Do you have a cat who is starting to look a little thinner, a little greyer, a little unkempt? Is he or she starting to demand food constantly – not in that annoying “I’m a cat” way but in a weird, desperate sort of way? Is he or she drinking a lot? Throwing up for seemingly no reason? Chances are your cat may be suffering from Hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism in cats is not unlike that in humans. It is the increased production of thyroid hormones in the thyroid glands and sadly, it’s becoming increasingly common in our moggies, particularly as they get older. Thyroid hormones, among other things, causes a cat’s metabolic rate to go into overdrive and burn energy way too quickly resulting in often dramatic weight loss, even if you give in to your cat’s complaints and feed it more. As I found out, it can also make your cat extremely ill in other ways.
I knew something was up with Bindi initially when, a few years ago, she started throwing up. Now I am used to both of my cats’ regular upchucking. Dugite and Bindi do it with aplomb but this wasn’t right.
For Bindi not to be hungry, there had to be something wrong. And as she wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t eating much and so she was throwing up nothing but clear bile. This carried on for a couple of days, steadily getting worse until she was refusing to eat and drink at all.We monitored her for about 24 hours once we realised we actually had a problem that wasn’t just the regular “cat’s a bit crook” thing before I took her to the vets. She was in a bad way. Severely dehydrated and exhausted, her little body was suffering. She was immediately put on a drip and kept overnight for observation. Clearly there was something wrong with her stomach (or so we thought) but we couldn’t tell what it was.
Several appointments and dollars later we ended up having an ultrasound and a small biopsy done. The results were inconclusive. She may be suffering from an infection or she may have have had an obstruction or she may have stomach cancer. Ugh. The only way to check was to do a full depth biopsy. That meant opening my little kitten up. That was simply a no-go. I wasn’t about to put my frail little puss-puss through that.
While the stomach issue was still a mystery at this point, after the multitude of blood tests and examinations we put her through it was determined that Bindi was also extremely hyperthyroid and was given medication to treat it.
There are a few ways of treating the condition. Methimazole in tablet and gel form are the two most common ways of treating hyperthyroidism in cats, but this medication needs to be given multiple times a day for the rest of their lives which is understandably a huge commitment to take on.
Unfortunately neither of these sorts of medications agreed with Bindi because she threw the tablets up due to the sensitive stomach and the gel, while it initially worked, started to lose it’s effectiveness and the dose needed to be increased – and there’s only so much gel you can rub into a cat’s ears!
When my vet initially suggested the radioactive iodine treatment for Bindi, I was horrified – both at the cost and the idea of the procedure. It sounded full-on and a thousand or so dollars is not small change for most people, I totally get that. But given how much money we were spending on regular blood tests and medication and vet appointments, that’s pretty much a year’s worth of medical bills for a single cat right there.
While Bindi was an ideal candidate for the treatment, there is another thing you need to consider when investigating this as an option for your cat.
Hyperthyroidism can often mask other issues in older cats, in particular kidney disease. Their systems are working so fast to keep up with the thyroid production that all the organs are affected. Once the thyroid is treated, the system slows down again to a normal rate and as such, the kidneys also slow down. Sometimes this return to a more normal pace causes problems if the kidneys are no longer working well on their own anyway. Your vet will arrange a full set of bloods to check that your cat is otherwise in good health prior to treatment.
The radioactive iodine treatment itself is very simple. As it involves radioactive material, it needs to be done in a specialist centre (your vet can refer you onto a specialist) that has the proper facilities in which to carry out the procedure.
In most cases, the specialist will sedate the cat and induce it to swallow a capsule. In some cases, the iodine is injected directly under the skin.
As the thyroid is the only organ in the body that needs iodine, nature is allowed to take it’s course and the radioactive iodine targets the thyroid, thus killing the cells producing the thyroid hormone. No other organs or glands are affected.
The only thing now is to wait for the all-clear from the vet that your cat is safe to bring home. Any treatment requiring radiation means that there are significant dangers of radiation poisoning to people as well. That means your cat has to stay in isolation until they are no longer radioactive. In my case, Bindi was in isolation for seven full days until she was safe to bring home again and even then I was only allowed limited contact with her for a further week.
(Bindi put paid to this idea very quickly. My future hypothetical children may very well be mutants.)
Since having this done it’s like we’ve returned to the Bindi of five or six years ago. Fat, happy and slightly (ok, very) neurotic instead of skinny, bloated, stressed, sick and… yes… still neurotic. Would I do it again if my other cat fell ill? In a heartbeat. And as it turned out, the horrendous vomiting turned out to be part of the hyperthyroidism and we haven’t had a chuck in months apart from a hairball or three.
I have NEVER been so happy to clean up hairballs in my life.
I seriously cannot thank Animal Accident & Emergency enough for the way that they looked after my Bindi-boo this time around and all the other times over the years that I’ve rushed to them with my sick kitten. I was kept up to date from start to finish. Dr Abraham is a fantastic, knowledgeable and personable specialist and is a real “cat person” too. I was very comfortable leaving Bindi to her care and that of the awesome nurses at the centre.
Radioactive Iodine Pros & Cons
- It’s expensive.
- It’s not without the usual risks that come with sedating animals.
- It can result in the opposite condition. (Hypothyroidism)
- In younger cats, the condition may reappear after about 5-7 years and the procedure may have to be done again.
- It may not completely work the first time around.
- It may unmask other issues such as kidney disease.
- Successful results are mostly permanent for older cats.
- One time cost pays for itself over the remaining life of the animal if it is in good health.
- Benefits and improvement in quality of life are almost immediate (from my experience).
- No daily medications to remember!
- No added stress (for you or your cat) of blood tests every few months.
- No ongoing specialist bills!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet. I am an animal lover and I am very attached to my pets. This post is based on my own experiences and the information I was given and researched. ALWAYS consult your vet if you think something is wrong with your pet.