Spotting the signs
Barney has always been an affectionate cat and often sought Kay’s attention, but over the course of a year she noticed he was meowing constantly and finding it hard to settle.
‘At first, I thought Barney had feline dementia because he was so restless,’ she says. ‘I was convinced he had forgotten when he had eaten, as he was always crying for food.’ Kay also noticed that Barney was losing weight, despite appearing to be hungrier than ever. ‘I was forever buying different brands of food to please him, poaching salmon, opening tins of tuna and giving him roast chicken,’ she says. At his heaviest in 2011, Barney weighed round 5.2kg but by 2017, he had dropped to around 3kg. ‘I thought it was age-related because lots of elderly cats find it harder to absorb nutrients,’ says Kay. ‘I also noticed he was drinking more – finishing water from our drinking glasses and drinking his own water. But I had never had a cat that had reached this age before, so I had no idea how an older cat should behave.’
Understanding the diagnosis
Kay booked Barney in for a full health check, including blood tests, and he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism – also known as overactive thyroid glands. Although hyperthyroidism can happen at any age, it’s more likely to affect older cats. It can also mask other health conditions, so a diagnosis isn’t always straightforward. ‘It was a worrying few days,’ says Kay. ‘At that time, I thought it could have been kidney failure or cancer.’
A healthy cat’s thyroid glands produce a hormone called thyroxine but when too much of this hormone is produced, different parts of the body can be affected – including the kidneys, brain and digestive system. With Barney’s thyroid glands working overtime, his metabolism had become much faster, his heart was racing and he was processing food more quickly than usual. This explained Barney’s agitation and why he always seemed so hungry.
‘When we got the diagnosis, I was relieved,’ admits Kay. ‘We have human family members with thyroid issues, so I knew it could be managed.’
Managing Barney’s medication
As you may know from receiving your cat’s diagnosis, hyperthyroidism in cats can be treated in a few different ways. Daily medication that blocks the thyroid gland from producing thyroxine or a low-iodine diet are two options to control the condition. Having surgery to remove the thyroid gland or radioactive iodine therapy can also potentially cure your pet. Surgery and iodine therapy aren’t always suitable for very senior cats, though, so Barney’s vet decided to try medication. But this had its challenges, too.
‘The first medicine Barney took had awful side effects,’ says Kay. ‘He was constantly grooming himself in a very agitated way, and ended up making his face and ears bleed, which required a course of antibiotics. He was also vomiting a lot. I did some research online and discovered that the medication Barney was taking was associated with these side effects, so we went back to the vet.’
Barney’s vet agreed to try a different medication. For the next few months, Kay took Barney to the vet every five to six weeks for blood tests to assess the effects of the medication.
‘After four months we got the dosage right, but we have to be careful,’ says Kay. ‘Giving the medication on an empty tummy makes him sick, so we serve a little bit of food for breakfast, then give him a tablet, then give him a bit more food. Initially, we also struggled to get him to take it. We tried rolling the pill in turkey or chicken breast and mixing it with tuna, which didn’t really work. We’ve now found a cat pill pâté to roll it in, which is sticky and a bit smelly, but very effective!’
Looking to the future
These days Barney is back to his old self. After a year of treatment and eating a diet recommended by his vet, his weight has stabilised and his fur is glossy again. ‘He’s much happier now he’s on the correct medication,’ says Kay. ‘Now, he behaves like a typical senior citizen and spends a lot of time snoozing. But he still goes outside to sunbathe, can jump the garden fence, and is always climbing on to our laps for a cuddle.
‘In all the years we’ve had him, Barney has been a lovely pet and I want to make sure he stays relaxed, healthy and comfortable in his old age.’