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