One of the commonest conditions to affect older cats is overactive thyroid glands, or “feline hyperthyroidism”. This is caused by an increase in production of thyroid hormones by the thyroid glands, which are located in the neck.
Sean Wensley, PDSA Senior Veterinary Surgeon says: “Thyroid hormones regulate the body’s metabolic rate and general activity levels so overproduction causes cats to burn energy much faster than they would normally. This explains the most common sign of hyperthyroidism, which is weight loss despite a cat having an increased appetite and eating more.”
Feline hyperthyroidism most commonly affects middle aged and older cats, and rarely affects cats younger than seven. As well as increased appetite and weight loss, other signs of the disease can include increased thirst, restlessness, irritability/aggression, mild to moderate diarrhoea and/or vomiting and poor coat condition.
The disease affects all cats differently, so you may not see all these signs. Additionally, some of them can be signs of other illnesses, so if you notice any change in your cat’s habits, behaviour or appearance you should always visit your vet.
If your vet suspects hyperthyroidism then blood tests are usually done to confirm the diagnosis. Luckily, the disease can often be treated very successfully, so if your cat is diagnosed your vet will advise what course of treatment is appropriate.
There are three main options for treatment: 1. Daily medication (tablets) may be prescribed to regulate the levels of thyroid hormones; 2. Surgery may be recommended to remove an affected thyroid gland; or 3. In certain cases, radiotherapy may be recommended to destroy the abnormal thyroid tissue. Radiotherapy is uncommon as it can only be performed at one of a small number of licensed veterinary facilities in the UK.
Sean continues: “Hyperthyroidism is very common in older cats, but by knowing the signs to look out for owners can ensure the disease is detected and treated, allowing a cat to resume a good quality of life in to their old age.”