Many pet guardians believe if their pet is eating well, the dog or cat must be healthy. In many cases, this observation is a good measure as to a pet’s wellness. However, many a kitty parent has been fooled to believe their aging feline was well, as it developed a serious case of hyperthyroidism along with a ravenous appetite!
Indeed, an excessive appetite accompanied by profound weight loss is the hallmark of this common cat disorder. This condition is particularly difficult to notice when an overweight pet is early on in the disease progression. In fact, pet parents may be pleased with the chubby pet’s weight loss, attributing it to a diet change or an increase in exercise.
Holistic veterinarians have observed that if a cat lives long enough, it is quite likely to develop hyperthyroidism. The usual time of onset is eight or more years of age. A thorough annual wellness exam, which includes complete senior blood work, can easily catch this disease in the early stages. Unfortunately, if this does not occur, many cats with this disorder progress to a potentially fatal heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Most cats with cardiomyopathy do not have an easily detectable heart murmur. This creates yet another easily missed risk factor. Cats with cardiomyopathy do not do well with anesthesia.
Many aging felines need dental work. Pre-anesthetic blood work to rule out or diagnose hyperthyroidism and cardiomyopathy is imperative, as dental prophylaxis or extractions must be performed under anesthesia. Hyperthyroid cats are at an increased anesthetic risk.
When hyperthyroidism is diagnosed, it can be treated. Early recognition and treatment can often reverse the heart disease. Treatment options range from simple to complex. Daily pills, liquid, a topical gel, a radioiodide injection with isolation, an iodine restrictive diet or surgery are all possibilities. Clients should be well-informed as to all these options so that they can make an educated decision as to which treatment is best for their situation.
The medication methimazole is given orally to decrease the overactivity of the thyroid. Most cats tolerate this medication very well and quickly gain weight. Some hyperthyroid cats have diarrhea, which resolves quickly with this treatment. Many have high blood pressure, which also improves rapidly. When left unchecked, high blood pressure in cats can cause retinal detachment and sudden blindness. Feline guardians often present their cat to a veterinarian or behaviorist for management of intense yowling, especially at night. Commonly, the development of hyperthyroidism is the cause of this bizarre behavior.
Many hyperthyroid cats concurrently have kidney disease. This can cause protein loss through the urine and muscle loss as well. The presence of hyperthyroidism seems to mask the expression in lab work of the kidney disease. This is why it is important to recheck blood work and urine after the initiation of methimazole treatment. In addition, a few cats can develop a serious side effect of bone marrow suppression or intense facial pruritus (itching) from the medication. If this occurs, an alternative form of treatment will need to be considered.
There does not seem to be an efficacious natural approach to manage hyperthyroidism. Although many are touted on the Internet, in the hands of this holistic author, I have yet to see any work. In my practice, we have tried Melissa, bugleweed and various homeopathics without success.
In a Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association article, the authors proposed a correlation between consumption of canned food and an increased incidence of hyperthyroidism. I have long been a proponent of wet food for cats. I surely see an increase in quality and longevity of life in cats who consume wet food. However, I have seen a great increase in the incidence of hyperthyroidism and would theorize it may be due to the increase in the consumption of canned diets.
I would propose that the best way to try to prevent this — and most pet disorders — by natural means is with a species-appropriate, fresh raw diet and vaccines only as a kitten. Select raw diets that have not been exposed to chemical toxins such as those in the lining of cans. Also, hyperthyroid cats should not eat fish, as it is high in iodine, which exacerbates the thyroid disease. Iodine is involved with thyroid hormone conversion.
Be your best friend’s health advocate. Think prevention and be a good observer!
Jodie Gruenstern, DVM, CVA has been practicing veterinary medicine in Muskego since 1987. She is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and food therapist by the Chi Institute. Dr. Jodie is the owner of the Animal Doctor Holistic Veterinary Complex, an integrated, full-service small animal practice, selected Muskego’s Business of the Year in 2013. For more info, healthy products or educational DVD, visit www.DrJodiesNaturalPets.com or www.AnimalDoctorHolistic.com.