Does Thyroid Disease in Older Cats Starve Them to Death?

Older cats are prone to hyperthyroidism, which causes weight loss.
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Aging plays havoc with the body, and your cat is not immune to Father Time's effects. Thyroid issues plague many older cats, typically after the age of 10. Since the thyroid hormone controls the function of most organs in the body, an improperly working gland can cause dangerous health issues.


As an example of too much of a good thing, hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland goes into overdrive and sends too much thyroid hormone into your cat's system. Thyroid hormone controls your cat's metabolism, orchestrating a complex dance that keeps all of her internal organs functioning properly. The two thyroid glands are located at the base of your cat's neck, and one or both of these could malfunction and cause overproduction of the hormone. This is a common affliction in older cats, and one that is often overlooked because its symptoms are so varied.


As with many other feline ailments, the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are frustratingly varied and vague, and could be attributed to various other conditions. Too much hormone in the body throws your cat's organ function out of whack, causing symptoms such as increased energy, poor coat and a rapid heart rate. The first obvious symptoms are usually weight loss despite an increase in appetite, due to the fact that the body is not metabolizing nutrients properly and burning through its stored fat and muscle as it tries to keep up with the high level of thyroid hormone in the system.


The problem with hyperthyroidism is the secondary issues that can occur due to this increase in thyroid hormone racing through your cat's system. Because she can't metabolize her food properly, your cat could literally starve to death even though she may be eating more than ever before. She may experience kidney issues, which can lead to complete failure if not treated. As her body races to try and figure out what to do with the excess thyroid hormone, your cat may experience respiratory problems and even heart failure.


The good news is that once hyperthyroidism is discovered and treated, most secondary issues resolve on their own. Treatment involves one of three options: medication, surgery and radioactive iodine injections. Medication usually works well to correct the condition, but offers its own negative side effects such as loss of appetite and lethargy. In many cases the thyroid gland malfunctions due to the presence of a tumor, which can usually be easily removed through surgery. The most effective, and most expensive, treatment is a single injection of radioactive iodine just under your cat's skin. It collects in the thyroid gland and destroys the malfunctioning tissue.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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