The thyroid glands are located along the windpipe of all animals and produce thyroid hormones. These hormones have many functions in the body, including controlling weight, heart rate and blood pressure. Abnormalities can be seen when the glands either fail to produce enough hormone, called hypothyroidism, or too much, called hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is a common condition in middle-aged to older cats, and can develop for up to two years before presentation due to the often slow onset of the disease. The main signs seen with hyperthyroidism in cats are weight loss, increased appetite, increased drinking, increased urination and hyperactivity.
Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed in most cases with a blood test, which will show an increase in the thyroid hormone, thyroxine (T4). Hyperthyroidism in cats can be treated medically, surgically or with radioactive iodine.
One of the drugs commonly used to manage hyperthyroidism in cats is called carbimazole. This can be used for long-term management of the condition or to return the thyroid hormone levels in the body back to normal before surgery. The effects of carbimazole are not permanent, and the tablets need to be given once daily – if your cat is not a fan of tablets this may not be the best treatment, however, many cats can be maintained happily on medical management alone for long periods of time.
The second treatment option is surgical removal of one or both glands. This is usually a short procedure, but a general anaesthetic is required; for some animals that have other conditions present, for example kidney or heart problems, an anaesthetic may be too much of a risk. The advantages of surgery are permanent treatment of hyperthyroidism and no more hiding tablets in your cat’s food!
Radioactive iodine destroys part of the thyroid glands and is the third treatment option. Most cats respond well to this treatment and it is a relatively safe option. The disadvantage is that only specialist veterinary centers can carry out this treatment, so the costs can be high and your cat may have to stay there for a number of weeks. The advantages of radioactive iodine are that it is a permanent treatment of the condition and, as the treatment is given by injection, there are no anaesthetic risks involved.
This condition is common but every case is different. We understand that your pet is unique, our vets will help you to choose the best treatment option to get them back to health as quickly as possible.
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