Hyperthyroidism is a term that most people have heard of but that not everyone understands, and it is a type of medical condition that can affect both cats and people. It is not contagious and is a hormonal condition, which can result in a range of fairly obscure symptoms in cats that can be challenging for cat owners to notice and assign meaning to.
Additionally, the symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats are quite generalised and common to a range of other health conditions too, and so your vet will need to investigate and run some tests in order to make a formal diagnosis.
However, if your vet confirms that your cat has hyperthyroidism, it is important to treat the condition and not simply leave it, or wait and see how it progresses; as without treatment, hyperthyroidism can have an acute impact on your cat’s general health and quality of life, and can go on to cause very serious problems like heart failure, and even result in eventual death.
There are several different approaches to treating hyperthyroidism in cats that might be suggested or appropriate for any individual presentation of the condition, and in this article we’ll provide a basic outline of what hyperthyroidism in cats actually is, and how it can be treated. Read on to learn more.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition of the thyroid glands, which are located in your cat’s neck. The thyroid glands produce hormones that regulate things like metabolism, digestion, muscle control and even mood, and they’re really important for lots of reasons!
Hyperthyroidism develops when abnormal tissue grows in the thyroid glands and in turn, this results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones, which basically makes all of the processes the thyroid performs go faster – such as speeding up the metabolism and rate of digestion.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats can be quite hard to pin down, because the condition is systemic. This can make individual symptoms harder to recognise, and even viewed collectively, might not intuitively point to a problem with the thyroid glands.
However, by knowing the symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats you can remain vigilant to them, and stand a better chance of spotting an issue if one does arise, so that you can let the vet know and begin treatment promptly.
The main symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats are:
Take your cat along to the vet and explain their symptoms in order to get a formal diagnosis and discuss treatment options for hyperthyroidism in cats.
There are four potential approaches to treating hyperthyroidism in cats, and which one is the most appropriate for your own cat is something you will need to discuss with your vet. The options that they may suggest include:
A medication in either tablet or liquid form that stops the thyroid glands from producing excessive amounts of hormones is the most straightforward course of action for many cats, but this may not be practical for all cats.
The medications usually need to be administered twice or three times a day at the same times, which can be a problem in cats that cannot be kept in, for owners who are not in all the time, or for cats that simply won’t tolerate taking the medication.
However, when this is possible and tolerated, medical management of hyperthyroidism in cats along with veterinary monitoring is a good approach, but will be required for the cat’s lifetime.
An alternative option is for your vet to perform a surgical procedure to remove the problem tissue affecting the thyroid glands, which often provides a permanent or at least long-term solution for cats; albeit for some cats, excess tissue may regrow. There are two thyroid glands, one either side of the neck, and one or both may be affected and so, require surgery.
Cats that have this surgery will require regular checks with the vet around every six months for life, to check for any regrowth or problems.
For some cats with hyperthyroidism, feeding a special diet can keep the condition under control, and regulate the level of iodine in the body, which is a vital element for producing thyroid hormones. However, this is only really possible for indoor-only cats, as if the cat eats anything else, including prey, the effects of this type of approach are negated.
Another way to regulate the level of iodine in the cat’s body and so, the function of their thyroid glands, is to administer radioactive iodine therapy in the form of an injection. The abnormal thyroid tissue growth absorbs this, causing it to die off whilst leaving the surrounding healthy tissue and thyroid glands unharmed.
This is perhaps the ideal treatment for most cats with hyperthyroidism, however, it has several drawbacks; it is very expensive, only available at certain specialist referral clinics, and may require the cat to remain in the clinic as an inpatient to undergo treatment for anything up to six weeks.
However, if your cat is insured and would cover a treatment of this type or if you could afford to fund it, this is an option worth considering.