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How to treat hyperthyroidism in cats

Ginger cat in a basket advice
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Feline hyperthyroidism is a hormonal condition that can affect a cat’s health in a number of ways. If you don’t treat hyperthyroidism in cats, their condition will get worse. But they can make a partial or full recovery if you deal with the issue promptly.

By G. John Cole

Hyperthyroid cats tend to show neurotic behaviour, behaving restlessly, eating more, and developing odd grooming habits. If it’s not dealt with, hyperthyroidism can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure, which endanger your cat’s life.

What is cat hyperthyroidism?

Your cat’s thyroid is a gland in the creature’s neck, near its windpipe. This gland produces a hormone, known as the thyroid hormone, Thyroxine, or T4. 
Thyroid hormone controls the rate at which your cat’s cells function. Too much T4 makes your cat’s cells work too fast; too little, and they work too slow. Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid makes the cells work too fast.
In around 2-3% of cases, it is a tumour that causes the disease. But usually the cause is impossible to define. It can affect any cat and cause long-term damage, which is why it’s important to look out for the symptoms.

Symptoms of cat hyperthyroidism

When your cat produces excess thyroid hormones, its metabolism speeds up, which affects every area of the creature’s body. Your moggy will probably develop a bigger appetite while also losing weight, because its body is burning up energy so quickly.
Moggy may also be more thirsty than usual, and thus pee more than usual. The animal’s heart rate will be up. The beast may also become agitated and restless. Imagine what would happen if you fed it gallons of coffee. Agitation, restlessness, and yes, vomiting and diarrhoea, too. These are all symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

Despite this extra energy, your cat might quit grooming itself, or even start to pull out its own hair. So if kitty is looking freshly-plucked, look out for other symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Take the animal to the vet if you are concerned.

Diagnosis of cat hyperthyroidism

Your cat’s vet will ask you about the creature’s symptoms and behaviour. She will then examine the cat’s neck. In some cases, the enlarged thyroid gland will be obvious to the touch. But other times, the enlarged tissue may be away from the surface or in the chest. So your vet will proceed to further tests.
One of these is a blood test to check the amount of T4 in your cat’s blood. Your vet may order other blood tests to rule out other causes of the symptoms, such as kidney disease. She may also order a urine test, heart scan, or an x-ray of your cat’s chest.

Treating cat hyperthyroidism

If your cat is diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, there are a number of possible treatments. You and your vet will need to balance up the pros and cons of each approach in regard to your cat’s condition.
A medicinal option is to take a T4-reducing pill that prevents the thyroid from producing the hormone. In this case, you’ll need to deal with the added challenge of getting your cat to swallow pills. Good luck with that!

Alternatively, a low-iodine diet can be arranged. Iodine is incorporated into thyroid hormone, so it can help to cut it off at the source. However, you never know quite what your cat is eating when it’s out of the house, so you could find that the low-iodine diet mysteriously has no effect.

Surgery to remove the gland is also an option. It involves putting your cat under general anaesthetic, which is not always a wise idea with older cats. Also, there’s a danger of damaging other essential glands. The thyroid gland is not always easy to reach. Plus, your cat’s one remaining ‘good’ thyroid gland is likely to go bad over the years, which means the surgeon will have to scrub up and go back in there.

Finally, there is an option to treat your cat with radioactive iodine. How do they come up with these ideas? Anyway, radioactive iodine will find and destroy abnormal thyroid cells. It’s a very quick and effective injection. But it does leave your cat somewhat radioactive for a while afterwards. And it’s kind of expensive.
The creature will have to sleep it off in a special isolation centre for a few days. It is highly unlikely that this radioactivity will accidentally turn your cat into a superhero. But only well-behaved cats in otherwise good health are considered for this treatment.

There are plenty of options for treating hyperthyroidism in cats. So get moggy to a vet ASAP before its condition worsens.