Improving the care of kittens with hypothyroidism

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Study coordinator
Name - Jordyn Purpura
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"Help us establish reference ranges and treatment guidelines for kittens with with hypothyroidism!"
Animal: Cats
Age: 8 weeks and under
Healthy Pets: Yes
Keywords: feline, cat, kitten, healthy, hypothyroidism, failure to thrive, thyroid
Background and purpose
Hypothyroidism is a low level of thyroid hormone in the blood. It is common in dogs but uncommon in cats, particularly in kittens. In cats, hypothyroidism is most often diagnosed in cats who’ve been over treated for hyperthyroidism (elevated thyroid hormone level). In kittens, hypothyroidism is a poorly characterized and rare disorder, reported in kittens over 6 weeks of age. Kittens born with hypothyroidism may have mental dullness, seizures, constipation, failure to grow, dwarfism, retention of baby teeth and they may die. The diagnosis of hypothyroidism necessitates evaluation of thyroid hormone levels in the blood. Treatment involves supportive care along with oral thyroid medication, which is readily available and affordable.

Through our work at UC Davis in caring for orphaned bottle baby kittens, we have diagnosed and treated hypothyroidism in kittens who were not growing normally. Based on this experience, we hypothesize that hypothyroidism may be more common in orphaned kittens than previously reported, and most importantly, may be a treatable cause of “failure to thrive”.

The purpose of this study is to establish normal reference intervals for thyroid hormone levels in kittens at 4 and 8 weeks of age, and to establish treatment guidelines for managing kittens with hypothyroidism.
What happens in this study
  • 2-4 week old healthy kittens will undergo a physical exam in addition to a blood and urine sample collection.
  • 8 week old healthy kittens will undergo a physical exam and a blood sample collection.
  • Kittens with failure to thrive will undergo a physical exam, a blood and urine sample collection.
  • Kittens diagnosed with hypothyroidism will be treated with an oral thyroid medication (dosages to be updated periodically to reflect weight gain) and will need follow up blood work completed

*All blood work will include a CBC, chemistry panel, and FeLV SNAP test

*All urine will be analyzed for an iodine measurement

Pet owner responsibilities
  • For healthy 2-4 or 8 week old kittens: bring your foster kitten for a physical examination and blood sample collection completed by a veterinarian at UC Davis.
  • For healthy 2-4 week old kittens: in addition to the above, collect a urine sample from your foster kitten when they are being stimulated to go to the bathroom within 24 hours of your appointment for your foster kitten at UC Davis (we will collect this during the appointment if you are unable to do so)
  • For kittens with failure to thrive: bring your foster kitten to UC Davis for an exam, blood draw, and urine sample collection. IF your foster kitten is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you will be responsible for administering daily oral thyroid medication. You will also need to bring your foster kitten to UC Davis for blood draws (or have the blood drawn and send to UC Davis) at the following intervals after we start the medication: 2, 6, 12, 24, 36, 52 weeks and 2 weeks after any dosage change to the thyroid medication
Participation requirements
  • Healthy foster kittens: considered healthy, as determined by the rescue group or shelter veterinarian you are fostering with, and be 2-4 weeks old or 8 weeks old.
  • Failure to thrive kittens: foster kittens who have been diagnosed with “failure to thrive” by your foster kitten’s rescue group or animal shelter may be eligible for this clinical trial. No additional procedures need to be completed.
Benefits and risks of participating
Benefits: We cannot promise any benefits to your foster kitten or to other animals as a result from your foster kitten’s participation in this clinical trial. Possible benefits include identifying a medical problem identified in examination or on routine blood work as well as the results of the FeLV SNAP test. If your foster kitten is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, we will provide oral thyroid medication (levothyroxine) at no cost. Follow up blood work for thyroid hormone levels at UC Davis for the following year will also be provided for your foster kitten to the shelter or rescue group at no cost.

Risks: Some kittens may experience bruising or swelling from a blood draw and sampling for urine collection. Very rarely, the bladder may be damaged during urine sample collection or bleeding may occur into the belly.
There are no personal costs to you or to the rescue group/shelter you are fostering for, aside from transporting the kitten(s) to UC Davis for scheduled appointments.
Recruitment period
From Jan. 15, 2021
UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
1 Garrod Drive
Davis, CA 95616
Jordyn Purpura
Research Topic
  • hypothyroidism
  • failure to thrive

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