Jan 08 2014

Thyroid: The Little Gland That Could

I feel like I have taken a lot of time lately to blog about interesting things in the news or things that I am passionate about.  I like this – my goal in these posts is to show what is happening in the world as it pertains to veterinary medicine, and to share a little about my personal experience as a veterinarian.  As a result, I have strayed from talking about many of the common problems that you may be seeing in your animals at home (or at least were a little curious about).  Call it a new years resolution, but my next series of posts are more medical in their scope.  I hope you like it.

Thyroid Gland

Now the thyroid gland may be a small gland (about four tic-tacs total), but it does a big job.  The gland sits on the underside of the neck on either side of the trachea and is responsible for the regulation of metabolic processes in the entire body.  Essentially, the thyroid gland tells all other procedures in the body speed up, slow down, or keep on going at your current speed.  It has been shown to increase the metabolism, make the nervous system more active, and even cause increased breakdown of fats, proteins, and glycogen (stored sugar).

Bonus Info

The thyroid gland must have iodine in trace amounts to function.  In humans, iodine deficient diets lead to an enlargement of the thyroid gland called goiter.  It was in 1924 that iodine was first added to salt in large scale (iodized salt) in order to help prevent and treat goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, in humans.  Back to our regularly scheduled program.


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Source: Copyright 2001 The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Dukes’ Physiology of Domestic Animals

In cats, the thyroid gland can begin to overproduce and cause all of the rest of the body to become overstimulated.  As the illustration above shows, cats can lose weight, their heart starts to race, they may tremor, vomit occasionally, become weak, or eat and drink excessively.  Some of these signs may be more mild than others, but it every situation, the cats body is constantly on overwork mode.


Diagnosis of the thyroid condition can be accomplished with labwork.  In fact, this is a common enough condition in senior cats that we recommend testing the thyroid levels for every cat over seven on a routine basis.  If cats are losing weight, vomiting, or their appetite has suddenly increased the labwork will often reveal an increased circulating thyroid hormone.


Treatment is lifelong, but is relatively easy.  Pills, given daily, are inexpensive and effective at regulating the overproduction of the hormone.  We will recheck the values every four weeks to ensure proper levels are reached and to make sure that the kidneys do okay once the metabolism returns back to normal. Once a steady state is achieved, rechecks will continue every six months.

If pills are hard to give, a gel is available that is absorbed through the skin. It is applied on the inside of the ear daily.

If you don’t like giving lifelong daily medicine, there is a radioactive iodine treatment that will kill the overactive thyroid gland but will still leave normal functioning tissue behind.  Once the cat stops “glowing” and is no longer radioactive, then it is safe to come home and should be back to normal for life.  Obviously this is a little more expensive, but if the cat lives a long life, begins to pay for itself in the end with cost of medication and time of administration.

I hope no one reading this has a cat with these problems, but if you do, then give us a call.  I hope you have learned a little more about what can happen when the thyroid gland does not behave.

– Doc Cleland

muller01 | College Park Vet Blog

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