Conscious Cat

June 15, 2011 32 Comments

Surviving Radiocat

Posted by Ingrid

Amber The Conscious Cat

When a friend’s cat was recently diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, it brought me back to the year 2005, when Amber was diagnosed and treated for this disease.

Hyperthyroidism is a common disease that typically affects middle-aged and older cats.  It is caused by an excess production of thyroid hormones, which are produced by the thyroid gland, located inside the cat’s neck.  Thyroid hormones affect nearly all organs, which is why thyroid disease can sometimes cause secondary problems such as hypertension, heart and kidney disease.

There are currently three treatment options:  lifelong medication, surgery, and the gold standard, radioactive iodine therapy. A single injection of Radioiodine (I-131) cures 98-99% of feline hyperthyroidism cases without any adverse side effects. There aren’t many diseases that have that simple a cure and such a high cure rate.

Living in a major urban area, I had several choices for the radioactive iodine treatment, and I choose Radiocat. It’s a simple treatment, it’s easy on the cat – but it can be really hard for the cat’s human.

One of the requirements of the treatment is that the cat has to be hospitalized for 3-5 days, until she has reached the safe and legal level of radiation release. The length of the stay varies by state and is governed by Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines. These guidelines also prohibit clients from visiting cats while in the hospital.

The three days Amber spent at Radiocat were the longest three days of my life. Amber was my only cat at the time. I couldn’t imagine my  house without her in it. I still worked at the animal hospital, so at least that took care of taking me away from home for about nine hours for each of the three days. I didn’t want to go home at the end of the day – coming home to an empty house was incredibly hard. One night I went to a movie, the next night I went to the mall (and I hate shopping!), and the last night of her stay friends and I went to see U2, which worked out great, because it kept me out until very late.

Knowing that Amber was just a few miles away from me, but that I couldn’t even visit her, was very difficult. From the time she came home with me five years earlier, she had only been separated from me for a few days here and there when I traveled, and then she got to stay in her familiar home, with a pet sitter she loved coming to spend time with her twice a day. I hated wondering what she was thinking. Why had I dropped her off in a strange place to live in a cage? What had she done to deserve this?

Daily phonecalls from the wonderful technician who took care of her reassured me that she was doing fine. The only slight problem was that she wasn’t eating well the first day. I had sent her regular, healthy grain-free canned food with her, which she usually inhaled. In order to tempt her, they broke out the stinky stuff, and she dug in. For the rest of her stay, she dined on FancyFeast. Personally, I think she played them, deciding that if she was stuck in a cage for three days, she was going to eat junk food, thank you very much.

I didn’t want to be “that client,” so I didn’t call more than once a day, but it was hard not to. I didn’t sleep well at night. I was used to having Amber curled up in my arms. The first night, I broke out in a rash – something that hadn’t happened to me since I was a child. It went away once I got to work the following morning, so I have to believe it was psychosomatic.

The day she was finally allowed to come home, I wasn’t supposed to pick her up until 11. I couldn’t help myself: I was there by 10. Thankfully, Radiocat apparently allows for overly anxious cat moms, and Amber was cleared and ready to go home. I had never been so happy to see my girl.

For a couple of weeks following the treatment, her thyroid values were below normal and she was a bit sluggish. A very small percentage of cats becomes hypothyroid following the I-131 treatment, but thankfully, Amber’s thyroid regulated back to normal levels very quickly, and she was completely cured.

So what is my advice to any of you whose cats may be going through the radioactive iodine treatment? Keep busy, and, especially if the cat being treated is your one and only, stay away from home as much as you can during your cat’s hospital stay. Expect to be stressed, and expect to worry. But know that once you pick up your baby, she’s going to be cured. And that makes the three to five longest days of your life well worth it.

Photo of Amber lounging on her perch, a couple of months before her Radiocat treatment

Related reading:

Hyperthyroidism in cats

Chronic renal disease in cats

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32 Responses to “Surviving Radiocat”

  1. Robin Olson says:

    I treated a stray cat I rescued at our local Radiocat and she went from hyperthyroid to hypothyroid. I wasn’t thrilled, needless to say, but I do know another person whose cat was treated and it resolved the problem. This is not cheap, either, so when it doesn’t work, it leaves you wondering why you spent all that money. FWIW…

    • Ingrid says:

      Robin, it’s really rare that cats become hypothyroid after the treatment – I think it happens in less than 2% of cases. Of course, if your cat is one of those 2%, it’s frustrating.

      • Benny says:

        According to Radio Cat themselves, about half of the cats that undergo treatment will experience temporary hypothyroidism that can last weeks to a year. About 5% get permanent hypothyroidism.

        Personally, as the mother to a cat with BAD hyperthyroidism, I’d rather he weigh a little too much and slow down a bit, than for him to continue to lose drastic amounts of weight and stress his heart out.

        • Ingrid says:

          I agree, Benny. This only presents an issue for those cat guardians who’ve chosen Radiocat because their cats are impossible to pill. If they fall into the very small percentage of cats whose hypothyroidism won’t reverse itself after treatment, they’re back to having to give a pill once a day.

  2. Thanks for this added insight into the disease and all the more reason for more frequent vet check-ups for elderly cats. So much can change in a few months.

  3. Carol Halbert says:

    My Calico, Amanda ‘Mandy’ Halbert, developed hyperthyrodism in 2002 and I, too, chose the Radiocat therapy. The docs said it was very unusual for a kitteh her age (then only 5 years old) and that she should be fine after the shot. I am happy to report that since that time, she has been well and is now 14-1/2 years old. Other than being slightly expensive, I believe it is the best solution for kittehs with hyperthyroidism!!! <3

  4. This is interesting. My cat Binky was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism back in the late 80s. I think the iodine treatment’s have advanced because if I remember correctly, she would have to stay in quarantine about a month. I chose the medication, and it wasn’t a problem except that she was always still kind of skinny.

    • Ingrid says:

      Julia, you’re right, back then the stay at the facility was much longer. I don’t think I could have handled a month, either, seeing how I barely made it through three days! I’m glad Binky is doing so well.

      • I couldn’t have gone that long either which is why I went with the medication. Binky is no longer with me, but she lived a full life and was my best friend for 18 wonderful years. =^..^=

  5. Michael Conti says:

    I too was treated with I-131 after having my thyroid removed. I was one of those kids in the 1950’s who was treated with x-rays for tonsillitis and developed thyroid cancer 40 years later.

    My wife was pregnant at the time so I had to spend a week in the hospital since I was radioactive.

    • Ingrid says:

      That’s interesting that you had to stay in the hospital after the treatment, Michael. A friend of mine recently had the treatment, and she was told to stay in one room in her house and minimize contact with the rest of her family, including her dogs, for a week. I’m not sure how well she listened to the part about the dogs, though :-) My understanding is that radiation levels are minimal, and drop off rapidly after treatment.

  6. sandra says:

    Not alll radio cat “cures” are made in heaven. My cat, after the radiocat treatment, was hypothyroid and she has to have medication to raise her thyroid level. I didn’t appreciate the way the owners of radiocat communicated with me afterwards.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry you had a bad experience with Radiocat, Sandra. Amber became hypothyroid for a brief period after she had the treatment. My veterinarian and I choose not to treat, since we were told it could, in rare cases, happen, and that most of these cases resolve themselves without medication. Thankfully, in Amber’s case, her thyroid was back at normal levels a couple of weeks later.

  7. Wendy Turner says:

    Congratulations to all the kitties who have successfully been treated for hyperthyroidism! The cost balances out over time, weighed against ongoing medications, recheck examinations, repeating laboratory data, etc. And it’s the only way to actually cure the tumor — hyerthyroidism is the result of a hormone-producing tumor, which is merely controlled by the medication, whereas radioactive iodine actually destroys the cancerous cells. Of all the hyperthyroid cats I have known, I have seen the treatment fail once — and I have seen no cats become persistently hypothyroid afterward. So, if your kitty is hyperthyroid, give this treatment serious consideration.

  8. Summer says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I totally relate to what you went through missing your kitty. We had a kitty treated a decade ago (but not Radiocat) and he lived for nine more years. However, this time we’re dealing with Radiocat, and they’ve been very difficult to connect with to make an appt. It’s very frustrating and I feel that our options are very limited. Our kitty’s level is still under 4, but it’s been climbing and she has symptoms. She’s not happy with all these vet visits for tests, either. Do you know if tapazole can be compounded into a palatable liquid? She’s not currently on medication but I fear we’ll have no choice if Radiocat doesn’t return calls. She’s not a cat who would accept the transdermal or pill form of the medication, and I don’t want to risk the side effects anyway. Thank you so much.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry to hear you’re having these problems with Radiocat, Summer. I would get your referring vet involved and have them call Radiocat. Depending on where you live, Radiocat may not be your only option for the I131 treatment. There are other facilities that offer it as well.

      Tapazole can be compounded into a flavored liquid, but the side effects will be the same as with the pill form.

    • Jean Woodward says:

      My hyperthyroid kitty would NOT cooperate with pills, nor cream in the ear (she would no longer come to sit with me, I was heartbroken). But a place in Texas that compounds the medicine into tasty chews has worked pretty much like a charm so I wanted to pass it on. (Of course having a cat that is hungry all the time helps !)

      BCP VETERINARY PHARMACY
      1614 WEBSTER ST
      HOUSTON, TEXAS 77003

      PHONE: 1-800-481-1729

      Best of luck to you and your kitty !!

      Jean

  9. [...] became hyperthyroid in 2006, and I chose the radioactive iodine treatment for her. If I were faced with a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism for one of my cats again, I would most [...]

  10. CL says:

    Right now, I have my cat scheduled for this treatment next week. I think it is important to note, that beyond the staggering cost of the treatment (which I thought was a good idea), you should be prepared for the HIGH cost of pre-testing. You need a blood test to prove that the cat has hyperthyroidism (I had to have TWO tests, because the number was only .1 away from the acceptable range). There are x-rays, urine tests, etc., etc. After these were done, I was informed that my cat just so happens to have a urinary tract infection. I feel like I am a vet ATM and that my vet is just milking me now because he must think I have tons of money, just because I worked extra jobs and extra hard to save. Just be advised that you will pay far beyond the initial Radio Cat price. I am beginning to wonder if this was the choice for me.

    • Ingrid says:

      The testing is necessary to ensure that there is no underlying disease that may be unmasked by the treatment. All my best to your kitty.

  11. Karin says:

    My kitty was just done sept 24 there is so much more information available now to help prevent them from going hypo-t.
    My girl was put on Levothyroxine twice a day when she goes for her 30 day checkup we will find out if that helped her.
    I found a hyper-t feline support group over at Yahoo best thing I ever did.
    Yes the retesting costs alot, I can see a difference in only 3 weeks, so am hopeful the supplementing of hormones while her thyroid is wakingup was helpful.
    Check out the Yahoo groups awesome ,I have learned so much and still feel I know nothing.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m glad your kitty is doing well following the treatment, Karin. Yahoo groups can be a good source of information, but they should never be considered a substitute for veterinary care.

  12. Constance says:

    I just picked up my kitty from Radiocat on Friday (2 days ago) and I am having a real hard time limiting my contact with her. I don’t let her sleep with me, but she is the kind of kitty that always wants to be on or near me. I put her down, she jumps back up, I put her down, she jumps back up. She is more persistent than I am. I am wondering if my touching her is really dangerous?

    She still seems crazy hungry, but I know that all takes time to level out.

    • Ingrid says:

      I never had the heart to follow the recommendations to limit contact after the treatment, Constance. I have thyroid problems myself, and handling Amber after she was treated with radioactive iodine didn’t seem to affect me adversely.

      • Constance says:

        Ingrid, I guess time will tell with us. If I suddenly develop “cancer of the lap,” I guess I will now why. LOL!

  13. Elli Carter says:

    One of my pussycats has just been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. We have 3 options…there’s a medication on the form for a gel that you put in the cats ear that we are told works very well. Then there’s a partial thyroidectomy and the I-131 uptake. We have opted to try the medication first. If this isn’t as effective as it needs to be then we still have to options, like others have written, this particular pussycat was picked up off the street about 10 yrs. ago and is just the best cat you could ever imagine. We do not like the idea of having to leave one of our cats or dog overnight. These places are not staffed at night and if something happens you’ve lost your furry friend. We had this happen with a dog and are not anxious to entertain thoughts of leaving this pussycat anywhere. Let’s hope the medication will work.

  14. Cindy imber says:

    Thank you for your story. It is helpful to read about other cats and what cat owners go through as well. I didnt know the risk of hypothyroidism could occur but have not yet received info packet. I’m wondering why some clinics or hospitals want a chest X-ray and others do not. Blood work and urine tests are required for this treatment but not chest X-ray. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated . My Robby, one of the there feral brother kitties I found in 2002 has shown to have over active thyroid when he had bloodwork to get teeth cleaned a few weeks ago . he also has slight heart murmur so I have to hold off on teeth cleaning. I don’t know how long his thyroid has been over active. He has not lost weight. his appt is 13 days away. I had an appt 6 weeks away but i thought time was of the esence and found a way to make it happen earlier. He has never had to stay away from his two brothers Bobby and Sammy and he also has Charly and Lil Blackie to share his inside home. He is a very quiet , shy cat and I’m sure he will be frightened and I’m sure it will be a long three days. As that time approaches I will keep you in my mind and know it is the only option I had for this cat. All of my 5 cats but one are 12 and if they all had this, I really could not have the means to help them. I pray this will help the little guy and that my other cats stay healthy.. I’m on the countdown til his treatment in 13 days .

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m surprised to hear that not all clinics require a chest x-ray. The reason it’s done is to assess heart health. If Robby has had a recent cardiac ultrasound, they may not need the x-ray. I know it will seem like a very long three days for both you and Robby, Cindy. Please let me know how Robby does!

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