Hyperthyroidism in Cats

Overview of Feline Hyperthyroidism

Feline hyperthyroidism, also referred to as thyrotoxicosis in cats, is one of the most common endocrine disorders in cats. If your adult cat suddenly begins to lose weight despite a voracious appetite, he may have a hormone problem, specifically the hormone produced by the thyroid gland. You should probably get your pet to a veterinarian to be checked for feline hyperthyroidism.

Below is an overview of hyperthyroidism in cats followed by detailed in-depth information on the diagnosis and treatment options for this disease.

Feline hyperthyroidism has become a widely recognized disorder in cats. It is caused by an unregulated overproduction of thyroid hormone by the thyroid glands, which is usually related to a benign enlargement (growth or tumor) of one or both thyroid lobes. Cancer of the thyroid gland is found in less than 2% of cats. This enlargement of the thyroid gland(s) is referred to as thyroid adenoma or thyroid adenomatous goiter. It is unknown what causes the thyroid to become enlarged.

The thyroid gland consists of two flat lobes shaped like a butterfly and located on either side of the trachea, or windpipe, just below the voice box. These lobes are flattened and cannot be easily palpated. The thyroid gland acts as the thermostat for the metabolic rate of the body, controlling how fast or slow the body functions. Hyperthyroidism can have effects on multiple organ systems, since the increased thyroid hormone levels increase the cat’s metabolic rate.

Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed in cats from age 4 to 20 + years, although this disease is usually diagnosed in older cats (95% are at least 8 years of age). There is no recognized breed or sex predilection for this disease, although purebred cats seem to be less likely to be hyperthyroid.

There is no known cause for hyperthyroidism although canned food and ectoparasiticide exposure has been theorized.

What to Watch For

The classic signs are:

Other signs include:

Please note approximately 10% of cats have what is referred to as “apathetic hyperthyroidism” with atypical symptoms. Clinical signs may include lethargy, weight gain and decreased appetite.

Diagnosis of Hyperthyroidism in Cats

Diagnosis can be made by a simple blood test that measures the level of the thyroid hormone (T4).

Your veterinarian may also perform other diagnostic tests to exclude other diseases, including:

Treatment of Hyperthyroidism in Cats

Treatment is directed at controlling excessive secretion of thyroid hormones and can involve a variety of approaches depending on several factors. These include your cat’s overall health, availability of radioactive iodine therapy and cost considerations. There are three main methods of treatment:

Home Care and Prevention

At home, be sure to administer any medications prescribed by your veterinarian. If your cat is taking Methimazole, a potential adverse effect is loss of appetite, which may be related to liver complications.

There is no prevention because the cause is not known. However, examination of the thyroid area should be a regular part of any veterinary examination in older cats. If weight loss occurs in your older cat, your veterinarian may recommend a thyroid blood test to screen for this condition.

In-depth Information on Feline Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is a very common disease in older cats and can produce a variety of symptoms. Although this disease has been reported in cats as young as six years of age, the majority of cases have been in cats over eight years of age. There is no apparent breed or sex tendency.

Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize feline hyperthyroidism and exclude all other diseases. Diagnostics should include a complete medical history and physical examination. Many cats with hyperthyroidism are old and may have concurrent medical problems that can affect the choice of therapy. Your veterinarian will most likely recommend the following diagnostic tests:

Additional diagnostic tests may be recommended on an individual pet basis, including:

Treatment In-depth

Treatment for feline hyperthyroidism may include one or more of the following:

Therapy may include surgical removal of the abnormal thyroid lobes. For example:

Therapy may include radioactive iodine treatment. For example:

Other medical treatments may include:

Follow-up Care for Cats with Hyperthyroidism

Optimal treatment for your cat requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical.

Administer prescribed medication as directed and be certain to alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your cat. Optimal follow-up veterinary care for hyperthyroidism often involves the following: