, gurgles, pops,
    squirts and rumbles so loud it keeps us both awake. Symptoms similar to pancreatic disease or IBS, but there is no blood in her tiny dark brown feces.
    She has lost 5 lbs in 2 years (now just 3 lbs) and receives Methimazol
    2x daily, plus fluids ands now Prednazone. No changes noted in 1st week
    on Prednizone. She vomits daily, sometime in day, sometimes at night.
    She has to "settle" very carefully into crouched position, moving her weight back and forth on front paws until she's down. She hates to be picked up, and her face looks "distraught".
    I'm not sure we're getting the right care or diagnosis currently. Dr. thinks her intestines are somewhat thick, ergo the Prednizone.
    Do you have experience with these symptoms?
    Many thanks for caring for critters

  • 05/01/2014 06:53pm

    In many cases like these, the only way to come up with a definitive diagnosis and the best form treatment is to biopsy the intestinal tract. This can sometimes be done with an endoscope, which makes the procedure much less invasive than it would be otherwise.

  • early diagnosis in my 14
    05/28/2015 02:33pm

    We've been trying to find something our kitty can eat. All the stuff the vet gives us both canned and dry she turns her nose up at. We've been feeding exclusively canned food for a while and she eats that just fine. She not vomiting or has any other digestive problems. She is on prednisolone for her asthma and blood pressure meds. They just notice elevated pancreas levels in her blood work this time round. The vet insists we need to feed her this hypoallergenic food which like I said she won't touch. She did eat some of the dry stuff at first but only a small amount(maybe a tablespoon full total). Then she wouldn't touch it at all. The canned stuff is so different in texture we couldn't get her past a 50/50 mixture with the food we were feeding her. So what are our options?

  • 05/28/2015 08:00pm

    Research seems to show that diet does not play a big role in treating or preventing flare-ups of pancreatitis in cats. In my opinion, it is more important that your cat eat an overall healthy diet than eat a specific type of food.

  • Am I Overfeeding?
    08/10/2016 10:08pm

    My 13 year old cat was diagnosed with pancreatitis today. I have been reading up on it and see that diet is not particularly relevant to the disease. However, since it is an inflammation of the pancreas, I was wondering if feeding my cat fewer times throughout the day would ease the burden on the pancreas.
    Also, I noticed that my cat has grey stools and thought that might be an indicator of liver disease, however, besides pancreatitis all of my cat's labs came back normal (including liver function). I don't know what to make of that.
    I would love to have a vet's opinion on this. Thanks.

  • 08/11/2016 04:28pm

    Thank your lucky stars that your cat is eating! I would continue to feed her as she is familiar and eats best. Pancreatitis often goes hand in hand with liver and small bowel disease (it goes by the name "triadititis"). Talk to your veterinarian about the grey stools you are seeing. He or she is in the best position to determine if they are significant.