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symptoms and treatment for feline hyperthyroidism

All You Need to Know About Hyperthyroidism in Senior Cats

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.
Photo of a bottle of Simple Solution Oxy Pet Stain and Odor Remover

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.

Photo of a pack of FELINE GREENIES Pill Pockets Natural Cat Treats
Photo of a jar of TOMLYN Pill Masker Flavored Paste for Dogs and Cats

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.
Photo of Catit Cat Drinking Water Fountain
  • 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.

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Kristen Levine is a nationally acclaimed pet expert and influencer with over 30 years of experience in the industry. She's helped millions of pet parents provide the best care at every stage of their pet’s life.

Her blog, Pet Living with Kristen Levine has been featured in Pop Sugar, Good Housekeeping, New York Times, USA Today, and more.

She's also the founder of FWV Fetching, the first marketing agency exclusively serving pet and animal health companies.

Her early work with the SPCA led her to a lifelong career in the pet industry, advocating for pet adoption and rescue as well as for pets and their parents here on her blog and in the media.

She’s frequently booked on satellite media tours and national shows, like FOX & Friends, Good Morning America, and Daytime, to talk about pet trends and new products.

Insanely passionate about pets since she was a little girl, Kristen has had more than 30 pets in her lifetime — including dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, a horse, a gerbil, mice, and chickens!

Today she lives in Florida with her dog Tulip, cat Olivia, and husband Paul.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. How can I get my senior cat seen for this possible disorder. She has lost a lot of weight over the past year. She is approximately 15+ years old now. However, due to my medical issues I have not been able to work for over 2 years and am facing eviction, etc. I do not have a home computer and may lose my phone any day now. I want to have my cat seen by a Vet. but I do not have the resources. Do you know of anyone that can help me with this in the Denver, CO. area (zip code: 80246) ? Thank you, Lori

  2. My 16 year old cat is going through the same disease. I know your post is over a year old but I wonder about how you handled things. I too have a limited income, only social security. I have been treating her with methimazole and that is expensive too. I have an appointment to put her down today but I don’t think I can do it. please email me at brendaelk@gmail.com if possible. Have you heard of Dr. Jeff a local vet there in Denver?

    Thank you, Brenda

    1. Hello Brenda,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your kitty’s illness. If you decided to put her to sleep, I want to offer my deepest condolences and to let you know it’s obvious how much you loved her. I’m sure you gave your kitty a great life.

      If you decided to continue treatments but are looking for payment options, there are two you might consider. One is Care Credit. It’s like a credit card that helps you pay for costly care, then you have time to pay it off. The other option is to ask Dr. Jeff if he could work with you on a payment plan for treatment, assuming your cat is a candidate.

      Again, I’m so sorry you and your kitty have had to deal with this.
      Kristen

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