When we first bring a baby kitten home, we may be surprised at how much it eats as it grows. A constantly-hungry kitten is little to worry about, and this intense appetite tends to settle down over time. However, many pet owners find that their older cats begin to develop increasing appetites once again.
This phenomenon is significantly less normal and may actually be cause for concern. Increased appetite can be a symptom of a number of ailments in your cats, one of the most common being hyperthyroidism. This medical condition causes your feline friend to lose weight rapidly as its body can’t keep up with food intake.
If your cat begins eating quickly, begging for more food and appearing hungry all the time, don’t just brush it off. This behavior is likely telling you something important. Examine your cat’s other symptoms and take it into the vet to make sure it isn’t suffering.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition affecting the thyroid, an endocrine gland in your cat’s neck that makes proteins and signals how fast the body uses energy. When hyperthyroidism occurs, the thyroid produces too much of the thyroid hormones, the metabolism is increased, meaning the body uses energy too quickly. This is typically caused by a benign tumor on the thyroid glands.
Hyperthyroidism is quite common in cats and typically affects felines older than 10 years of age. If left unaddressed, the condition can lead to other, more serious health problems, such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
Fortunately, hyperthyroidism is relatively easy to spot at home and be tested for at the vet through blood and urine tests.
Spotting the signs
Many signs of hyperthyroidism may seem normal at first but can become more intense over time. They usually manifest in your cat’s eating and drinking habits, so make sure to closely monitor mealtimes if you are suspicious that something is wrong.
- Ravenous appetite: One of the major signs of hyperthyroidism is a sudden increase in appetite. If your cat seems to be constantly hungry and can’t eat enough or eat fast enough, something might be wrong.
- Weight loss: Despite your cat’s heightened appetite, hyperthyroidism will cause weight loss. If your cat has shed a lot of pounds recently but eats the same amount, take it to the vet right away.
- Begging for food: Your cat will likely meow and act restless or beg for food until finally fed in pursuit of more sources of energy.
- Excessive thirst: Cats with hyperthyroidism tend to lap up water faster and more excessively than their healthy counterparts.
- Poor-looking coat: Your cat’s coat might start to look poorly-taken care of, such as matted or greasy. Since grooming is such an important part of your cat’s life, this is very abnormal.
- Vomiting and other symptoms: Other symptoms may include vomiting, increased urination, faster heart rate, weakness and diarrhea.
Options for treatment
There are a few different options for treating your cat’s hyperthyroidism. Your vet should be able to discuss these options with you in detail and encourage one over the others based on your cat’s health and availability.
Medications are one common treatment. Oral or transdermal (absorbed through the skin) medications can reduce the production of thyroid hormones, providing short- and long-term control over hyperthyroidism. However, these medications also come with risks of side effects, such as lethargy, vomiting and a loss of appetite.
The second and most popular treatment option is radioactive iodine therapy. During treatment, radioactive iodine is injected into the cat’s bloodstream. Iodine, a necessary component of thyroid hormones, is absorbed by the thyroid while the radiation from the injection works to destroy the abnormal tissue causing the excess hormone creation. This form of treatment typically cures hyperthyroidism after repeated treatments and offers no serious side effects; however, it is also costly and is not always available to pet owners.
Third, your cat may need to undergo surgery to remove the thyroid glands. This process is much more invasive but produces a permanent cure in most cases. Surgery is not an option for older cats with other health conditions due to the use of anesthesia.
Finally, a less-used treatment involves dietary therapy. This option suggests that limiting the amount of iodine in the diet might help reduce hormone production. The use of supplements can complement a healthy diet and promote proper thyroid behavior, as well. However, this information has not been proven outside of a few studies.
More than hunger
Often, when it comes to cats, a sudden change in appetite is cause for concern. Cats are creatures of habit, and a sudden increase in its meal time and food consumption is probably out of character for your cat, which is why it should raise a red flag. Don’t ignore the sign! A heightened tendency to chow down could signal hyperthyroidism.