What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a gland at the back of the neck. This gland is responsible for producing specific cat hormones called Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). These play a role in a cat’s metabolism, body temperature, heart rate, weight regulation and even digestion so it is important their levels are properly regulated. If they become unbalanced, for whatever reason, it can lead to a number of problems including weight loss, hyperactivity and even thyroid disease in cats.
What causes thyroid problems in cats?
In general, issues with the thyroid are either caused by too much or too little of the T3 and T4 hormones being produced. There are a number of specific causes for an overactive or underactive thyroid in cats but is usually through some sort of damage to the gland. To help you understand, the main causes can be split into two issues - hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism in cats
The most common of the thyroid problems in cats is caused by an overactive thyroid and is called hyperthyroidism. It is thought that feline hormonal thyroid issues are usually caused by external factors that result in the growth of tumours. These factors can include their diet, environment and even their immune system. When a tumour grows, it can affect the production of thyroid hormones and increase the amount, resulting in an overactive thyroid in cats.
Hyperthyroidism can, in theory, potentially occur in any cat, but is more common in older felines. As a result, it is said that the average age for cats with hyperthyroidism is between 12-13 years of age and that less than 6% of cats with the issue are under 10. This means you are quite likely to notice the symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats, especially as weight loss and hyperactivity are common signs which you wouldn’t usually find in an older cat.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism
The most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats is weight loss, with it being said that 95-98% of hyperthyroid cats exhibit this key symptom. Additionally, 67-81% of cats with hyperthyroidism have been seen to have an increased appetite, the second most common symptom. An unusually hyperactive cat is also a widely recognised symptom and in some cases, clinical signs such as hypertension in cats (high blood pressure) may also be a signifier. Overall, here are the signs of hyperthyroidism to look out for in your cat:
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- Raised heart rate
How long will a cat live with hyperthyroidism?
An overactive thyroid in cats left untreated can cause a number of issues, and in some cases can even shorten their life expectancy. This is due to the side effects of the gland producing too many hormones, such as weight loss despite an increased appetite and a raised heart rate. With the right medication, treatments and help, however, there can be no difference in their lifestyle and the hyperthyroidism in cats life expectancy can be no shorter than any others.
Hypothyroidism in cats
Although a lot more common in dogs, hypothyroidism is also known as an underactive thyroid in cats. In an opposite sense to hyperthyroidism, an underactive thyroid produces too little of the T3 and T4 hormones. There can be multiple factors that can cause this, including an iodine deficiency, reaction to radioactive iodine treatment, removal of the thyroid glands, autoimmune diseases and a tumour in the area. Surprisingly, it can also be caused by treatment aimed at helping hyperthyroidism which has gone too far.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
An underactive thyroid can cause havoc to the balance within a cat’s body, which can lead to numerous issues with their metabolism. The metabolism contributes to many areas within the body, so this can lead to problems such as weight gain, a sensitivity to the cold and even hair loss. To help you distinguish if your cat may be suffering from an underactive thyroid, here are the most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats to look out for:
- Slower metabolism
- Weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss or thinning
- Dry skin
- Sensitivity to the cold
- Pale gum
Treatments for thyroid problems in cats
If you’ve seen one or more of the symptoms of thyroid problems in cats, then it would be advised to visit your vet for a proper diagnosis. They’ll be able to identify the issue by looking at the symptoms and taking some blood tests. After this, they can suggest the best method to take dependant on the type of issue as well as the cause. In some cases, surgery may be required to deal with any tumours, but the majority of the time they will recommend less invasive cat thyroid treatments.
Cat hyperthyroidism medications usually include anti-thyroid elements, whereas treatments for hypothyroidism involve artificial thyroid hormones. Unfortunately, thyroid medication for cats will be an ongoing thing and will probably be needed for the rest of their lifetime. More risky hyperthyroidism in cats treatments include using radioactive iodine, but this can have a number of side effects so if often not chosen.
If your cat is already suffering from a thyroid problem, there are thankfully many options to choose from to help, including cat thyroid medicines. The best way to assist your cat though is to take preventative steps to keep their thyroid healthy throughout their lifetime. There are many ways to do this and, if incorporated correctly into their day-to-day lives, can make a big difference to their thyroid health in the future. The first thing that can make a difference is their diet. What your cat is eating can be a cause of thyroid issues, which is why many cat owners use specific thyroid cat food.
These are usually rich in minerals that are known to be beneficial to the heart, particularly iodine and selenium. Iodine is the number one mineral you want in their diet for thyroid health as it is known to contribute to the normal production of thyroid hormones and normal thyroid function. You can also find specific cat food for hyperthyroidism if you think your cat could potentially have the issue and want to do all you can to help. Additionally, an increased appetite in cats is a typical sign of hyperthyroidism, so giving them the right food (instead of that with no particular nutrition or substance) can be a great choice.
If you don’t want to splash the cash on expensive tailored cat food, however, you can instead try making it yourself. Iodine-rich foods you’ll want to try and include in your cat’s diet include seaweed, tuna, shrimp and eggs. These can be difficult to work into your cat’s diet in the right quantities on a daily basis though, which is why many people instead often opt for natural thyroid tablets for cats. One of the best choices for these is a supplement that contains a high amount of iodine, such as a premium kelp seaweed supplement. These can help to increase your cat’s iodine intake and give their body what they need to keep their thyroid healthy and their body happy.