Hyperthyroidism is a relatively common condition that we see a lot of in middle-aged to older cats. As the symptoms can be quite subtle initially, it is often mistaken for ‘natural aging’ or perhaps a stomach upset.
At first, owners may even be pleased at the change they notice in their cat, who is suddenly more active than before and has a bigger appetite. However, over the weeks it may be noticed that they are acting hyper, have been very vocal and seem to be losing weight. A few loose poos in the litter tray may have been found and the water bowl may need filling more regularly too.
When presented to us in the veterinary clinic, we will check these kitties from nose to tail and look for some of the tell-tale signs of hyperthyroidism, such as a fast heart rate or a small lump in their neck region (a goiter). As a first step, we will recommend a general blood test, which will include a thyroid hormone check.
If your cat is hyperthyroid, blood results will show a thyroxine (thyroid hormone) level that is much higher than it should be, confirming our suspicions. As hyperthyroidism negatively impacts a cat’s quality of life and is a progressive disease, it is important to address it as soon as possible.
My cat has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism – now what?
Thankfully, this is a very treatable disease and there are several different options available to owners. Which route to go down will depend on your cat’s age, their overall health and temperament, convenience, accessibility and finances. Most commonly, hyperthyroid cats are managed with long-term medication. This is available in several forms, including tablets, oral liquids and even a cream that is applied to the ears. The medical management option is generally very safe and is achievable for most owners. Cats do require frequent re-checks and blood tests throughout their life, ensuring the dose of their medication does not need to be altered.
For some, daily medicine may not be practical. This is true for owners with busy lifestyles or for cats that are not particularly co-operative! Luckily, there are several other options available:
- A surgery whereby the affected thyroid gland(s) is removed is a possibility and this procedure has high success rates. Owners will be advised of the potential complications of both the anaesthetic and the surgery itself. Though this surgery can be quite expensive, in middle-aged cats it will mean less money spent over time as there should be no need for any long-term medicine once the surgery has been confirmed a success.
- Another potential treatment is Radioactive Iodine Therapy. This is a specialist procedure that is only available in certain referral centres and can be cost prohibitive to some. For most, a single painless injection of the radioactive isotope is all that is needed to solve the issue forever. Afterwards, all treated cats must stay in the referral centre in isolation for several weeks and handled minimally as they are classed as ‘radioactive’.
It’s important to note that even those owners who opt for the surgical route or for the radioactive therapy will have to first stabilize their cats using medication. Though it can be tricky to medicate some cats, our staff are more than happy to discuss the various options available and to demonstrate how to medicate. Items such as pill poppers and pill pockets can be real game changers.
On top of what has already been discussed, there is also a dietary treatment option available to manage hyperthyroidism. It is a safe and effective way to manage hyperthyroidism as it contains limited amounts of Iodine. The issue with this therapy is that if cats eat anything else (treats, food from the outside or food from the other cat’s bowl), it becomes ineffective. Cats with other medical conditions may not be appropriate candidates for this diet but for many, it is a convenient choice.
With hyperthyroidism being the most frequently seen hormonal disease in cats, it is a condition which we are very familiar with and which has many effective treatment options.
Whichever road you and your cat decide to go down, we will be here to help and guide you every step of the way.