All You Need to Know About Hyperthyroidism in Senior Cats

By Thursday, December 12, 2019

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In many ways, cats just seem to get better with age. While there is nothing like a kitten’s rambunctious energy, there’s something about a mellow senior cat that just tugs at the heart strings. Although they may not have the drive to play and pounce that they once had, there’s still plenty of room in their little kitty hearts for lots of love and snuggles.

Along with that lovable laziness, though, there is also a higher risk that senior cats will develop health issues. Thankfully, though, many conditions are easily treatable if they’re caught early. That’s why it’s important for senior cat parents to include regular wellness checks in their routine and to be familiar with the warning signs of some common health problems.

What is Feline Hyperthyroidism?

Feline hyperthyroidism is one potentially serious condition, but it’s quite manageable.

Hyperthyroidism in cats is caused by an overproduction of thyroid hormones. It’s a common disorder in senior cats, but is rarely seen in younger kitties. About 95% of cats diagnosed with hyperthyroidism are more than 10 years old.

Knowing the symptoms and calling your veterinarian at the first sign of a problem is the key to curing or managing the condition and allowing your cat to live a long happy life.

Feline Hyperthyroidism Symptoms

Feline hyperthyroidism can be tricky to diagnose, since it shares several of symptoms with other common health problems, such as diabetes and kidney failure. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your cat, you should definitely schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

  • Increased appetite. Because an overactive thyroid speeds up the metabolism, cats with hyperthyroidism are frequently voracious eaters.
  • Weight loss. If your cat is losing weight despite a healthy appetite, this could point to feline hyperthyroidism.
  • Coat changes. Hyperthyroidism may cause a cat’s coat to look unkempt.
  • Increased thirst and urination. High levels of thyroid hormone cause the kidneys to produce more urine. Usually this becomes evident when you are cleaning the litter box. You may notice an increase in the size or number of clumps in your cat’s litter box, or kitty may start going outside the box. Some cats compensate for the increase in urine by drinking more water, but that may not be enough to prevent dehydration.
  • Behavior Changes. Cats with hyperthyroidism often exhibit unusual behaviors. They may be extremely active, or they may become more aggressive, nervous, or extremely vocal.
  • Vomiting or Diarrhea. An increased appetite causes some cats to gulp down their food, which can lead to vomiting. Hyperthyroidism also causes food to move more quickly through the intestines, which can cause diarrhea.

If your cat has had any accidents outside the litter box or has been vomiting, you may have a few cleaning concerns in addition to your concerns for your cat’s health. Your vet will be able to address your medical concerns, and a good enzymatic cleaner will take care of any stains or odors for good.

Treating Feline Hyperthyroidism

If your senior cat is diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, your veterinarian will probably recommend one of three treatment options.

1. Medication

There are several medications on the market that are effective in controlling feline hyperthyroidism. If your vet recommends this form of treatment, it will not cure your cat’s condition, but it will manage it and keep him healthy. In order to stay healthy, he will need to take the medication for the rest of his life.

If getting your cat to swallow a pill is a fur-raising experience, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are products designed to make it easier for cats to take their medicine. Feline Greenies Pill Pockets look and taste like treats, but there’s a convenient pocket that’s just right for sneaking in a pill. Tomlyn Pill-Masker is a flavored paste that molds around any size pill, making it look, smell, and taste like a yummy treat.

2. Surgery

Surgery involves removing the thyroid glands, which results in a cure for most cats. Your veterinarian can determine whether surgery is a safe option for your cat, since anesthesia can be an issue for some senior kitties.

3. Radioactive Iodine Treatment

Injection with radioactive iodine is effective in curing hyperthyroidism. It works because the thyroid naturally absorbs iodine, which means the radiation causes it to stop functioning without damaging any other organs or systems.

The downside to this method of treatment is that it’s a bit more costly than the others, and it also involves a stay in the hospital of several days.

Hyperthyroidism and Kidney Disease

Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to a number of other problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure.

If it’s not caught early, high blood pressure can lead to damage of the kidneys. On top of that, hyperthyroidism can make kidney disease harder to detect. This is because hyperthyroidism can actually improve kidney function because it causes increased blood flow. Some cats experience a worsening of their kidney symptoms after they begin treatment for hyperthyroidism.

If your cat is being treated for hyperthyroidism, talk to your vet about monitoring his kidney function. Older cats with hyperthyroidism often have kidney disease as well. Early detection is key in successfully treating kidney disease.

If your cat’s kidneys are functioning well, here are a few things you can do to promote kidney health at any age.

  • Keep the litter box clean and accessible. This will make it easier for your cat to urinate when he feels the need.
  • Take your cat for regular checkups. Don’t wait until you notice symptoms of illness to bring your cat to the vet. Routine screenings and checkups can reveal problems early, making it much more likely that you’ll be able to treat them successfully. Younger cats should see their veterinarian once a year, and many veterinarians recommend that senior cats be seen every 6 months.
  • Keep him hydrated. Canned cat food is one way to add water to your cat’s diet. In addition, he should always have access to plenty of clean, fresh water. Many cats prefer running water and will drink much more from a fountain than they will from a traditional water dish. This adorable flower fountain is one of my cat’s favorites.
  • Watch his weight. Obesity in cats can lead to diabetes, which can contribute to kidney failure.

The good thing about feline hyperthyroidism is that it is treatable, and cats who are diagnosed and treated early have a good chance of living long, happy lives. Left undiagnosed, however, it becomes much more serious – even fatal. That’s why it’s so important to visit your veterinarian regularly, and to schedule an appointment at the first sign of any change in your cat’s health.