Thyroid Disease and Cats

Scruffles the cat Olson and feline Tyroid disease

I recently blogged about the antics of my elderly cat, Scruffles.

I adopted Scruffles when she was in her early teens.  She is 17 now.  I found out from the friends who had placed her with me from the friend of theirs who had died of cancer that her complete medical records stopped at her six month spay and front declaw.  I will blog someday about declawing; suffice it to say for now that I am against it.

Anyway, Scruffles had never been to a veterinarian again since. 

I took her to my vet to establish a geriatric pet profile, and to use a groomer for the first time in my life.  I work on all my own animals, but due to her age and the severe matting of her long coat, I wanted her sedated and professionally groomed.  Although that did not happen, her geriatric exam did, which revealed a mass in her abdomen which led to bloodwork and x-rays, which led to an ultrasound, which led to a "NSF" (no significant findings), which led to a $250.00 grooming bill, since the traveling ultrasound vet did not charge me (so kindly) for the $400+ ultrasound since she could not see anything, and since she values my rescue work. 

That was six years ago, and Scruffles continued to not need any vet care, until recently.  For a few days she did not seem her normal disfunctional self, but was sleeping a lot and listless.  I gave her two days, and on day three, when she started coughing and sneezing, we went straight to my World's Most Wonderful Vet (Tri-City Animal and Bird Clinic in Mancherster, my second home, and where I worked for 11 years).

A series of bloodwork, cultures and other lab tests revealed, not surprisingly, that Scruffles is suffering from Thyroid disease, which many consider to be a synonym for cats over the age of 10 or 12.

Back in my day, thyroid disease was really icky to work with.  When we initially began to treat it, it was done surgically and was usually a tricky and difficult surgery, often with complications.  Later, radiactive iodine therapy began to be used, but that was also problematic as the cats' waste would be radioactive and precaution needed to be taken in interacting with them, such as wearing protective gloves to change the litterbox.

Hyperthyroidism in cats, as I mentioned earlier, is a very common endocrine disorder, and sometimes exhibits similar symptoms as kidney disease or diabetes, so a good diagnostician is very important.  Signs can include hyperactivity, increased appetite or thirst yet weight loss, poor skin and hair coat, and diarrhea and or vomiting.  Fortunately I caught Scruffles early, at the "just looks pathetic" stage.

The thyroid gland is located in the neck, and it regulates bodily functions by using iodine from the diet to produce thyroid hormones, which influence heart rate, metabolism, blood pressure, body temperature, and bowel functions.

Recently, veterinary medicine has developed an anti-thyroid daily medication that inhibits the excessive production of thyroid hormone, which can adversely affect the heart and kidneys, as well as other vital organs.  I hate pilling my animals, so I was thrilled to learn of the most recent advance for treating the disease - diet.

Hills prescription veterinary diet has created a canned and dry cat food called "y/d Feline Thyroid Health".  Unfortunately for me (my vet warned me that I would hate it, and I do, since I feed holistically) the first two ingredients are - wait for it, I can hardly bring myself to say it - CORN GLUTEN MEAL (!!!fainting!!!) followed by pork fat (reviving from fainting ... what?! Pork fat? fainting agan).

So, first of all, I ask you - have you ever seen cats stalking fields of corn to eat? - and secondly, since when was Fat one of our major food groups?  Arghhhhhh (says the organic hippee nutrition nazi in me).  However, Scruffles was literally PAWING at the bag as I was opening it and has gotten herself a new paw-watch to remind me of when it is time to give her her breakfast and dinner canned food. She LOVES it, and it is so much easier than pilling her twice a day.

So, so far, so good.  She gets her levels re-tested in a few weeks, I am helping her to study to pass those tests with flying colours ;).

There is so much more to this issue, if you are interested, please email me or better, contact your veterinarian for more information.  As always, if you have any concerns about your pet's health, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Happy health!

Dorene and Scruffles, who is waiting at the canned food cupboard for lunch

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Beth August 24, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Thanks for getting the word out about this all-too-common kitty disease. Both of my cats have or had it. Although I also believe in treating holistically and naturally first, I treated the one who got it first with the radioactive iodine in 2009, but the other has other serious health problems that make the pills the best solution for him. I wish more people were aware of the symptoms -- I blamed bad behavior when the first cat started stealing our food from the counters, even taking a piece of bacon out of the pan while it was cooking! I hope that the new food will be a good solution for some cats.
Sherry August 26, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Our cat is 17 years of age and just starting throwing up and has lost 3 pounds, now eight pounds, since January. The vet says this is an excessive weight loss, and we can spend $400.00 for tests, and they can start her on IV therapy to increase weight if we decide to; otherwise, we should probably euthenize her. Should we treat her, or accept the inevitable? My husband feels she's elderly, and it would be more humane to euthenize her. She's just started acting strange, running rapidly from one room to another, whining for more food. She's been lethargic for several weeks now. We know there is a thyroid problem; she's already on the dry and wet thyroid cat food you mentioned above. She's not eating the dry however; vet said plaque on teeth may be making this a problem for her to chew. Any suggestions please?
Dorene Olson August 27, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Hi Beth and Sherry, thank you for your replies. Beth, how unfortunate (but common) that both your seniors have this. My first three cats lived to be 19, 22, and 25 years old and did not have thyroid disease, I was lucky. Sherry, I am not a veterinarian and cannot diagnose, nor should anyone give advice on health without a doctor/patient live relationship, so regretfully, I cannot help you with your kitty. I have never heard of using fluids to increase weight, perhaps your vet was referring to something else? Testing for thyroid disease alone does not cost $400.00, although diagnostic testing for unknown illnesses, especially in geriatric cats, can certainly add up. I would certainly make another appointment with your veterinarian to discuss her condition more fully and express your concerns, perhaps even consult his or her partner or another vet to get a second opinion - two heads are better than one, sometimes - and there are wonderful specialists in the area who you could be referred to if need be. 17 years old is getting up there, and they do get medical problems, I well know that, but there are so many treatments available now that can keep them comfortable if euthanasia is not a first and best option, as you are suggesting. As for her eating the dry food, have you tried soaking it in warm water? Sometimes softening it can help. Best of luck with her, I hope that you can get some help and have less questions, Dorene
Sherry August 27, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Oh, thank you so much for responding to my post. Has your cat ever sat in a "hunched" position, for lack of a better word? Mr. Darcy is doing this ocassionally, which appears to us humans to look uncomfortable, and it looks to me as he is distressed, but maybe I'm over-reacting? It doesn't last but just a minute and then he lays down, but it is a new behavior for him. Sherry
Dorene Olson August 27, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Hi again, Sherry: Oh, I am so sorry that Mr. Darcy is having so much trouble! Sitting hunched could have several reasons, again, since I can't see it and am not a veterinarian, I can't advise. When was the last time that he had a complete physical exam? My cat is in her 20's and her only symptom that she was ill was that she slept 23 hours a day instead of 22 hours a day. I am joking, of course, but she was lethargic and that is why I took her in. That would be my most profound suggestion for your little senior. Best of luck with him! Dorene and Scruffles
Karen Laseter August 27, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Thanks for posting this article! My 17-year old cat has been on methimazole for hyperthyroidism for the last year and a half. At first, we used the pill pockets successfully, but those would dry out over time, and she would refuse them. Now we mix the medicine in a very small bit of Hill's canned critical care food, and she has yet to get tired of it (using it for the last four months). I will continue with what's working, but I'm glad to hear there is a new canned food that might remove the need for these pills and their side effects. Thanks again. -karen
Sherry August 27, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Hi Karen, thanks for your comments. What are the side effects of the meds? I want to make an informed decision about beginning Mr. Darcy on meds. We will see the vet tomorrow for blood work so she'll know the status of the thyroid condition, and if there is anything else going on causing him to be lethargic.
Karen Laseter August 28, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Hi Sherry. Similar to Dorene, I am not a vet either, so whatever I say is just my experience. If you look up methimazole for cats side effects, you can find a list of *possible* side effects. I found this one (there are many more): http://www.vetinfo.com/side-effects-methimazole.html#b or http://www.avmi.net/newfiles/hyperthyroidism/methimazole.html . They say the majority of cats do well on it. They mention side effects of lack of appetite, vomiting, depression, autoimmune disease... The only one that I can see that applies to my cat is the facial pruritus (itchiness) which causes her to scratch at her face. (hers looks nowhere near as bad as the pic shown in the link). We just try to groom her more often, which I think addresses her itchiness. She's been on this med for a while, and her blood tests are in the normal range. She is checked now every 3-4 months and doing well. Some say the pill tastes bitter, but my cat laps it up in that moist food. Our only challenge is getting her blood drawn! She has to be sedated for that - not very patient. Good luck to you tomorrow!


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