We have a 13-year old male cat named Balki with hyperthyroidism and moderate renal disease. He has a history of diabetes, but that has been in remission for the latter for several months.
Balki's main problem at the moment is trouble eating. My veterinarian just puts it down to the renal disease. However, it seems he wants to eat, but has difficulty swallowing. It has progressively gotten worse, to the point where he is now barely eating.
He also has had several episodes of reverse sneezing. When trying to eat, he extends his neck and gulps, then turns away from the food being offered. He also sometimes drools, and often spits out the food. He has most difficulty with dry food.
Can you give any advice on what might be causing this, and what tests he might need to find out, and how to help him to be able to eat?
The typical hyperthyroid cat eats well (usually an increased appetite). These cats almost never develop anorexia, and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) never occurs as a direct result of hyperthyroidism (1-4).
Most cats with moderate to severe renal disease will develop a decreased appetite as a result of their uremia, but they don't show signs of dysphagia (5). Most likely, your cat has disease either in the caudal pharygeal (throat) region or esophagus that is causing some obstruction to the food eaten (6-10). With the history of reverse sneezing, I'd say the problem is most likely in the caudal pharynx.
I'd recommend starting with a good oral examination (under sedation) to look for a lesion or mass in the pharygeal area. If nothing is seen, then endoscopy may be needed. Radiography or other imaging (e.g., CT scan) may also be required to help define the extent of your cat's disease (9-11).
Could thyroid tumors ever grow large enough to compress the esophagus and produce signs of dysphagia? That would be extremely unlikely, since even cats with large thyroid carcinomas almost always continue to eat well and don't have any problems swallowing. However, I have had two cats in my career that had thyroid carcinoma which invaded the esophagus, leading to signs of esophagitis and esophageal obstruction. In any case, the chance of that being the problem in your cat would be about 1 in a million; again, that would best be diagnosed with endoscopy and CT imaging.
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