Being in cat rescue, people had always told me about how difficult it was to see their cats age. I now have two rescue cats over 17 years old that have been with us over 12 years now–and so far (knock on wood) they are still very healthy. No diseases, no chronic health issues. But as two of my cats turned 14 this past year, each of them has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. What to me felt like the dreaded “H” word! But several months into this condition, I have realized it’s very manageable and should not be dreaded.
My first cat who was diagnosed, Godiva, a beautiful, lively chocolate Persian who as a kitten, was taken to our local animal shelter, blind with hydrocephalus (water on the brain). Fortunately, she was given a second chance by one of the shelter volunteers who gave her a home for five years, and then relocated across country and gave her up. The cat rescue group I was fostering for at the time, Friends of the Formerly Friendless (FFF) took Godiva, and so we had the good fortune of fostering sweet Godiva. But after a year of going to adoption day every weekend, Godiva was never adopted, so we adopted Godiva ourselves and have found her to be an amazing, courageous, determined survivor navigating our house beautifully, despite her blindness and many cat “obstacles.”
So last year, at the age of 14, Godiva started exhibiting some concerning signs—she was losing weight (already thin with a fast metabolism), she was hyper-active and restless (even more than she normally is), her appetite was through-the-roof (it was already very healthy!), and she cried incessantly for food and could not get enough. Her coat, which was normally shiny and healthy, started to develop a dull finish and became matted, which had never happened before. She exhibited nearly all the signs of a hyperthyroid cat.
So as with all of our cats, I took her for her annual checkup. Our vet ran a senior blood screen (chemistry panel), thyroid level T4, and urinalysis to screen for hyperthyroidism. In the exam, the vet detected a faster than normal heart rate and of course noted her weight loss. When the tests came back positive for hyperthyroidism, my heart sank. Godiva was our first cat with a chronic illness after 14 years with our many cats. I was devastated. The good news was that she was not in the 3 percent of cats with thyroid cancer, but rather, in the 97 percent with benign thyroid disease.
The treatment for Godiva is Felimazole (Methimazole coated tablets) two times a day, and every 2-4 weeks, we have made trips to the vet for an exam and blood chemistry panel to confirm that her T4 level has fallen into the normal range. It has taken three blood panels and three dosing adjustments, and finally–we’re there!
Now our second cat, Gracie, also 14 years old started exhibiting worrisome signs—losing weight, upper respiratory problems, muscle weakness, lethargy–again all possible signs of hyperthyroidism. So after a vet visit, and tests run, she too was positive for hyperthyroidism, and is now on Felimazole twice a day. With Gracie, we’re still in the process of adjusting her dosing and will have her T4 levels checked again next week, then if still too high, again in another 2-4 weeks. However, the medication for these cats will be given for the remainder of their lives, even though their T4 levels will fall into normal range. The Felimazole twice a day will keep their thyroid level under control–it’s a life long commitment and one we’ll happily make for them.
Through this, we have learned that hyperthyroidism is most common in female cats, over the age of 8. Cats show signs slowly, but as time passes, if not treated, symptoms become more severe, and it can be very debilitating leading to extreme weakness, overheating, muscle tremors, wasting, difficulty breathing (panting), blindness, and even death. Every organ of the body is affected with thyroid disease–the kidneys, liver, heart, nervous and digestive system are all over-stimulated. Often cats will get diarrhea or have loose stools as the increased level of thyroid hormone causes their intestines to be more active.
There are two other possible treatments that are more long-lasting. One is radioactive iodine–a permanent cure for hyperthyroidism. It requires a special facility that conducts this treatment and a 5-7 day hospitalization. The procedure is said to be safe, and cats, on average, are said to live twice as long as cats treated with daily methimazole. The second option is surgery, also providing a permanent cure, for the most part, but may be riskier due to anesthetic risk factors. The tricky part of the surgical thyroidectomy is how much of the cats glands to remove–too little and the cat will remain hyperthyroid, too much and the cat will become hypothyroid. The surgery is considered to have less predictable results.
So for Godiva and Gracie, I’m thinking about the radioactive iodine treatment, if they are accepted as good candidates. The treatment in the Bay Area costs between $1200-$1500, so we’ll need to start saving for this …. uh, maybe Godiva and Gracie could have a bake sale, or car wash, or wash dishes … to help us finance this?! Don’t think so, they’re way too busy enjoying eating, napping, playing … napping, playing, eating … and living the life of Riley!
From my blog: Homeless to Housecats