Have you ever seen a skinny old cat who eats voraciously and still manages to lose weight? What about an elderly cat who has traded napping in the sun for pacing and meowing through the house all day? Or a middle-aged cat who eats well just to throw it all back up again?
These can be symptoms of hyperthyroid disease, a relatively common condition we see in middle-aged to older cats. As I have mentioned in my blog (earlier this week) about hypothyroidism in dogs, the thyroid gland produces a hormone that drives metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone (or “hyper”) results in a metabolism that is stuck in overdrive. And a hyper metabolism results in signs that include weight loss, heart arrhythmias (including a heart that beats too fast), vomiting and a ravenous appetite.
Luckily, thyroid disease in cats does not usually present a diagnostic challenge. The symptoms are fairly straight forward and, in general, a diagnosis is verified with a simple blood test.
Perhaps the more complicated part of hyperthyroid disease in cats is determining the best way to treat it. There are three different treatment options, each with its own pros and cons. Ideally – the most effective and safest way to treat this disease is with radioactive iodine therapy. Unfortunately, this treatment option can only be performed at certain specialized centers, making it less convenient for the majority of cat owners. If radioactive iodine therapy isn’t a viable option, then vets can either surgically remove the thyroid gland or to give a daily dose of medication. As you may imagine, surgery carries risks inherent to any surgical procedure, as well as some that are more specific to the removal of the thyroid gland itself.
Probably the most common way that my clients elect to treat their cats’ thyroid disease is to give a daily dose of oral medication. This medication is usually well tolerated, but can sometimes cause side effects and the treatment has to be discontinued. Not to mention that if you’ve ever tried to give a cat a pill, you know that achieving this feat on a daily basis may be as challenging (and more risky) as climbing Mount Everest in your bathing suit!
Any of these three treatment options are reasonable approaches to dealing with hyperthyroidism, but they are all fairly costly – a cost that makes having pet insurance well worth it!
If you think your cat may fit the profile for a cat with hyperthyroidism, discuss it with your veterinarian. While the options may seem overwhelming, in reality, it is pretty uncomplicated and cats really do thrive with proper treatment.