Your cat has two thyroid glands in their neck, one on each side of the trachea. The thyroid gland produces a hormone that regulates your cat’s metabolic rate, and that affects organs throughout their body. Until recently, many cats had no trouble with the function of their thyroid gland. Over the past few decades, though, hyperthyroidism has become increasingly common in cats over the age of 10. For that reason, it’s important to bring your older cats to an animal hospital in Jacksonville for check-ups at least twice a year. The vet will inspect their thyroid and let you know about any changes.

What Is Feline Hyperthyroidism?

Feline hyperthyroidism, also called thyrotoxicosis, occurs when a cat’s thyroid glands produce too much thyroid hormone. Usually, one or both of the thyroid glands become enlarged when a cat has an overactive thyroid. Excess production of thyroid hormone can raise a cat’s metabolic rate and can have a negative effect on their kidneys, heart, and other organs.

It’s important to detect and treat hyperthyroidism in your cat. Without treatment, your pet can lose a significant amount of weight and experience long-lasting organ damage.

What Causes Hyperthyroidism in Cats?

While researchers and vets don’t know exactly what causes overactivity in a cat’s thyroid gland, they have some theories. A cat’s diet can play a part. If your pet is getting too much iodine or if they are eating foods that contain soy or other plant-based proteins, they might have a higher risk of developing hyperthyroidism compared to cats who eat mostly meat.

Certain chemicals that might be in the home can also play a role when it comes to the development of hyperthyroidism in cats. For example, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a type of flame retardant that began to be used in everyday objects, such as electronics and furniture cushions, since the 1970s. PBDEs can leach from the products they are in and get onto dust or into water, eventually making their way into the bodies of humans and other animals. Interestingly enough, PBDEs can also mimic thyroid hormone when in the body of an animal, leading to disruption of the thyroid gland and natural levels of thyroid hormone.

Researchers have noted that there has been a sharp increase in the number of cats with overactive thyroids since PBDEs first began being used. Back in the 1970s, the condition was very rare and almost unheard of. Today, it’s one of the more common conditions among older cats. Fortunately, the use of PBDEs has been phased out, so there might ultimately be a decline in the number of cat hyperthyroidism cases.

What Are Common Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism?

The signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats can be subtle at first. As the condition progresses, symptoms typically become more pronounced. One of the first signs of the condition is weight loss. Your cat might be dropping pounds or might look skinnier. Often, cats with overactive thyroids will lose weight even if they’re eating more. If you notice that your cat is thinner, but they haven’t begun to eat less or have begun to beg for more food, it’s a good idea to bring them to an animal hospital for testing.

Along with losing weight, cats with overactive thyroids might drink more water, become more hyperactive, and become more vocal. Your cat might also have gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea. As the condition develops, your cat’s fur might become matted and greasy looking.

How Is Cat Hyperthyroidism Diagnosed?

A vet can diagnose cat hyperthyroidism. During an exam, the vet will feel the cat’s neck, checking to see if there is palpable enlargement of the thyroid gland. The veterinarian will most likely measure the cat’s heart rate and blood pressure, as both can be elevated when the thyroid is overactive.

Blood tests can determine whether a cat has elevated levels of thyroid hormone in their body. When the gland produces too much hormone, levels of T4, one of the thyroid hormones, tend to be high.

How Can You Treat Hyperthyroidism in Cats?

The best animal hospital in Jacksonville will use one of four methods to treat hyperthyroidism in cats. Treatment options include managing the condition with dietary changes and surgically removing the thyroid. Each option has its benefits and challenges. You and your cat’s veterinarian can discuss the pros and cons of each treatment to decide which one is most appropriate for your pet.

Hyperthyroidism treatment options include:

  • Dietary changes: Your cat’s veterinarian might recommend feeding your cat a diet low in iodine, to see if that helps to control hormone production. Dietary therapy can be an appropriate choice for cats who have other health issues that make other treatment options challenging.
  • Medication: Medicines that control the thyroid and limit the production of T4 can effectively manage an overactive thyroid in some cats. Medication might be used as a short-term therapy solution before another treatment option or as an ongoing therapy.
  • Radioactive iodine: The thyroid gland needs iodine to produce hormones. When cats are treated with radioactive iodine, they receive an injection. The thyroid absorbs the iodine, and the radioactive material destroys the overactive gland cells. Radioactive iodine is an effective treatment for many cats and can help to cure hyperthyroidism. The drawback is that it’s not available everywhere and that it does require a cat to be hospitalized for several days after treatment because of the radiation.
  • Surgery: Surgical removal of the thyroid gland can help to cure hyperthyroidism in cats. It’s often not the therapy of choice, though, unless radioactive iodine or medication aren’t possible.

What Are Complications of Hyperthyroidism in Cats?

Without treatment, cats with hyperthyroidism can develop problems with other areas of the body. For example, elevated thyroid hormone levels can cause the heart to beat faster, which can cause the left ventricle to thicken over time, potentially leading to heart failure. Treating the overactive thyroid can often be enough to improve any issues with the heart.

Is Hyperthyroidism a Medical Emergency?

While you do want to bring your pet in for an exam and treatment if you suspect that they have an overactive thyroid, hyperthyroidism is typically not a medical emergency and usually doesn’t require an emergency vet in Jacksonville. If you’re concerned about your cat’s weight changes or if you’ve noticed that they seem more active or less like themselves lately, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment for a check-up at Forever Vets Animal Hospital in Jacksonville today.

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