Recognizing hyperthyroidism in cats and critical signs your cat needs emergency care

I recently shared my story of my beloved cat Sidney, who had hyperthyroidism and later suffered from terminal cancer. I thought I would share what I learned about her over-active thyroid with you in hopes of encouraging people to consider adopting special needs cats and being aware of the signs of hyperthyroidism in your cat.

My little Sidney in one of her favourite spots. Sidney led a normal life for years with hyperthyroidism.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats includes: excessive urination, excessive or increased vocalization, increased thirst/increased water consumption, weight loss despite increased appetite, poor coat or fur quality, restlessness and increased activity, diarrhea, vomiting, increased heart rate (normal heart rate for a cat is between 140 and 220 bpm) and heat intolerance (seeking out cool places). (Bold symptoms are most common)

What happens if my cat has an over-active thyroid?
This disease commonly affects senior cats. If your cat exhibits any symptoms of hyperthyroidism, you should discuss your concerns with your vet. If hyperthyroidism is left untreated, it can cause kidney and heart failure, both of which may ultimately be fatal after your cat suffers with the illness for long enough. There are a number of treatments available, including regular medication, surgery and radioactive iodine therapy.

How do I know if my cat has hyperthyroidism or another chronic disease?
The best way to keep your cat healthy is by preventative care and regular vet check-ups, the same as humans. Visiting the vet for an annual check-up is vital to finding any early warning signs of disease. Once your cat reaches senior age (10+), they should visit the vet every six months for senior check-ups. Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Other common illnesses striking senior cats include chronic kidney disease and diabetes.

What else should I look out for in my cat?
As an aside, please take your cat to the vet if they exhibit any unusual changes. While not an exhaustive list, key signs to watch out for, in general, are:

  • increased or decreased appetite
  • increased or decreased water consumption
  • litterbox problems (painful urination exhibited by meowing while urinating, urinating or defecating outside the box, straining to defecate or urinate)
  • black, tarry stool and/or bloody diarrhea
  • frequent vomiting

Cats naturally hide it when something is wrong and they may only show signs of illness when a disease has already significantly progressed. If a cat is not eating, it is very likely something is wrong. If a cat does not eat for more than 48 hours, they are at a very high risk of  contracting a liver disease called hepatic lipadosis and must see a vet right away.

Critical signs your cat requires IMMEDIATE care
If your cat exhibits any of the following signs, you must seek immediate veterinary care. Always know what vet hospitals are open 24/7 or are available on-call 24/7 in your area in case of an emergency. Always have copies of your cat’s medical records in the event you need to see an emergency vet. If you are out of town, be sure to leave this information with your cat sitter.

  • open-mouth breathing or panting, which often occurs when the cat is hunched forward as if gasping for breath
  • seizure
  • bleeding (from an open wound or abscess and/or unidentified bleeding)
  • trauma, such as broken bone or suspected broken bone (being hit by a car, falling from a height)
  • ingestion of toxin or foreign body (Cornell University list of common cat toxins)
  • sudden paralysis or inability to move hind legs
  • blue or white-ish gums
  • bite or sting from a poisonous animal (snake, scorpian, etc.)

NEVER give your pet any kind of human medication unless specifically instructed to do so by a veterinarian. Many medications for humans are extremely toxic to animals.

I would encourage you to take a Pet First Aid course. It could save your pet’s life. You will learn how to take basic vital signs (heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature), basic preventative care, how to recognise common diseases and treatment as well as wound care and the common vital signs of an emergency.


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