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Developed in collaboration with Andrea Johnson, DVM | Co-Founder | PetVet365
Last reviewed: August 23, 2023
Hyperthyroidism in cats, or feline hyperthyroidism, is a condition where your cat’s thyroid gland is overactive. It is most common in older cats and, if left untreated, can cause heart failure, organ damage, and possibly death.
The thyroid gland is made up of two lobes in your cat’s neck and is part of the endocrine system. It uses hormones to control your cat's? metabolism, energy level, reproduction, growth and development, response to injury, stress, and mood.
There is no way to prevent hyperthyroidism, nor can it be cured. But it can be successfully managed and controlled with daily, long-term medication, diet, and, when appropriate, surgery or radioactive iodine therapy.
There is no definitive known cause of feline hyperthyroidism. It is suspected that environmental factors and exposure to toxins may be at fault. Some of the hypothesized causes include:
If your cat is showing signs of hyperthyroidism, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination to look for enlarged thyroid nodules and run a thyroid serum blood test to check thyroxine (T4) levels. Typically, if the T4 levels are over a certain threshold, there is no question about the diagnosis.
Before treatment, they may perform one or more additional tests to evaluate your cat’s overall health and predict the likelihood of complications with treatment. These may include additional blood tests, a urinalysis, chest X-rays, an echocardiogram (ECG), a technetium (Tc-99m) scan or scintigraph (thyroid scan), an ultrasound, and/or blood pressure measurements. During treatment, your veterinarian will monitor for hypothyroidism (the slowing of thyroid function) to make sure it is not getting too much of a treatment.
There are a number of conditions that can develop from complications of feline hyperthyroidism, some of which are serious and life threatening.
Both cardiomyopathy and hypertension can be manageable with medication and lifestyle changes, depending on the stage of disease.
There are several treatment options for hyperthyroidism in cats. Which one is best for your cat depends on the cause of its hyperthyroidism, its age, and its other underlying health conditions.
Methimazole is given long-term to manage thyroid hormone levels and can also be used to normalize thyroid levels before thyroid surgery. Treatment with methimazole is a form of medical management; it does not cure hyperthyroidism. If your veterinarian determines your pet has special needs that are not satisfied by the commercially available methimazole medications, they may prescribe compounded methimazole that is both the appropriate dose and strength for your cat from a compounding pharmacy.
If your veterinarian determines your pet has special needs that are not satisfied by the commercially available methimazole medications, they may prescribe compounded methimazole that is both the appropriate dose and strength for your cat from a compounding pharmacy.
Wedgewood Pharmacy specializes in compounded products and provides medication options that help ensure accurate dosing, especially for uncooperative cats. Click here for a complete list of Wedgewood’s dosing forms and strengths for methimazole.
No. Hyperthyroidism in cats can be successfully managed, but it cannot be cured. It is likely that your cat will be on medication (methimazole) or another treatment for the rest of its life. Recurrence of hyperthyroidism is rare after I-131 therapy, but possible.
The outcomes of most hyperthyroid treatments are usually excellent, and most cats have a very good chance of returning to a normal state of health. Cats managed with diet or medication generally do well as long as their feeding is consistent, their medication is administered routinely, and follow-up blood and diagnostic tests are performed as scheduled. Early diagnosis is key to a positive long term outcome, so screening older cats for thyroid disease annually is recommended.
The exact cause of feline hyperthyroidism is unknown, so there are currently no preventative measures. Early diagnosis often leads to a better prognosis.
Your cat should be monitored closely for adverse effects such as tiredness, vomiting, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin or eyes, or itchiness. If these are seen, discontinue the medication and contact your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will most likely check your cat’s blood before starting methimazole to establish a baseline of thyroid function, and then check again every 2-3 weeks for the first 3 months to track thyroid hormone levels. Once dosing is stabilized, thyroid levels should be checked every 3-6 months.
This article is meant to provide general and not medical advice. We strongly recommend that a veterinarian be consulted for the specific medical needs of your animal.
UC Davis Veterinary Medicine
VCA Animal Hospitals
Blue Pearl Pet Hospital
Andrea Johnson, DVM, is co-founder of PetVet365, a franchise company that creates new veterinary practices around entrepreneur owners determined to reinvent the animal healthcare profession and to offer the highest quality care for pets and their families.
She began her career as an associate veterinarian with a practice in Kentucky and eventually became owner and chief medical officer for 15 Banfield Pet Hospital franchises in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, with 75 veterinarians on her team. She was a veterinary consultant for LegacyVet and a self-employed consultant prior to co-founding PetVet365.
She holds a BS degree in biology from Marshall University, an MS degree in Biology and Biological Sciences from Marshall University, and a DVM degree from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
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