Treating Merrick's Hyperthyroidism

Kerryn, a dedicated pet owner, kindly volunteered to write a story about her cat Merrick and his treatment for Hyperthyroidism.

The day Merrick went in for treatment. He had always been overweight but here, he looked emaciated and his coat was in poor condition.

"My cat Merrick was 14 years old when he was diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism. The diagnosis was made by Dr Raj Wicks from Reservoir Vet Clinic who, based on the slight unexplained weight loss in Merrick, picked up on it early. Hyperthyroid cats can exhibit a number of symptoms; weight loss even though eating plenty, increased hunger and/or thirst, hyperactivity, poor coat, to name a few. Other than the slight weight loss, Merrick was fairly asymptomatic, causing me to doubt that there was a thyroid issue. Rather than take risks, I opted for the blood test to have him screened for this, and sure enough, his thyroid levels were above the normal range.

I learned that there are a few treatment options available for this condition. First is an oral medication to be taken for the remainder of the life of the cat. The medication can be effective but also can have side effects. Merrick went on to these tablets immediately after being diagnosed and actually got quite ill whilst his body adjusted to them. The first week of tablets appeared to be fine but the second week he became ill and vomited frequently, however after the first two weeks things settled down and a blood test taken a month later showed that the condition was controlled with the medication.

The day I brought Merrick home, just 7 days after treatment. Already showing improvement.

The second method of treatment is a transdermic medication, administered in the ear. It was considered as an option for Merrick when he was having a bad reaction to the oral medicine.

The next option is more of a cure than a treatment. Radioactive iodine destroys the benign tumour usually responsible for the condition but leaves the healthy thyroid tissue intact. It is an alternative to surgery (which always carries risks with anaesthesia, especially considering the age of the cats usually with this condition), and also with surgery it can be difficult to isolate the good tissue from the bad. The radioactive iodine treatment comes with a high one off cost, but compared to the costs of ongoing medication and regular blood tests, it can be the cheaper option overall.

I elected to go with this treatment as it was a cure for Merrick rather than just treat the issue. After a month on the tablets, when Merrick had a follow up blood test which determined that the condition was controlled on that dosage of medication, he was also checked for any kidney disease which may have been unmasked by treating the thyroid. An overactive thyroid gland can actually hide underlying kidney disease and so in such cases, they may opt to just medicate the hyperthyroidism rather than do the radioactive treatment. Fortunately in Merrick’s case, his kidney function remained good and he was considered a perfect candidate for the radioactive iodine treatment.

A happy and healthy Merrick about 1 month after treatment.

With a referral, I took Merrick to Werribee Vet Hospital for his procedure. An initial consultation there further confirmed that Merrick could have the treatment and he was booked in for admission for two weeks later.  In the two weeks leading up to admission, I was told to cease medication for Merrick. In those two weeks, I really saw just how quickly the disease can take hold. Merrick dropped further in weight and began to look emaciated. His hunger levels were out of control, constantly meowing at the cupboard where his food is kept. His appetite was insatiable.

Merrick was admitted and the treatment was given the following day. It is simply a radioactive pill that is administered under sedation. After this, the cat is required to remain in the facility by law due to radioactive levels. Merrick was there for a total of 8 days. You are allowed to give them something personal, i.e. bedding or an article of clothing, as a comfort item. I chose to give Merrick my dressing gown which I like to think would have let him know that I was not far away. Due to radiation, you cannot take any personal items from their stay back home with you.

Merrick chilling out in his bed.

After the weeklong stay at the facility, Merrick was safe to return home but contact with him had to be limited to 30 minutes a day for a further week and he had to be isolated from other pets, just to be safe. This was the hardest part of the whole process. I missed Merrick while he was away, but when he was home, it was so tempting to just go in there and hold him in my arms and not let go.

From the time Merrick got home, the change in him was apparent. He had filled out a little, his coat condition which had been very poor, was once again soft and silky and his hunger levels were severely reduced, back to normal.

A month after the treatment, Merrick had a blood test back at Reservoir Vet Clinic and his levels were normal and he has returned to a nice healthy weight.

I can’t thank everyone involved in this enough, especially Dr Raj for finding the illness so early and giving Merrick the best chance at a long and healthy life. I look forward to many happy and healthy years ahead and will always suggest that anyone who has a senior cat with any weight loss or increased appetite or thirst to get a blood test done.  And if your cat has Hyperthyroidism, I can’t recommend strongly enough getting the radioactive iodine treatment done. Why only treat something that you can cure?"