Calling all cat owners.
What is hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormone and is more commonly seen in cats over the age of eight years. The thyroid
gland is a very small gland that lies on either side of the windpipe and often cannot be
felt or seen unless there is something wrong with it. In feline hyperthyroidism (FHT) the
thyroid gland often has a benign growth that causes it to produce more hormone than
normal. In rare cases this may be a malignant (cancerous) growth.
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So what does the thyroid hormone do?
The thyroid hormone affects the metabolism within cells of the body and has an influence
on almost every cell. Abnormalities in the levels can therefore increase or decrease the
metabolism, almost in a similar way that an accelerator pedal affects the speed of a car. In
FHT the increased levels of hormone increase the body’s metabolic rate. Whilst this causes loss of weight, it also has a detrimental effect on many organs.
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What signs would I see?
Initially the symptoms may be too subtle to be picked up until a few months into the
disease process. Later down the line some of the following symptoms may be noticed. The
cat may have an increased appetite, weight loss, patchy hair loss, increased drinking
and urination. Cats with FHT are often more active than normal and may be more grumpy
than usual. Vomiting or retching may also be seen in some cats. A small percentage of
cats may become acutely blind before any other clinical signs are seen. This is as a result
of high blood pressure which leads to the detachment of their retinas.
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How does one diagnose FHT?
Whilst many of the aforementioned clinical signs would lead one to suspect that your cat
has FHT it is important to note that many of the diseases seen in older cats may present
with similar signs. A full clinical examination and blood tests are therefore critical not
only to diagnose FHT but also to check for other diseases that may be caused by FHT,
for example kidney failure. Other tests that your vet may run include urine tests, blood
pressure monitoring, ultrasound and x-rays.
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What treatment is available?
The three most common approaches to treatment are diet, thyroid hormone reducing
medications and surgery. Your veterinarian will determine the best solution, taking into
consideration concurrent disease, anaesthetic risk and ease of dosing medications. Follow
up blood tests are also important to monitor treatment success. It is important to remember that both diet and medications are likely to be life-long for your cat. Any cat that is placed on the iodine restricted diet, prescribed by your vet, must be kept away from other food or treats that may affect the effectiveness of treatment. Key to treatment of FHT is early diagnosis and selection of a treatment protocol that is suitable to both you and your cat. If left untreated it may result in kidney damage, heart failure and ultimately the loss of your cat.