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Hyperthyroidism – Another potential cause?

The incidence of hyperthyroidism in cats has steadily been on the rise. Cats with an overactive thyroid will lose weight while eating much more than normal, be irritable (read mean), and often will grow thick nails. The disease can be diagnosed based on the results of blood tests and can be treated with topical medication, oral medication, or even radioactive iodine therapy that is usually a permanent fix.

Scientists of course are interested in why so many more cats seem to be diagnosed with the disease now. A relatively recent study proposed a link between the consumption of canned foods and the disease. A substance used to line cans (especially cans with pop-top lids) was thought to interact with the thyroid, leading to hyperthyroidism.

A more recent study, performed by scientists at the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, suggests a link between compounds found in flame retardants and hyperthyroidism. These compounds, called polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants (PBDE) are found in many household products, such as our electronics, the couch, and carpet padding. These PBDE’s get into the household dust and cats are exposed to them through their normal grooming behavior.

While the study was small, and more investigation is needed, it does seem to suggest that our lifestyles may be what has caused the rise of this disease in our pet cats. There were 23 housecats that participated in the study and the levels of PBDE in their serum (clear portion of the blood) were 20-100 times higher than the levels typically found in people in North America. Eleven of the 23 cats had been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.

Children typically also have higher levels of PBDE compounds in their bodies than do adults and the exposure of children to house dust (since they are lower to the ground and spend more time playing on the floors) is likely why they have higher PBDE levels. Further investigation should be undertaken to determine what potential problems this might lead to for not only our pet cats, but also our children.

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Veterinary Technical Services Department

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