Nov 15 2010

HOWLING, CRYING, HUNGRY OLD CATS: THE CARDINAL SIGNS OF HYPERTHYRODISM

Lilly is a very old cat with an intestinal mass in her abdomen. I discharged her today after a few days of intensive care at my hospital. Lilly, along with her owner, were fighting for a good quality of life for her, for just a little bit longer. Lilly was certainly showing some improvement as she was eating and responding well to my treatment.

When her owner came to pick her up today, she mentioned to me that her other cat, who was “very healthy,” would be happy to see Lilly back home. The owner continued: “Doc, you have to meet my other cat, so full of energy, and so funny, howling and crying all night long, looking for me to give her more food…she lost some weight though.” I had to stop Lilly’s owner and tell her that as much as I did not want to spoil her excitement and enthusiasm, she needed to know that her cat could have an over-active thyroid gland. Indeed, feline owners should not be misled when they see that their cats are eating a lot and seem very active, as opposed to lethargic (weak) or anorexic (lacking appetite).

Attention owners of senior cats (over 7 years): if your cat is always hungry, eats everything in sight, drinks and urinates a lot more than usual, and, despite the caloric-intake, loses weight, you need to have him or her examined ASAP.

Hyperthyroidism is a very common disease in senior cats and it is often associated with renal (kidney) disease. We do not know what causes the disease, but it can be controlled with medication and, sometimes, even cured with surgery or radioiodine therapy.

Without treatment, however, the patient can develop cardiovascular diseases, such as, hypertension and heart failure, or kidney and liver diseases. The patient can become blind if hypertension goes undetected for a long time. Early detection and treatment, therefore, are always the best.

While some cat-owners choose oral or topical (cream spread on tip of ear) treatment, the best option is radioiodine therapy, performed in special centers. Surgery is the second best choice for patients who have no underlying kidney or heart disease and need their teeth cleaned at the same time. In fact, those cats that are in need of teeth-cleaning, benefit the most as they get two problems solved in one procedure, in one day.

The moral of the story: get your cat checked annually with a simple blood screen and a blood pressure measurement, and always remember that early detection is much healthier and cost-efficient than treating an advanced disease.

Dr. Ohad Barnea is a 1992 graduate of Tufts University, School of Veterinary Medicine and the owner of Tenafly Veterinary Center and Cliffside Animal Hospital.

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