One of the most common diseases in middle-aged and older cats is hyperthyroidism. An increase in the production of thyroid hormones, i.e., T4 and T3, is the primary cause of this disorder. The enlarged thyroid gland in the neck region of the cat is the most common visible sign identifying hyperthyroidism. This enlargement is a non-cancerous tumor known as an adenoma. However, in some rare cases, it can also be caused by malignant tumors known as thyroid adenocarcinomas. Hyperthyroidism, also called thyrotoxicosis, increases the metabolic rate in an animal’s body because of high circulating thyroid hormone and often causes secondary problems by affecting all of the organs in the body. The reason for feline hyperthyroidism is unfamiliar. However, deficiencies or excesses of some elements in the diet and thyroid-disrupting could be responsible for the onset of hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is rare in dogs. However, if it occurs, it is primarily because of thyroid carcinoma. This contrasts with the case in hyperthyroid cats, where less than 5% of a thyroid tumor is carcinoma.
Cats’ most common clinical signs of hyperthyroidism are weight loss, increased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, increased fecal volume, hyperexcitability, polydipsia, polyuria, enlargement of the thyroid gland, cardiomegaly, and congestive heart failure.
- A high thyroid hormone concentration in serum is the primary indication of hyperthyroidism. Therefore measuring serum total T4 concentration is the standard procedure that can confirm the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism in cats.
- In 5% – 10% of cases, it is also seen that cats so have normal T4 levels. It could be an indication of early or mild hyperthyroidism. Suppression of a high total T4 level to within reference range limits can also be caused by a nonthyroidal illness concurrent with hyperthyroidism.
- High free T4 concentration, medical history, and physical examination diagnose hyperthyroidism in cats with normal T4 levels.
- Radioiodine Therapy
The radioiodine can be concentrated within the thyroid gland, where it targets the tumor by selectively irradiating and destroying hyper-functioning tissue. Radioactive iodine therapy is a simple, effective, and safe treatment for cat hyperthyroidism.
Unilateral thyroid tumors can be easily treatable with surgical thyroidectomy without requiring thyroxine supplementation. Thyroidectomy can also be used for bilateral thyroid tumors. However, to avoid postoperative hypocalcemia, the functioning of the parathyroid gland must be preserved. After complete thyroidectomy, thyroxine should be administered for one to two days. Vitamin D and calcium treatment are also indicated if iatrogenic hypoparathyroidism develops.
- Chronic administration of an antithyroid drug
An antithyroid drug acts by blocking thyroid hormone synthesis. Methimazole, carbimazole, and propylthiouracil are some of the most commonly used antithyroid drugs that are used to control hyperthyroidism. An initial dose of methimazole is 2.5 mg to 5 mg and is divided into two equal amounts to be given daily. Propylthiouracil has shown some adverse effects (hemolytic anemia and thrombocytopenia) and therefore is not recommended in cats. In less than 5% of treated cats, methimazole may have adverse effects such as agranulocytosis and thrombocytopenia. Besides lowering the circulating T4 concentration, cardiovascular signs such as tachycardia, tachypnea, hypertension, and hyperexcitability are often treated using β-adrenoceptor blocking agents such as propranolol and atenolol. Another strategic drug that inhibits the conversion of peripheral T4 to T3 is the oral cholecystographic agents such as ipodate, iopanoic acid, and diatrizoate meglumine.
- Lifelong nutritional therapy
A diet with iodine levels below the minimum daily requirement is mainly prescribed for cats that are not suitable as a candidate for surgery or radioiodine therapy or in cats that develop adverse effects from oral medication. Compared to cats with severe hyperthyroidism, this nutritional therapy is more effective if the cat has a moderate increase in T4 levels. Hill’s® y/d Feline Thyroid HealthTM is one of the prescription diets available in the market with severely restricted iodine levels. The therapy can only control but not wholly treat hyperthyroidism. Also, cats on an iodine-deficient diet must not eat any other diet or food. If the diet is stopped, a setback will occur, and the therapy will be ineffective in regulating hyperthyroidism.
- Vaske, Heather H et al. “Diagnosis and management of feline hyperthyroidism: current perspectives.” Veterinary medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 5 85-96. 20 Aug. 2014, doi:10.2147/VMRR.S39985
- Carney, Hazel C et al. “2016 AAFP Guidelines for the Management of Feline Hyperthyroidism.” Journal of feline medicine and surgery vol. 18, 5 (2016): 400-16. doi:10.1177/1098612X16643252
Mark E. Peterson. Hyperthyroidism in Animals. Last full review/revision Jul 2019 | Content last modified Oct 2020. MSD MANUAL Veterinary Manual.