hyperthyroidism

When Cats Refuse to Take Pills

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When it comes to giving pills to pets, dog parents tend to have it easier. Put the pill in a little bit of peanut butter or cheese, and most dogs will think they’re getting a treat and wont’ even notice the pill. When it comes to cats, it’s usually not quite that simple. Rumor has it there are some cats who will allow their owners to pill them easily, but if my personal experience and that with veterinary clients is any indication, they’re few and far between.Continue Reading

High Blood Pressure in Cats

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Feline hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is usually seen in older cats, and is most often secondary to an already existing disease such as kidney failure, heart disease, or hyperthyroidism. Accurate diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent serious consequences.Continue Reading

AAFP Releases New Guidelines for Management of Feline Hyperthyroidism

feline-hyperthyroidism

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.Continue Reading

Feline Hyperthyroidism and Cat Food: Exploring a Possible Connection

cat_eating

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 has been much speculation about what causes hyperthyrodism in cats. One of the culprits may be your cat’s food.

University of Georgia study looks at whether cat food ingredients play a role in disease development

Researchers at the University of Georgia are examining whether cat food ingredients play a role in disease development. In a study funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, researchers treated feline thyroid cell cultures with various cat food ingredients to determine whether these ingredients stimulate normal thyroid cells. From the foundation website:

Researchers learnedContinue Reading

Feline Hyperthyroidism: What You Need to Know

 feline_hyperthyroidism

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.

Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

For a comprehensive overview on what causes hyperthyroidism, what the symptoms are, and how it is diagnosed and treated, read Hyperthyroidism in Cats.

Treatment Options

Currently, there are three treatment options for hyperthyroidism in cats:Continue Reading

Herbal Medicine: A New Option for Treating Feline Hyperthyroidism?

 calico tabby cat

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.

There is also a new feline prescription diet on the market that is said to cure feline hyperthyroidism in 3 weeks. The diet has not been available long enough to really know whether it is safe to feed longterm, and it is only effective therapeutically when it’s used as the sole source of nutrition. No treats, no supplements, no table scraps. You can read more about the diet, and my take on it, here.

There may be another option: at a recent meeting Continue Reading

Can a New Prescription Food Really Cure Your Cat’s Hyperthyroidism?

cat_eating_from_bowl

For the past few months, the veterinary community has been bombarded with ads for a new feline prescription food that is said to cure hyperthyroidism in 3 weeks.

When the diet first came out, I was skeptical. I’m not a fan of prescription diets. While I respect the research that goes into these diets, sadly, they usually contain ingredients such as meat by-products, corn, soy and grains, none of which are optimal for an obligate carnivore like the cat.

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:Continue Reading

Surviving Radiocat

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

Hyperthyroidism in Cats

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. 

What causes hyperthyroidism?

The most common cause is an increase in the number of cells in the thyroid gland.  Groups of these abnormal cells form small nodules called adenomas on the gland.  Most of these adenomas are formed by non-cancerous cells, only a very small percentage of hyperthyroidism is caused by malignant tumors.

More recently, there has been speculation on a possible link of an increase in thyroid disease in cats and the coating used on cat food cans.  Another theory is that flame retardants used in furniture and carpeting may be linked to hyperthyroidism in cats.

What are the signs of hperthyroidism?

Afflicted cats often develop a variety of signs, and some of them can be subtle.  The most common signs are weight loss, increased appetite without weight gain, and increased thirst and urination.  Hyperthyroidism can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, and hyper-activity.  The haircoat may become matted and dull.  Some cats will begin to vocalize more frequently.  Rapid heart rates are common, and cats can also present with heart murmurs and high blood pressure.

How is hyperthyroidism diagnosed?

You cat’s veterinarian will perform a physical exam and palpate externally alongside the trachea with thumb and forefinger to feel for any enlargement of the thyroid gland.  Heart rate and blood pressure will be checked, and a complete blood chemistry will be run.  Most hyperthyroid cats will have elevated levels of the thyroid hormone T4 in their blood stream.  However, sometimes a cat with concurrent kidney, heart or gastrointestinal disease may have normal T4 levels.  If other symptoms and exam findings point to hyperthyroidism, your veterinarian may order additional testing to arrive at a diagnosis.

How is hyperthyroidism treated?

There are currently three treatment options:  medication, surgery, and radioactive iodine therapy.  Each option comes with advantages and disadvantages, and you should carefully weigh all options and make the best decision for your cat and your lifestyle in conjunction with your veterinarian.

Medication

Drug therapy, using a drug called methimazole (Tapazole), controls, but does not cure the disease.   It is typically given twice a day in either pill form or as a transdermal gel that is rubbed on the inside of the cat’s ear.  Methimazole therapy will be required for the rest of the cat’s life.   While some cats tolerate the drug well, it can have serious side effects including elevation of liver enzymes, low white blood cell counts, low platelet counts, itchiness of the face, and gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting and loss of appetite. If these signs occur, the medication has to be discontinued and other treatment pursued.

Surgery

Surgical removal of the thyroid gland is an option, although many hyperthyroid cats won’t be good candidates for surgery due to the anesthetic risk caused by their elevated heart rates.  Even though removal of the thyroid gland is a fairly straightfoward procedure, it should only be done by an experienced surgeon, since there are potentially serious complications, including damage to the parathyroid glands, which lie close to or within the thyroid glands and are crucial in maintaining stable blood-calcium levels.

Radioactive Iodine

Radioactive Iodine, also called I-131, is the gold standard for treating hyperthyroid cats.  It involves a one-time injection of radioactive iodine under the skin.  The radioactive iodine will destroy the abnormal thyroid tissue but does not damage the surrounding tissue or the parathyroid gland.  The cat will have to remain hospitalized for a specified period of time (typically 3-10 days, depending on geographical location, the length of the stay is regulated on the state level).  It will be released with some special care instructions, such as limiting contact with the cat and special disposal of urine and feces for a few days following treatments.  The treatment is only available at special facilities that are typically found at large veterinary referral centers, and is somewhat costly, but it is curative, and needs to be weighed against the cost of lifelong medication.

Regardless of which treatment is chosen, unless there are other, underlying diseases complicating things, treatment is usually successful and most cats will lead normal, healthy lives.

The photo above is of Amber, taken the day she went for her radioactive iodine treatment at Radiocat in Springfield, VA.

Adventures in Veterinary Medicine – Oliver

When I first began working in veterinary hospitals, I did a little bit of everything.  I worked as a receptionist, veterinary assistant, and kennel attendant.  Being a kennel attendant involved taking care of animals that were boarding at the hospital, which included everything from cleaning their cages, making sure they had fresh food and water, walking them, and giving them medications if needed.  I loved kennel duty despite the less glamorous aspects of cleaning cages and litter boxes and cleaning up after the dogs after taking them out in the hospital’s small backyard.  Kennel duty, especially on weekends and holidays, gave me a chance to spend time with individual animals, time that wasn’t always available during the busy work week when we had surgical patients and pets coming for vet appointments.  I became particularly fond of several frequent boarders, and one that still sticks out in my mind after all these years was a cat named Oliver.

Oliver was a 19-year-old white cat with some brown and black tabby markings.   He was hyperthyroid, and he had kidney disease.  He was skin and bones.  His owners traveled frequently for a few days at a time, and they would board him with us, feeling more comfortable having a veterinarian available in case one was needed rather than leaving Oliver at home in the care of a pet sitter.  He was the first of many geriatric cats that I fell in love with.  There’s something about these wise old souls with their sweet old faces that has always touched my heart.  Oliver needed a lot of special attention while he was boarding, and I gladly gave it to him.  He often needed to be handfed because his appetite was hit or miss.  He wasn’t always cooperative when it came to taking his medication.  But he always, always wanted lots of affection, and he was very vocal both about requesting it and in his appreciation of it – he would start out demanding to be petted with a loud, plaintive cry, and then he’d show his appreciation with a faint, but steady purr.

Even when I had a kennel full of pets to take care of during my shift, I always made extra time for Oliver.  I wasn’t required to be there all day on weekends or holidays, the animals needed to be taken care of three times a day, and depending on their needs, there was often time in between the morning, mid-day and evening shifts to go home for a couple of hours, but when Oliver was boarding, I usually stayed between at least two of my shifts and just sat with him purring away in my lap. 

Each time Oliver went home after boarding at the hospital, I always wondered whether I’d see him again.  At his age, and with his multiple health problems, I knew he didn’t have that much time left.  So each time he was boarding, on my last shift during his stay, I made sure to say a proper good-bye, just in case it was going to be the last one.  And I hoped that if, in the end, he reached a point where euthanasia was indicated, it would happen on a day when I was working so I’d get another chance at one last good bye.

Sadly, I got my wish.  A few days before his 20th birthday, his family brought Oliver to the clinic.  I was asked to assist with his euthanasia, and I got to say good bye to my grizzled old friend one last time.  I had assisted with euthanasias before, and usually managed not to cry until after the client had left, but this one was different.  I couldn’t hold back my tears as I assisted the vet.  Oliver passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family, and one veterinary assistant who’d fallen in love with him.

Photo: morguefile