Hyperthyroidism is a fairly common condition among household cats, with approximately 12% of animals being affected with the condition. It is a fundamental dysfunction of the thyroid gland found in your cat’s neck. This organ is crucial to the overall function of your cat’s body and releases various hormones that help them function. There are a number of conventional therapies that can help manage the symptoms associated with the disease, though there is no known cure at the present time. Many cat owners are resorting to Cannabidiol (CBD) to help treat hyperthyroidism in their cat.
What is Hyperthyroidism in Cats?
The thyroid is a type of gland in the mammalian body. In fact, all vertebrates have a thyroid gland. These glands are responsible for releasing chemical compounds known as hormones. Collectively, this entire system of glands and hormones make up the endocrine system. This system is responsible for controlling a wide variety of functions in the cat’s body, including growth, metabolism, and development.
Of the various hormones the thyroid releases, the two most important are tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Both of these hormones are responsible for controlling aspects of your cat’s metabolism. In general, the thyroid is responsible for using iodine to generate specific metabolic responses in the body.
Thyroid and the Endocrine System
Let’s take a step back for a moment and consider the endocrine system as a whole. It is defined as a collection of glands spread throughout the body that is responsible for the production and secretion of hormones that control a wide variety of physiological processes. These physiological processes are as follows:
- The regulation of the metabolism (both the physical and chemical processes of your cat’s body)
- Development and growth throughout a cat’s body at different stages in their lives
- The function and health of various tissues
- The function and health of the reproductive system
- The regulation of sleep cycles and neurological health
The thyroid is not the only gland in the endocrine system. In fact, there are multiple glands, including the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, pineal body, and the pancreas. There are even a set of 4 tiny glands located around the perimeter of the thyroid known as the parathyroid glands. They are responsible for controlling the levels of calcium in the mammalian body to keep the skeleton strong and healthy.
In other words, the thyroid is not the lone component of some singular system in your cat’s body. Rather, it is part of a wider system that controls a wide array of functions in the mammalian body. The primary building blocks of this wider system are the various glands of the endocrine system. Consequently, if one gland is not functioning properly, then the entire system can go out of whack and create the potential for failure.
Hyperthyroidism or “overactive thyroid” is when your cat’s thyroid gland releases too much T3 and T4 into their blood. This can result in a serious imbalance in other hormones and overall dysfunction in the endocrine system. This is because the pituitary gland actually controls the thyroid and the levels of T3 and T4 present in the blood.
If the levels drop too low, then the pituitary gland will release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to kick start the thyroid gland back into production. This becomes an ongoing problem since the system is malfunctioning it produces too much T3 and T4 which, in turn, makes the system continue to malfunction or can escalate the problem.
What are the Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism in Cats?
The signs and symptoms of feline hyperthyroidism can range from the fairly benign to the totally debilitating. They include:
- Weight loss (apparent in almost all cases)
- Increase in appetite
- Increase in thirst and urination
- A cat’s coat may matt up, become unkempt, or even greasy
- Excessive shedding
The first three are the most common, though in cases where the disease has progressed to a serious level the other symptoms may also be noticeable. Because these symptoms are fairly common to a variety of conditions, it may sometimes be tricky to diagnose the hyperthyroidism in cats.
Diagnosing Hyperthyroidism in Cats
Any suspicion of hyperthyroidism will begin with a physical examination of your cat’ neck to determine if the thyroid gland is swollen or larger than normal.
When at the vet they may check the blood pressure and heart rate of your cat. If the initial examination shows any abnormalities, then the veterinarian will likely order a test to determine if your cat has elevated T4 levels in their blood. This is the most obvious sign that they are suffering from hyperthyroidism.
There is a small percentage of cats, however, who suffer from the disease but do not exhibit the telltale sign of elevating T4 levels. In these rare cases, there are more sensitive and complex tests that they can perform to make the final diagnosis.
As with any disease, there is a range of severity for the disorder. What makes hyperthyroidism unique, however, is the fact that T3 and T4 hormones are so vital to so many different functions of the mammalian body.
Furthermore, the disease can occur in any breed of cat and is equally prevalent amongst males and females. It does, however, happen much more frequently in older cats. In fact, approximately 6% of total cases occur in those cats less than 10 years old.
What are the Treatment Options for Hyperthyroidism in Cats?
There are three main treatments of hyperthyroidism in cats:
The oral administration of an anti-thyroid medication known as methimazole (also known under the brand name Tapazole). It is effective and usually generates results in 2 to 3 weeks, though there is a significant chance of your cat developing side effects, including loss of appetite, fatigue, lethargy, vomiting, and, in rare cases, abnormalities in their blood cells.
There is also the possibility that more serious side effects, such as blood clotting or liver damage, may occur. Because the condition is not curable, the cat will have to take the medication for the rest of their life and regularly undergo CBC testing to determine their TSH, T3, T4, and thyroid antibody levels.
If the condition is caused by the presence of a benign tumor known as a thyroid adenoma, usually present on both halves of the gland, then it is possible to have either the tumor or the entire thyroid surgically excised. This frequently results in curing the condition but is dependent on the fact that the underlying reason for the hyperthyroidism is the presence of benign tumors.
Radioactive iodine therapy
The safest and most effective treatment is known as radioactive iodine therapy. In this treatment modality, radioactive iodine is given by injection. this iodine accumulates in the thyroid (remember that the thyroid is responsible for gathering iodine from throughout the body). This radioactive iodine then irradiates the overactive tissue and results in full remission of the disease. It is, however, a costly treatment that they only perform at special facilities.
As you can see, these various treatment options have their specific risks and limitations. But there are however natural alternatives such as changing your cat’s diet or food brand. One new option by the name of cannabidiol (CBD) is gaining much attention due to the many ailments it can be helpful with treating.
What Is CBD?
CBD oil comes from the hemp plant. People use CBD as a health and wellness supplement for humans and animals. It belongs to the group of chemical compounds known as cannabinoids, of which the medicinal qualities have been well established.
You may have heard of THC, which some consider it the most popular cannabinoid. However, CBD is different than its cannabinoid cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD is not psychoactive and has no major side effects, meaning it will not make you or your cat feel high. On the other hand, THC will get you high, it is psychoactive. CBD is preferable for many cat owners, as any psychoactive substance may not be tolerated by cats ingestion of THC may result in confusion and aggravation for the feline.
How Cannabinoids Work With The ECS
Any cannabinoid from a plant is a “phytocannabinoid”. Your cat’s body produces its own cannabinoids, which are “endocannabinoids”. Both phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids are capable of interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the body. CBD functions by interacting with the body’s ECS.
The ECS is a communication and regulatory system that is made up of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are located all over the mammalian body and CBD can interact with them to help the ECS properly regulate various functions in the body. These functions include sleep, pain, mood, appetite, hormones, and immune responses. CBD also boosts your body’s natural levels of cannabinoids (also referred to as endocannabinoids).
CBD For Pain & Inflammation
Many studies have shown that CBD is especially effective in treating pain and inflammation. It is a naturally powerful anti-inflammatory. This means that it is useful in treating the following chronic pain and inflammatory disorders in your cat. CBD can prove helpful in treating the following inflammatory disorders:
- Intestinal inflammation and digestive issues
- Neuropathic pain
- Inflammation caused by cellular oxidation
CBD Can Also Help With:
- Reducing the risk of obesity and developing diabetes
- Promoting good cardiovascular health by lowering “bad” fat levels and increasing “good” fat levels
- Reducing the risk of developing certain types of cancer
- Maintaining neural health and function
- Lowering the risk of epilepsy and/or seizures
- Protecting against most kinds of bone disease
- Treating agitation and/or anxiety (by regulating dopamine, serotonin, and anandamide)
- Improving the condition of your cat’s skin and coat
- Can help treat skin allergies
CBD has so many benefits and targets a wide variety of conditions. Some researchers jokingly refer to it as the “boy scout molecule” because no matter what position you put it in, it “always does the right thing”. CBD’s versatility and adaptability are its greatest strengths.
CBD as a Natural Treatment for Hyperthyroidism in Cats
The ECS is responsible for a variety of functions in your cat’s body, including metabolism, mood, growth, and immune system function. In fact, there is considerable overlap between the functions of the ECS and the endocrine system.
There are large amounts of cannabinoid receptors present in both systems, most significantly:
- CB-1 receptors mostly found in your cat’s nervous system and in their thyroid and adrenal glands.
- CB-2 receptors mostly found in your cat’s immune system.
Furthermore, due to the abundant presence of CB-1 receptors in both the brain and the thyroid, their modulation via CBD plays an active role in creating a well-functioning and healthy thyroid. CBD also generates an overall state of health and wellness known as homeostasis. In other words, it helps restore balance and functionality to a system or organ that may be out of sync or off-balance.
Is CBD Oil Safe for Cats?
There is the potential for a few minor side effects, including:
- A decrease in appetite
- Restlessness and/or agitation (usually mild, only temporary)
- Diarrhea and/or stomach distress (usually only temporary)
- Drowsiness and/or fatigue (usually only occurs with fairly high doses)
- Hypotension (or lowered blood pressure)
- Dry mouth and/or excessive water consumption
All of these side effects are fairly rare and most cats will never exhibit them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) ” CBD has been found to have relatively low toxicity”. However, as with any medicinal supplement, it is best taken under the supervision of a clinician. In the case of your cat, it is best to work with their veterinarian to ensure that does not have any negative interactions with other medications they may be taking.
This will also ensure that proper dosage amounts are given for your cat’s hyperthyroidism. Remember that the condition has no cure at the current time, so your ability to control your cat’s symptoms will rely entirely on securing the proper dosage amounts to treat their precise condition. For more information on a cat’s correct dosage portion check out our easy to use dosing chart here.