Radioactive Iodine Treatment for Cats: Everything You Need to Know

Radioactive Iodine Treatment for Cats

Radioactive Iodine Treatment for Cats: Radioactive iodine treatment for cats utilizes radiation to destroy an overactive thyroid gland and the thyroid hormones it produces. It’s a very effective way to manage feline hyperthyroidism.

Once your vet diagnoses your cat with an overactive thyroid, they will discuss treatment options with you. Radioiodine therapy is often considered the gold standard. It requires your cat to stay at a treatment center for a few days while they receive and recover from the treatment, but when successful, it can cure the disease and avoid daily medication.

  • The treatment center will have your cat fast before administering a dose of radioactive iodine (I-131) as an injection or orally. The iodine is taken up by the thyroid gland since the body requires iodine to make thyroid hormones.
  • The radioactivity destroys the overactive thyroid cells, reducing hormone production to normal levels. Your cat is kept in isolation during treatment and for a short time after to allow the radiation to be fully eliminated from the body before going home.

Most cats only need a single treatment to control the disease long-term. However, some cats may require a second treatment if hormone levels do not drop sufficiently or the disease recurs.

After treatment, your vet will monitor your cat’s hormone levels with blood tests to ensure proper regulation. The majority of cats become hypothyroid for a while, so may need hormone supplements, but hormone production often recovers over time. With treatment, most hyperthyroid cats can live comfortably for many years.

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Radioiodine therapy is considered very safe but does require temporary isolation, so it may not suit every cat or owner. But for many, it offers a permanent solution and the best outcome. If you have an hyperthyroid feline family member, talk to your vet about whether radioiodine treatment could be right for them.

Radioactive Iodine Treatment for Cats

Why Cats May Need Radioactive Iodine Treatment

If your vet has recommended radioactive iodine treatment for your cat, it means their hyperthyroidism cannot be properly managed through medication alone. This treatment involves administering a carefully controlled dose of radioactive iodine (I-131) to destroy the overactive thyroid tissue.

Radioactive iodine treatment is very effective at controlling feline hyperthyroidism and provides a permanent solution. It requires hospitalization for a few days, but has minimal side effects and allows your cat to avoid daily medication. The I-131 is administered as an injection or orally as a capsule and then absorbed by the thyroid gland. The radiation destroys the overactive thyroid cells to restore normal hormone levels.

After treatment, your cat will stay at the vet for a minimum of 3 to 5 days to allow the radiation levels to drop to an acceptable and safe level before going home. Some cats may experience nausea or sore throat for a day or two. There are no long-term side effects, but it can take 4 to 6 weeks for thyroid hormone levels and symptoms like increased appetite or irritability to stabilize.

Follow-up testing, including blood work and thyroid scans, will be needed to monitor your cat’s progress and make sure the correct dosage was given. In most cases, only a single treatment is required, but some cats may need a second round of I-131 if hyperthyroidism returns.

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The total cost will vary but can range from $1,000 to $2,000 depending on factors like any pre-treatment testing, dosage required, and length of hospital stay. While expensive, radioactive iodine treatment is often considered the most effective and cost-efficient option for managing feline hyperthyroidism in the long run.

If you have concerns about radiation exposure, don’t worry – safety precautions are taken and by the time your cat goes home, radiation levels are considered very low. Your vet can explain the treatment in detail and help you determine if radioactive iodine is the right choice to get your feline friend back to full health.


Is it safe?

Radioactive iodine treatment has been used for decades and is considered very safe. The radioactive iodine is targeted directly to the thyroid gland, so there are no lasting effects on other organs. Your cat may experience some temporary side effects like nausea or lethargy, but serious complications are extremely rare. The vet will take all necessary precautions to properly contain the radioactivity and ensure the safety of owners and staff.

How does it work?

Radioactive iodine treatment works by destroying overactive thyroid cells. Your cat is injected with a radioactive form of iodine, which is absorbed by the thyroid gland. The radiation damages the cells that produce too much hormone, shrinking the gland and regulating hormone production. Typically, enough cells are destroyed to cure the hyperthyroidism, but some cats may require a second treatment.

What happens after treatment?

Your cat will stay at the vet for a few days after treatment until radiation levels have dropped to a safe level. You’ll get instructions for any temporary precautions to take at home. It can take 4 to 6 weeks for the thyroid hormone levels to stabilize and up to 3 months for the full effects of treatment to become apparent. Your vet will recheck bloodwork during this time to monitor your cat’s progress and make any needed adjustments to medication.

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What are the alternatives?

The other options for treating feline hyperthyroidism include:

  • Surgery to remove part of the thyroid gland. This requires anesthesia and hospitalization, and there is a risk of complications. It may not cure the disease if some diseased thyroid tissue remains.
  • Medication such as methimazole to control hormone levels. This requires frequent blood testing and dosage adjustments, and medication may need to be given for the rest of the cat’s life. Side effects can also occur.
  • A prescription diet low in iodine, which is required for thyroid hormone production. Dietary treatment alone is difficult and often not effective long-term. It may still require medication.
  • No treatment. Without treatment, hyperthyroidism will continue to worsen and significantly decrease your cat’s quality of life.

For many owners, radioactive iodine treatment offers the most effective and long-term solution, with minimal side effects or complications when performed by an experienced vet. Be sure to discuss all options with your vet to determine what choice is right for your feline friend.