Feline Hyperthyroidism is one of the most common diseases seen in senior cats at Castle Vets. It can occur in any breed or sex of cat, but usually occurs in cats over the age of 10 years old.
Hyperthyroidism in most cats is caused by a benign (non-cancerous) change in one or both of the cat’s thyroid glands, in rare cases it can also be caused by a malignant (cancerous) growth or change in the thyroid gland. We do not know what causes these changes to occur, but both make the thyroid gland produce excessive amounts of the thyroid hormone Thyroxine.
Thyroid hormones regulate many processes within the body including metabolism, temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and bowel function. When too much thyroxine is produced the clinical signs can be quite severe, making the cat seriously ill. It speeds everything in the body up , causing the body’s energy to be used up very quickly.
Clinical signs of Hyperthyroidism
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism will vary from cat to cat. Some cats may have one or two of these symptoms while others may show several or all of the clinical signs.
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Increased heart rate
- Increased activity – restlessness and irritability (occasionally aggression)
- Poor coat condition
- Goitre – Being able to see or feel the thyroid glands in the cat’s neck
- Heat intolerance
- Occasionally a cat may have the opposite of the expected symptoms – loss of appetite, depression, weakness and lethargy.
Complications of Feline Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism can have serious consequences on the cat’s heart. It causes an increased heart rate and also changes to the walls of the heart, which can lead to heart failure if left untreated.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is sometimes diagnosed at the same time as hyperthyroidism. If left untreated it can cause damage to the eyes, kidneys, heart and brain.
Kidney disease, while not caused by hyperthyroidism, is often seen at the same time because they are both common diseases in older cats.
How Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed
- Clinical signs and history
- Thorough examination
- Blood tests to check the levels of thyroxine in the blood stream and to see how well the other organs in the body are functioning.
- Other clinical tests may be performed to help rule out or identify concurrent illnesses such as kidney disease or heart disease, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), a blood pressure test or an X-ray.
Treatment of Hyperthyroidism
The good news is that there is treatment available for cats with hyperthyroidism and if the treatment is successful the cat will quickly return to his or her normal self.
Medication – anti-thyroid drugs
These tablets help to prevent the production of the thyroid hormones and are usually given once or twice a day. They are simple to give and mean that the disease can be controlled without the need for an anaesthetic and surgery; however, they may suit all cats because a few may suffer side effects from the tablets such as inappetence, vomiting and lethargy. (Not to mention the cats who are very difficult to medicate!)
A blood test every 2-3 months is necessary to monitor the cat’s progress and ensure that the medication is effective and at the right dose.
Veterinary Prescription Food – Hills y/d
This is an option that has recently become available in the UK. The special diet has very strictly controlled levels of iodine in it. Iodine is used by the thyroid gland to make the thyroid hormones so the diet ensures that there is only enough iodine content to maintain normal thyroid hormone production. This works really well for some cats and is a great alternative if the cat cannot have medication or surgery, however, the cat must be fed on this diet exclusively with no other added foods.
A blood test every 2-3 months is necessary to monitor the cat’s progress and ensure that the food is keeping the disease controlled.
Surgery to remove the abnormal thyroid gland(s) – Thyroidectomy
This is a frequently performed operation in many veterinary practices and the removal of the abnormal thyroid gland should completely cure the disease so there would be no need for further medication. There is a slight risk with any anaesthetic and surgical procedure and this may be increased for older or unwell animals. The operation needs to be carried out by a skilled veterinary surgeon because if the parathyroid gland (which is very close to the thyroid gland) is damaged, it can upset the calcium levels in the body leading to further complications.
Most cat’s recover quite quickly from thyroidectomy surgery and are home within a few days, but they will need to be closely monitored through examination and blood tests for the following few weeks.
Radioactive Iodine Therapy
An injection of radioactive iodine is given to the cat, which destroys the abnormal thyroid tissues but does not affect the normal thyroid tissue. No anaesthetic is required and the majority of cats only need one injection in order to cure the disease.
This treatment is, unfortunately, only available at a few veterinary specialist hospitals so there is usually a waiting list and the cost of the treatment can be quite high. Your cat will also have to stay at the practice with minimal handling, for around 4 to 6 weeks (until the radiation levels have dropped).
If you notice that you cat is showing any of the above clinical signs then please contact your vet for an appointment as soon as possible. The quicker a health problem is diagnosed, the quicker your cat can get the treatment he or she needs to get back to their usual happy self.
You can contact Castle Vets on 0118 9574488 or visit the Castle Vets website.