What Is Hyperthyroidism in Cats?
You've probably heard of thyroid conditions before, but what exactly is feline hyperthyroidism? For starters, it simply describes an overactive ("hyper") thyroid gland. Hyperthyroidism is also the most common glandular disorder in cats, usually found in "geriatric cats" ages 12 years or older. Fortunately, it's one of the most treatable. If you think your cat may have it, contact your veterinarian as the first and best way to get a qualified diagnosis. In the meantime, take a moment to learn about this condition and how it affects cats.
UNDERSTANDING FELINE HYPERTHYROIDISM
You can't talk about hyperthyroidism without talking about the thyroid gland: a large, two-lobed organ that surrounds a cat's windpipe. In cases of hyperthyroidism in cats, the gland swells and begins producing too much T3 and T4 - thyroid hormones that increase a cat's metabolism. In other words, these hormones signal your cat's body to convert nutrients (food and oxygen) into energy (calories) a lot faster than normal, like turning up the heat on a stove.
When these thyroid hormones "turn up the heat" on a cat's metabolism, a variety of symptoms may result. But keep in mind, most of the symptoms below aren't exclusive to hyperthyroidism; they could be symptoms of a different issue. Plus, remember that one cat with hyperthyroidism may experience just one or a few of these, while another cat may experience many more - and different - symptoms:
· Excessive thirst and urination
· Ravenous appetite
· Weight loss
· Increased amount of stool
· Soft stools and/or diarrhea
· Muscle weakness
· Restlessness or hyperactivity
· Unkempt, dull or excessively oily coat
· Excessive shedding
· Areas of hair loss due to excessive grooming
· Rapid nail growth
DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT OPTIONS
Diagnosing feline hyperthyroidism is a job for a veterinarian. He or she typically asks the cat owner about the more common symptoms from the list above and then performs a physical exam to feel whether the cat's thyroid gland is enlarged. If these preliminary steps point to hyperthyroidism, the veterinarian will usually conduct further tests to make a more conclusive diagnosis.
Hyperthyroidism in cats is highly treatable, with a positive outlook in most cases. Each treatment option has related challenges, such as cost, duration, and risk to the cat. If your veterinarian has diagnosed your cat with hyperthyroidism, ask about the recommended treatment options, as well as the pros and cons of each.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Hyperthyroidism in cats is a condition that deserves medical attention, but effective treatment options are available with a good track record for full recovery in most cases. If you're concerned your cat may have hyperthyroidism, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
- Plotnick A. Cat Fancy. "A Very Treatable Ailment." Sep 2014: 14-16.
- Shojai A. The Purina Encyclopedia of Cat Care. 1998:191, 226-7.
- Siegal M. The Cornell Book of Cats. 1989: 153, 244-5.