There are cats that will become more active and energetic as they age. While it might seem wonderful to have an aging pet with the energy of a kitten, that playful geriatric cat is likely sick. They are sick with Hyperthyroidism, a disease that will kill it before their time if left unchecked. Hyperthyroidism is the most common hormone imbalance in cats.
The thyroid gland, which is located at the base of the neck, has the function of distributing energy to the different body systems. For example, the thyroid gland produces a thyroid hormone (T4) which allows the skin to consume energy to make hair, the immune system to fight off infection, and the reproductive system to be fertile. The thyroid hormone sets the body’s metabolic rate, deciding how slow or how fast each cell works to do its job.
Our feline pets that are affected with Hyperthyroidism have each cell in the body utilizing an excessive amount of energy to do its normal job. Hyperthyroid cats suffer from many different manifestations of the disease because the entire body is affected. Common clinical signs include weight loss with a normal to increased appetite. These pets are generally more active and seem to become agitated much easier. These pets experience reduced quality of life. In addition to the weight loss, they have muscle deterioration, and chronic vomiting with or without diarrhea. Most of these cats will eventually suffer from heart disease and high blood pressure secondary to the Hyperthyroidism. As the disease progresses, cats can become blind or be found dead.
Diagnosis of Hyperthyroidism can often be made in your local veterinary clinic. Following a thorough history from the pet’s owner and a complete physical exam, a clinician may have a strong suspicion of the disease. A blood panel will likely be ordered in the diagnostic work up. The blood panel will consist of a thyroid panel that will measure T4. Rarely, blood will need to be sent to a laboratory to confirm the diagnosis. Because the disease can affect every cell in the body, the blood panel will also include a Complete Blood Cell Count (CBC), which looks at the red and white blood cells, and a Biochemistry panel to evaluate the function of the internal organs such as the liver and the kidney.
Treatment of Hyperthyroidism is very rewarding for the owner, veterinarian and the pet. Most cats that are treated for Hyperthyroidism are very health in one to two months after treatment. Veterinary medicine offers three treatment regimes for these patients. The decision as to which one is chosen is based on the health status of the animal and the priorities of the owner. The most successful treatment is Radioactive Iodine Therapy. The benefits are significant: a cure rate of 90 to 95 percent, with no further treatment. The cat gets one dose of a radioactive substance that kills the overproducing cells without harming any other of the body’s functions. Unfortunately the cat must be kept in a referral hospital for 2-4 weeks after the treatment. The second option for the cats is surgical removal of the excessive gland. The third and most common treatment is with oral medication with a drug called Tapazol.
At Twin Valley Veterinary Health Services, we consider it important to screen all cats above the age of six for elevated thyroid levels because of the systemic seriousness of the disease. Many problems with a geriatric cat’s health may be attributable to Hyperthyroidism. If you have any questions regarding the above information or any questions/concerns in general, please contact Twin Valley VHS at 745-6642.
Dr. Justin Noble DVM
Twin Valley Veterinary Health Services