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Hyperthyroidism In Cats

Jan 17, 2008
Older cats that have been losing weight but have an increased appetite should be checked for hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroid disease exists when overproduction of thyroid hormone is made by the thyroid gland. It occurs mostly in older cats, with the average age of about 13. Approximately 5% of hyperthyroid cats are younger than 10.

In hyperthyroid disease, one (or both) of the thyroid glands in the neck enlarge and produce too much thyroid hormone. It's more common for both glands to be actively overproducing thyroid hormone.

There are several common signs of the disease. But since thyroid hormone affects the functioning of all of the bodily organs, signs may be variable. More common signs will include losing weight, increased appetite, increased restlessness, elevated heart rate, and aggressive behavior. Other signs can include increased urination, increased water consumption, difficulty breathing, vomiting, bigger stools, diarrhea, poor haircoat, and weakness and depression.

The first step is correct diagnosis. The first examination will be to palpate the thyroid glands in the neck and see if they are enlarged. Diagnosis of this disease is made when the level of thyroid hormone is found in increased levels in the blood. Most hyperthyroid cats have very high levels of hormone, so it is usually very straightforward. But some cats will have signs of hyperthyroidism with normal or only slightly increased levels of thyroid hormone. And, thyroid hormone levels may vary over time, so it might be necessary to check blood levels several times.

An effective conventional treatment is with Radioactive Iodine Therapy. Radioactive Iodine is given by injection, and it destroys abnormal thyroid tissue without harming the other organs. Treatment will require one to two weeks of hospitalization at a veterinary facility that is licensed to administer radiation therapy. Because of governmental regulations regarding radioactive materials, this treatment is often limited to veterinary teaching institutions. The cost of the treatment is sometimes (although not always) more expensive than with other options.

Another conventional treatment is Oral Medication. The orally administered drug methimazole can control the effects of the overproducing thyroid gland. Around 20% of cats treated with this medication may have reactions to the drug. The side effects may not begin until six months after the start of treatment, and the effects can include anemia, vomiting, anorexia, lethargy, and fever. This medication does not destroy the abnormal tissue but rather it prevents the overproduction thyroid hormone. So if used, the drug will have to be given for the rest of the cat's life. Blood tests must be done periodically in order to keep the dosage regulated. Methimazole treatment is usually appropriate for cats with other health problems, who are poor surgical risks, or if they are very old.

Thyroidectomy is another conventional treatment. This treatment is performing surgery to remove the affected tissue. The drawback of surgery is that recurrence of hyperthyroidism is a possibility. The disease will show up again if any abnormal thyroid cells remain in the cat. Remaining cells may grow causing recurrence of the disease. Recurrence is generally less than 5%, and usually this does not appear until 2-4 years after surgery. Additional recurrence possibility would be if at the time of treatment one lobe of the gland was normal and so was not removed; then months or years later it became abnormal.

One alternative treatment would be with Bugleweed (Lycopus Europeus) and Melissa (Melissa Officinalis). These are two herbs that have been used in combination to combat the effects of hyperthyroid disease. Bugleweed has been shown to decrease thyroid hormone levels in rats 24 hours after administration. The standard dose is 1 drop per lb of body weight of the tinctures given twice daily.

An additional alternative treatment is with Carnitine, an amino acid health supplement. Carnitine is normally synthesized within the body, primarily in the liver and kidneys, from the amino acids lysine or methionine. When given as a nutritional supplement, Carnitine has been found to be quite effective in reversing signs of hyperthyroidism in people. Starting cat dose of the supplement is 250 mg per day.

Hyperthyroidism in cats is a very serious disease, and is one of the most common endocrine disorders that affect cats. It's estimated that about 2% of all cats above the age of 10 will contract the disease. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to diagnose, and treatment has a high success rate. Cats who have been properly treated are able to lead normal, healthy lives.
About the Author
Looking for natural cat health remedies? Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM is a practicing Veterinarian who has a special interest in natural remedies for pets.
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