Ideally, treatment of a hyperthyroid cat with a single dose of radioiodine should restore euthyroidism without inducing hypothyroidism. In other words, the goal of this treatment should be to irradiate and destroy all abnormal thyroid tissue (adenomatous or carcinomatous) but to leave the normal (nonadenomatous) thyroid tissue intact (1-4).
The optimal method for determining the amount of radioiodine required for effective treatment in cats remains somewhat controversial. Reported methods to determine the radioiodine dose for cats with hyperthyroidism are variable but can be divided into the following four general categories (4-9):
- Fixed or “one size fits all” dosing
- Individualized or “patient-specific” clinical scoring system for dose determination
- Individualized, advanced clinical scoring system, with calculation of thyroid tumor volume and thyroid radionuclide uptake
- High-dose I-131 treatment for thyroid carcinoma
Fixed-dose radioiodine therapy
The fixed-dose approach, the most common method of treating hyperthyroid cats, assumes that most of these cats can be successfully treated by administering the same fixed, relatively high dose of radioiodine to all cats (i.e., 4 to 5 mCi [148 to 185 mBq]), regardless of the severity of hyperthyroidism or size of the thyroid tumor (4-6).
Because no effort is taken to determine thyroid tumor size or to estimate severity of hyperthyroidism, this dosing method is the easiest, involving no calculations and requiring little in the way of nuclear medicine equipment. However, to attain a reasonable success rate with this method, a large number of cats end up being either overdosed or underdosed with radioiodine.
For example, in my clinic, the median individualized dose given to our hyperthyroid cats is now 2.5 mCi (100 mBq), much less than the dosages administered with the fixed-dose approach. In my opinion, a large number of cats treated using the fixed-dose method will receive too high of a radioiodine dose, exposing them to an unnecessary amount of radiation and greatly increasing the risk of iatrogenic hypothyroidism. Since I do not use this method, I can't quote exact incidence, but I wouldn't be surprised if over 75% of these cats become hypothyroid.
On the other hand, a few cats with very large, benign thyroid adenomas that I treat in my clinic will require calculated radioiodine doses that are much higher (i.e., 6 to 12 mCi; 222 to 444 mBq) than those typically administered with the fixed-dose approach. These cats will likely be treatment failures and show persistent or recurrent hyperthyroidism with the fixed-dose approach.
So, although the fixed-dose method is the simplest to employ, the incidence of both long-term hypothyroidism and persistent hyperthyroidism are higher with this dosing method.
Individualized or “patient-specific” clinical scoring system for dose determination
In the second method of dose determination that I first described almost 20 years ago (7), the dose of radioiodine administered to hyperthyroid cats is determined by a clinical scoring system based on 3 factors that take into consideration the severity of clinical signs, the size of the cat's thyroid gland (determined by palpation of the goiter on physical examination), and the pretreatment serum T4 concentration. Using this scoring system, a low, medium, or relatively high 131-I dose is selected (4,7,8).
For example, cats with mild clinical signs, small thyroid tumor(s), and only a slightly high serum T4 concentration would receive smaller doses of radioiodine (e.g., 3 mCi; 111 mBq); cats with severe clinical signs, very large thyroid tumor(s), and markedly high serum T4 concentrations would receive high doses of radioiodine (i.e., 5 mCi; 185 mBq); and cats that lie between these extremes would receive intermediate doses of radioiodine (e.g., 4 mCi; 148 mBq).
In contrast to the fixed-dose method, the total radiation dosage delivered to the cats with mild hyperthyroidism is lower and, thus, the prevalence of iatrogenic hypothyroidism is minimized. However, even with this scoring system, many cats develop low serum T4 values after treatment and some cats, especially those with severe disease, are not cured with a single dose of radioiodine.
Individualized, modified, clinical scoring system, with calculation of thyroid tumor volume and thyroid radionuclide uptake
In the third method that I now use, the dose of radioiodine administered is based on a refinement of the scoring system outlined above (4). Again, this refined scoring system takes into consideration the severity of the cat’s clinical signs, the size of thyroid tumor, and the pretreatment serum T4 and T3 concentrations. In addition, however, thyroid imaging is used to better estimate the volume of the thyroid tumor tissue, and the thyroid radionuclide uptake is determined (9-11). The dose of radioiodine is then calculated from these measurements.
Using this protocol, very low doses of radioiodine (e.g., < 2 mCi; <75 mBq) will result in the cure of many cats with early hyperthyroidism that have small but hyperfunctional thyroid tumors on thyroid imaging. These radioiodine doses are much lower than the lowest dose given with the original scoring system (3 mCi; 111 mBq) or used with the fixed-dose methods (4-5 mCi; 148-185 mBq).
In contrast, other cats with severe hyperthyroidism and large volumes of autonomously functional thyroid tissue (but without scintigraphic evidence of malignancy) may require up to 15 mCi (555 mBq) of 131-I to restore euthyroidism. These calculated radioiodine doses are much higher than the highest dose given with the original scoring system (5 mCi; 185 mBq) or used with the fixed-dose methods (4-5 mCi; 148-185 mBq).
I believe that determining the thyroid tumor volume and percent 131-I uptake play key roles in calculating the best 131-I dose needed to completely ablate all tumor tissue but preserve any remaining normal thyroid tissue.
Physical palpation of the thyroid gland may yield equivalent information to that obtained from the thyroid scan in some cats, especially those with smaller, easily palpated nodules (7). However, the thyroid tumor volume will likely be greatly underestimated in cats with substernal or ectopic goiters based on physical evaluation alone, especially when those thyroid nodules cannot be palpated (4,11).
It is clear that we can achieve much better results (less hypothyroidism or persistent hyperthyroidism with use of an individualized dosing protocols. However, a percentage of hyperthyroid cats, especially those with long-standing, severe hyperthyroidism, will not have enough "normal" residual thyroid tissue left to maintain euthyroidism after we successfully ablate all of the thyroid tumor tissue. In those cats, mild to moderate degrees of iatrogenic hypothyroidism will result, no matter what dosing protocol is used.
In my opinion, curing the hyperthyroidism with radioiodine or surgery remain the ideal treatment options for cats. Even if the cat needs thyroid hormone supplementation, definitive treatment with either radioiodine or surgery still remain a better option than long-term medical or nutritional management. Without definitive treatment, the thyroid tumors remain and will continue to grow, and may potentially transform into thyroid carcinoma and metastasize (12).
- Baral R, Peterson ME. Thyroid gland disorders In: Little SE, ed. The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2012;571-592.
- Mooney CT, Peterson ME. Feline hyperthyroidism In: Mooney CT, Peterson ME, eds. Manual of Canine and Feline Endocrinology Fourth ed. Quedgeley, Gloucester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association, 2012;199-203.
- Peterson ME. Hyperthyroidism in cats In: Rand JS, Behrend E, Gunn-Moore D, et al., eds. Clinical Endocrinology of Companion Animals. Ames, Iowa Wiley-Blackwell, 2013;295-310.
- Peterson ME, Broome MR. Radioiodine for feline hyperthyroidism In: Bonagura JD,Twedt DC, eds. Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy, Volume XV. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2013;in press.
- Meric SM, Rubin SI. Serum thyroxine concentrations following fixed-dose radioactive iodine treatment in hyperthyroid cats: 62 cases (1986-1989). J Am Vet Med Assoc 1990;197:621-623.
- Craig A. A prospective study of 66 cases of feline hyperthyroidism treated with a fixed dose of intravenous 131-I. Aust Vet Practit 1993;23.
- Peterson ME, Becker DV. Radioiodine treatment of 524 cats with hyperthyroidism. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1995;207:1422-1428.
- Peterson ME. Radioiodine treatment of hyperthyroidism. Clin Tech Small Anim Pract 2006;21:34-39.
- Forrest LJ, J. BC, Metcalf MR, et al. Feline hyperthyroidism: efficacy of treatment using volumetric analysis for radioiodine dose calculation. Vet Radiol Ultrasound 1996;37:141-145.
- Broome MR, Turrel JM, Hays MT. Predictive value of tracer studies for 131-I treatment in hyperthyroid cats. Am J Vet Res 1988;49:193-197.
- Broome MR. Thyroid scintigraphy in hyperthyroidism. Clin Tech Small Anim Pract 2006;21:10-16.
- Peterson ME, Broome MR: Hyperthyroid cats on long-term medical treatment show a progressive increase in the prevalence of large thyroid tumors, intrathoracic thyroid masses, and suspected thyroid carcinoma. J Vet Intern Med 20112: 26:1523.