ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tony, a gray tabby cat pushing 15, has been ours since he was just a baby. He and I share the belief that we’re still kids but, oddly, he’s developed an age-related problem. Doing my best to cheat the reality of aging, I’ve examined him and regularly submitted lab profiles. About a year ago his thyroid screen, called the T4, started to creep up. I’ve seen a lot of this during my career. Hyperthyroidism affects about 10% of cats over age 9.
Feline hyperthyroidism is caused by slowly growing benign tumors of the thyroid glands, located on either side of the windpipe near the base of the neck. Increased production of thyroid hormone triggers the sympathetic nervous system, causing many of the body’s functions to gather speed. An otherwise gently aging feline senior can face insidious hypertension, rapid heart rate, weight loss in the face of a growing appetite, poor hair coat and, in some cases, behavior problems. Severe heart disease and neurologic disorders are common in advanced cases.
Recognizing Tony’s challenges early I started him on a medication called methimazole to reduce his excessive thyroid hormone production. His heart rate came down but he lost more weight as his appetite grew immensely. As I lamented my failure to buy cat food futures it became clear that treatment with medication wasn’t cutting it.
Back in the day we surgically removed badly behaved thyroid glands but those risks are now avoidable. Dr. Dawn Nolan of the VCA Veterinary Care Animal Hospital in Albuquerque is licensed to administer the gold standard: radioactive iodine. I dropped Tony off for treatment last Wednesday. Absorbed into his blood and delivered only to his thyroids this injectable nuclear therapy is safely wiping-out his excessive tissue. By Friday our boy was back home, napping on my lap where he belongs.
Too many cats are living with advancing chronic disease because symptoms are slow to develop and, gee, a lot of them really hate visiting the doctor. Read my column next week, before laying it face-up in your kitty’s litter pan. I’ll explain how to make medical care for cats a lot easier for everybody.