Taggart’s I-131 Treatment & Radioactive Kitty Update
Now that Taggart’s hyperthyroid treatment is a few weeks behind us, I can finally write about it and give you all an update. She was the whole reason we came to NYC after all, and although we managed to squeeze in quite a few outings in the Big Apple, pretty much all of our sightseeing was timed around her and the radioactive pee watch that came after.
For those who just want the short summary the treatment went smoothly, she appears to have recovered well, but we won’t know for sure if she’s cured until her next blood tests. For those of you interested in the gory details below is an update of how everything went and how we’ve handled the tricky after-treatment & radioactive watch period. And of course for those not interested at all, just feel free to skip the whole post. Here goes:
Being Mobile For Health Care Can (Sometimes) Be An Advantage
I did a lot of research before we settled on a treatment spot for Taggart. Part of it was my general OCD’ness (I research everything half to death), but part of it was also because we were ABLE to do so. The clinic that I chose is one of the top 2 in the country and traveling to NYC, although not part of our original plans (or budget) was do-able. It was a choice, and being able to make that choice is something I’m deeply thankful for.
Unexpected health issues (whether it be for your paws or for you) are always going to occur at some time or another, and they can be super tough to deal with on the road. You don’t have a trusted network of vets/docs or hospitals that you know, you don’t have a fixed place to stay (for treatment or recuperation) and whatever travel plans you made for that month (or even the year) will likely ALL have to change on a dime. That’s part of the uncertainty you accept when you go fulltime RVing.
On the other hand being mobile means you can go almost wherever you want. And as long as your issue isn’t an emergency or super time-critical, that can be an advantage too.
In Taggart’s case we thankfully had some time to think. We put her on the hyperT meds for several months to see how her kidneys would react (I covered this in my last post on this). This also gave us some breathing room to deal with Polly’s torn ACL (which was way more time critical). Once we were done w/ doggie and got a clean bill of health on the cat we were able to go ahead and book the I-131 clinic. In this case our nomadic flexibility worked out.
Choosing Hypurrcat (Animal Endocrine) Clinic
Hypurrcat is widely known in the feline hyperT community. The Doc in charge (Dr. Peterson) has done years of research into this particular disease and published many excellent documents both online and in the vet community. In fact if you lookup research on hyperT his name is very likely one of the first authors you’ll see on most of the papers, and if you’re wanting to learn about the disease his website is one of the best resources out there. They also have an active Facebook page where you can see all the cats going thro’ treatment at the clinic.
Hypurrcat has two I-131 treatment locations near NYC, one inside the city itself and one an hour north at Bedford Hills. However stay limits & costs are quite different at each. Due to local city ordinances the NYC location requires a 5-day stay (and is more expensive as a result), whereas the Bedford Hills clinic only requires a 3-day stay. He only accepts cats once a month at each clinic and is generally booked out 1-2 months ahead of each open date.
For accommodations, both clinics provide a very nice 2-level “condo” for kitty which is equipped with a hiding spot, separate litter area and a live web cam (you can watch kitty online!). Plus they provide kitty entertainment including a flat-screen TV that plays relaxing nature videos and also a live gerbil habitat (right opposite the condos). It’s a pretty cushy set-up.
For Taggart we wanted the minimal possible time in isolation so we chose the Bedford Hills Clinic with admittance Oct 3rd. We had to stop her meds (Felimazole) 7 days before treatment, but otherwise there was no other prep needed.
Taggart’s Stay At The Clinic Went Smootly
The day I drove Taggart to the clinic I very nearly got into a serious car accident. The drive from Liberty Harbor RV Park to Bedford Hills is pretty crazy either taking you straight through downtown or across the Washington Bridge, both of which will enter into the maelstrom of NYC traffic. I was so stressed and anxious that I barely missed a hit from a crazy driver swerving in from another lane and was so shaky it took me around 1/2 hour to calm down once I got to the clinic.
But I needn’t have worried.
The clinic was awesome, really it was. Carol (the lady at the front desk) is warm and calming and does a fabulous job with all the overly-stressed kitty owners coming in. Dr. Peterson is very patient and thorough and takes time to describe everything in detail to all his patients. Plus you get a tour of the facility and a detailed run-down of everything that happens to kitty during his/her stay.
I left Taggart at the clinic at around 10AM. She got full blood tests and a thyroid scan an hour later which showed a moderately large tumor (1.9 by 1.5 cm) on her left thyroid node. She was injected with a very small amount of I-131 (1.85 mCi) and then put into her kitty condo for monitoring.
While she was at the clinic I was able to check-in with her all day (on the kitty cam), plus I was able to call-in pretty much anytime I wanted if I was anxious and had questions (I think I called 3 times in the first day, and the clinic was superbly gracious and patient with me each and every time). Hypurrcat also called me every AM to give me a detailed update on how Taggart was doing including her activity levels, behavior, food intake, bowel movements and pretty much anything else a kitty owner would even remotely stress about. Their attention to detail was amazing.
I picked her up 3 days later and got her full discharge papers including her scan results (which had already been e-mailed to me) and test forms for the follow-up blood tests (see below). Apart from the bill (cough, cough), it was painless overall.
Radioactive Kitty Watch In The RV
The hardest part of I-131 treatment, apart from the time kitty has to spend away from you at the clinic, is handling the radioactive discharge when he/she gets home. Kitty herself is mostly fine (especially with the small doses** they give at this particular clinic), but you are supposed to limit how much she lies ontop of you (at least for the first week) and her pee/poop is “hot” for some time. For 2 weeks after treatment you must scoop and clean the box regularly, and then either flush the soiled litter down the toilet (if you live in a regular house where you can do that kind of thing) or store it somewhere safe for 3 months before you throw it away.
In the RV there’s not too much we could do to limit physical contact (we’ve done our best, but we just don’t have that much room), but we have been super fastidious about the litter-box. We scoop everytime she goes, wash our hands thoroughly and store each scoop in an empty litter container outside the rig (underneath the RV). Since we have TWO cats and we don’t always catch who did what we’ve simply been storing ALL the soiled litter (from both cats) in the same place. As we travel we will keep the container(s) in one of our bins until they are ready to be thrown away.
The other (kinda crazy) thing we’ve been doing is timing our outings around kitty pee. As soon as Taggart goes we know we have a few hours of free time before we have to be home on watch again. It’s a very (overly) conservative approach and it’s been a tad limiting (we actually had to cancel seeing some friends in NYC with the line “sorry, kitty hasn’t pee’d yet” -> whoever thought we’d use that excuse?!), but thankfully she is fairly regular so it’s not been too bad. The things we do for our pets, eh?
**Geek Stuff: For the geek types out there I-131 has a half-life of 8.02 days, so it decays fairly fast. The first days after treatment are the most critical which is why clinics keep the cats isolated for that time. When cats come home levels are typically low enough that they are emitting negligible body radiation, but they do continue to eliminate through pee/poo. Obviously the bigger the dose of I-131 given, the more radioactive your cat will be afterwards, and one of the advantages of Hypurrcat is that they use VERY small, targeting dosing (typically 1.3-2 mCi) compared to most clinics (typically 4 mCi). It’s one of the many reasons I chose them. I actually wish I had had the foresight to buy a Geiger Counter before we did the treatment (you can get them on Amazon, of course!) since it would have been interesting to test Taggart’s radioactivity after the treatment. Oh well!
What’s Next? Is She Cured?
So, basically we don’t know yet. After almost 2 weeks home she already looks MUCH better. She’s started to put on weight, she’s more relaxed (less “hyper”), she stopped sneezing (a side-effect of the hyperT and the meds) and she honestly looks really, really good. We’ve also had zero side effects from the treatment except for around 3 hours of meowing when she first got home from the clinic (she was seriously telling us off) followed by a solid 24-hour sleep (she was VERY tired). Other than that no eating issues, no lethargy…she just looks and acts like a normal cat!
But we won’t know for sure if she’s cured until the next blood tests.
Serum thyroid hormone (T4) typically normalize within 4 weeks of treatment in ~85% of cats and in ~95% of cats by 3 months. So we have to test kitty at 1, 3, 6 and 12-months to see how her thyroid is doing. At Hypurrcat these tests are actually covered in the $$ you pay up-front for the treatment and can be completed anywhere in the country (you just need to find a vet to draw the blood and send it in). The hope is that the I-131 has completely killed the tumor and any remaining healthy thyroid has kicked in and normalized her levels. We’ll know more when we take her for her first test in NC at the end of this month. Paws crossed!
That wraps up our kitty update. If you’ve got any questions or thoughts about hyperT or I-131 feel free to comment below. In the next post we’ll be back to our regular RV travels -> there’s a Podcast, a ferry trip, some old friends and wild horses involved 🙂SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
very interesting post Nina, thanks! Finger’s crossed for normal blood tests.
Thanks! I figure only a small subset of my readers will be interested in this stuff, but I knew you would be 🙂
Kevin H says
I’m glad she’s ok. As long as she’s eating , it will be ok.
Sally Gilbert says
So glad the treatment went well, our girl did great after her radioactive treatment 2 years ago and is a happy, plump 17 year old now 🙂
Not an inexpensive option, but we do these things for our beloved furry kids.
Also happy to know that Pollyanna has done so well following her ACL surgery. You guys are so great with your animals 🙂
So glad to hear your girl did so well with it. We’re hoping the same for our baby. Yeah..we do crazy things for our pets.
Sally Gilbert says
Oh and PS, my phone decided that Polly’s name was Pollyanna, I only noticed the change after pressing send 🙁
Don Weatherhead says
Hi Nina, Glad everything seems to be going well. I do have a comment that I’m sure all
Your readers would like to know. Many (most) of us have a anxiety attack when knowing
we are headed into huge traffic conditions especially in a city we have never been to. And
a RV in the middle of town, that being said, what was it like driving the RV+toad in New York?
I’m sure we all would like to know, any panic attacks?
Thanks, enjoy your blog
No panic attacks in the RV. Paul actually planned that drive very carefully beforehand, including knowing which side of the road he needed to be on for each exit. Also we never actually drive the rig into NYC…just into Jersey City. So, I would say that drive went pretty painlessly.
When I was driving kitty in the tow car I didn’t do nearly the same level of planning (I should have!) and got caught up right in the middle of downtown NYC traffic. It was hairy.
JC Webber III says
Best of luck for you kitty-cat.
Having a cat that was recently diagnosed hyperactive thyroid I also found it informative- thanks 🙂
Sorry to hear about the diagnosis. It’s a hard one. If your cat is otherwise healthy and you can afford it, I do highly recommend I-131 treatment. If you tell me where you are located (in the country) I may be able to give you some recommendations. I looked at a lot of clinics cross-country.
Also if you need support this Facebook hyperT group is fabulous:
Pam Wright says
Being a cat lover, I found this whole process very interesting. Your post was great. Taggart is one lucky kitty to have such devoted parents:) I love that you could watch your cat is on the webcam…very cool! Certainly hoping the blood tests show all is well. Keep us posted:)
The kitty cam was awesome, and helped me feel much more relaxed while we were apart. It’s a nice little perk that they have at this particular clinic.
Jim and Gayle says
Thanks for the detailed post. We know we will have cats again in the future and thyroid problems are one issue we’ve yet to deal with. Glad everything went so well.
Very interesting post I have had human friends with this problem but never a pet thank goodness. Your pets are so lucky to have you I’d say you go to the ends of the country to take care of them, you are very good people. Love your posts great photography and descriptions… Thank you
The cat treatment is pretty much identical to the human treatment, although with lower doses of I-131 of course. I did read quite a lot about human hyperthyroidism when I was doing my research. So many commonalities.
Hi Nina, i too am a full time rver. My sweet boy hust had the I131 treatment. We live in colorado. Unfortunately the clinic, CSU veternarian teaching hospital has been just awful about communicating. The place is so big and impersonal that is it a noghtmare. Many balls get dropped. My kitty just started sneezing. He was home just about 4 days before it began. I have called the hospital repeatedly and had to leave messages with no response. It absolutly rediculous! I am apalled at them. Anyhow, i cannot get any info on the sneezing. It that normal or not? You mentioned something about it in your post and i wondeted what you could tell me about it. Anything would be appreciated. Thank you
I’m so very sorry to hear you’ve had such a hard time!
There are several reasons sneezing can happen, but the most common reason, especially for sneezing that suddenly starts (and did not happen before) is an upper respiratory infection. Given it started for your kitty after treatment, it’s very possible he picked something up at the clinic. So I’d take him to another vet for a swab to check for that.
Other reasons for sneezing can be viral or fungal issues, reaction to allergens etc. But I’d start with checking for infection.
In Taggart’s case there was never a specific cause. She sneezed a lot while she was on the hyperT meds (a common side-effect of the meds), and did much, much better after I-131. She still has a bit of sneezing now, but nothing like when she was on the meds. No particular reason, according to the vet, so could just be low-level allergies or some other immune-related old age thing. These days whenever she has a small sneezing bout, we simply give her L-lysine and that seems to keep it in check.
Really hope your kitty gets better soon!
Jil mohr says
Great informative post… Glad she is doing well
Wishing Taggart all the best for a speedy and full recovery!
Jeanne Barlia says
We just recently went through 6 weeks of also telling friends we were staying home to watch the cat, due to a health situation, LOL. So we totally understand the mentality. Glad Taggart seems to be doing so well & really good to hear someone as OCD as we are. Thanks for the particulars.
Always great to hear there are folks out there as paw crazy as us. We totally get it 🙂
That was very interesting. I just lost my kitty Fannie a couple days ago . She had hyperthyroid , diagnosed 2 years ago. At age 14 , I didnt think this was the route to go. May I ask , how old is Taggart? also, I had heard that they need to stay at the clinic for 2 weeks. I thought that was to stressful for her. So, I have given her thyroid pills for 2 years. 2 times a day. She took them fine but of course it did limit me on going for to long as I would have to pay a petsitter twice a day. She did great but she also had kidney disease which was her downfall. It got to the advanced stage and I decided just a couple days ago to let her go peacefully. She was having repeated urinary infections, peeing everywhere for a long time, losing a large amount of weight and this last week seemed to be quite uncomfortable.
Anyways, didnt mean to give you my cats history. But I was one of those who was interrested to read about Taggart treatment , being that I also had a hyperthyroid kitty.
May I ask , how much was the cost? and I am very surprised to hear that she only spent a few days at the clinic.
I hope she is around for many more years !!!
Oh I’m so very sorry for your loss! Sounds like your dear paws had quite a bit going on, and that’s always super hard.
Taggart is 14 years old, and it’s actually fairly typical for older cats to develop this disease (it’s rare in younger cats). Her kidneys are ok (she’s early stage kidney, but still ok), so that did make the decision to do the I-131 much easier. With kidney disease, as your girl had, it’s a much, much tougher decision.
As for costs you’ll find it varies tremendously cross-country from around $1000 to $2600. Only a few places include the thyroid scan (which I do feel is important) and even less include the pre and post-treatment blood work. So, you do need to ask if both of those are included in the price.
Stay limits at most clinics are 3-5 days, but when I called around I did find a few places that insisted on 7-14 days. The longer stays are rather old-fashioned and rarely done in the US anymore (UK still has longer stays at most of their clinics, although they’re starting to change now).
Sorry again for your loss 🙁
Mal & Mary Taylor says
She is beautiful and very lucky to have such loving “parents”.
When I saw her picture I thought I was looking at our 5 year old male cat Finnegan.
We will continue to say prayers for her full recovery.
Please keep all your readers informed
Mal and Mary Taylor
Thank you for the kind thoughts. I love ginger tabby’s. The girl ones (like Taggart) are very rare, but they’re all beautiful.
Great article. Interesting to see the ‘scintogragh’ image of Taggart compared with a normal cat, which says it all. As an ex-gamma-camera service engineer I’m used to seeing/’reading’ those images, but it’s clear to anyone.
GEIGER COUNTER: this must be a fun toy to have if you travel around south Arizona, New Mexico or east Utah where there are many sources of natural ‘hot rocks’! We were there last Spring when I wish we had one – so now I’ve prepared for next time! I found the cheapest way, if you’re into building your own electronics (can solder a circuit board) is to get a kit such as RH Electronics RH-K-GK-2 ($35 from Ebay; I see a ready-made one on Amazon for $50) that doesn’t include the tube (I got an STS-5 for $13), or box to contain it. (There are cheaper attachments for modern smart phones, which we’re too backward to be into!!).
Fun geeky tip…cheers!
Thank you for sharing the update and detail on Taggart. We certainly understand how stressful this summer/autumn has been for you guys, and you know we’d have made the same choices.
My heart broke a little when I looked at the first picture, of Taggart all curled up sleeping, after the whole ordeal. Poor baby! Thank goodness for -cams! We’ll be anxiously awaiting the future blood test results.
Hugs to all of you!
I certainly know you would. We feel very much the same about our paw family. Kisses to lovely Pipa 🙂
Nornie St John says
Get well soon Taggart. You and your fur baby siblings are lucky to have such caring pet parents.
Thanks so much for the “how to RV NY” Nina.
All the best to you, Paul and the fur babies for safe travels and fun filled autumn.⛺️
Thank you! Nina
Jeff T. says
About 12 or 13 years ago our cat, Pixel (think Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walked Thru Walls) was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and the vet talked about medication and mentioned in passing there was anther treatment option. We used the medication for two or three years until on one visit the vet told us that we really should seek additional treatment. Took Pixel to the nuclear medicine facility in a nearby town and, after exam, was told that radiation was not currently an option, the tumor was too large. The suggestion was that surgery was the only option.
We took Pixel to our vet who did the surgery. Unfortunately, Pixel went into respiratory arrest when coming out from under anesthesia and was unable to be revived.
We have many times regretted not asking more questions about treatment options, and just thinking about the loss of Pixel leaves me sad and brings tears to Cheryl.
I am so glad that Taggart is doing better. I wish you all many, many, years of healthy and happy times together.
Oh I’m so sorry about your baby. That’s a heart-breaking story. I-131 has not been used for that long in cats, so it’s very possible the treatment wasn’t that available (or had very limited availability) 12-13 years ago, and before I-131 surgery was the most common recommendation (some vets still do it today). What happened was just a terrible accident.
Also it’s easy to look back and wish things differently. Hindsight is 20-20, but we all just do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time and it’s never (ever) a perfect choice. Your kitty was loved and cared for, and you did your best. In your shoes I would likely have done and made exactly the same choices. That’s what counts and that’s what made you a great kitty parent.
I had I131 done on my cat Jack in Boston. He did really well too, but after a few months I noticed he was putting on weight. I went and had him tested and was told he was fine but I knew something wasn’t right, so I pushed and found that we had to do a TSH test on him to see what was really going on. He ended up hypo and is now on meds for that. They say it is rare, but I wonder because I was told he was fine several time and I had to keep pushing. If you find your boy puts on weight for no real reason, push to have the thyroid stimulating hormone test run.
and I love the idea of the Geiger counter.. lol. I should have thought of that.. it would have been interesting for sure.
You are absolutely right, and good for you for continuing to push when you felt your boy was not doing as well as he should.
Going hypo happens in around 10% of kitties that go through I-131, so it’s a definite risk. Higher doses of I-131 are associated with a higher occurrence of hypo, but even lower doses (such as Taggart had) carry a risk. The meds for hypo are not as horrible as those for hyperT, but it’s definitely something to watch for. I’m going to get a full thyroid panel including TSH when we re-test Taggart at 1, 3 and 6 months. I absolutely know this risk is there.
Hoping you can now put all this behind you.
Donna Yager says
We’re so glad to hear that Taggart’s doing well after treatment, and have fingers and paws crossed for her. We have a kitty diagnosed with early elevated T4 also, and have started him on a low dose of methimazole topical gel daily. So far, he’s doing pretty well on it, but we’d really like to go ahead with the I-131 treatment and the high potential for cure it offers. We know of two places here in Brevard County, FL that offer it, but are more than willing to go further for the best possible treatment for him. Have you found any places for treatment in Florida or neighboring states that we should consider? Also, now that you’ve been through it, what questions do you think are most important to ask before choosing a provider for this treatment?
IMO the most important questions to ask about the treatment are:
1/ Does the clinic do a thyroid scan? This is the best (most accurate) way of judging the size of the tumor and tailoring doseage of I-131. Not many clinics offer it, but some do. For me, this was a “must have” when I was researching clinics cross-country, but there are many who get their cats treated without it.
2/ Does the clinic do individually-based dose of I-131 or do they use a “standard” dose? What is the dose range? I personally feel targeted dosing is *very* important and will reduce the chances of post-therapy hypo. Our cats dose was only 1.85 mCi, but I’ve talked with clinics who give “standard” doses of 4-6 mCi. The larger doses carry a higher risk of problems post-therapy, especially if your cat’s tumor is relatively small.
3/ How long Does the clinic keep the cat and what are the accommodations? Is there an on-call person at all hours? Will you get daily updates? This is important info for you.
4/ What are the costs? Do they include pre and post-treatment blood tests? Do they include a thyroid scan? Kitty will typically require pre-treatment tests and then will also need to be tested 1,3 and 6 months after treatment. Sometimes the clinic will want other tests done too, so it’s important to find out if those costs are included in the quoted price.
Those are really the most important questions. I haven’t looked at clinics around FL area, but hope you find a good one.
Another thought for you is to join the Facebook Hyperthyroid Cats group and ask if anyone has had their cat treated around FL. You’ll likely get some really good recommendations. Plus they’re just a really helpful group overall.
Paws crossed for your baby!
Donna Yager says
Thank you so much, Nina. I’m as frazzled as you over this issue. The research online is taking a ridiculous amount of time, with the deep and detailed reading involved. Pete has good days, some very good, then he has bad days that make me anxious and worried. When he doesn’t eat, I worry. If he vomits, I worry. He sleeps a lot, and I don’t sleep enough. It’s awful, and I’d like to get this done asap for both of us! I’m going to join the Facebook group, and see if anyone there has knowledge of Florida clinics (good or not).
Geoffrey Schrader says
How do I find the hyperthyroid cat group? I live in my fifth wheel toy hauler in the Florida Keys with my now radioactive kitty, Luna. She just got home from getting treated at Miami Vetenary Specialists yesterday. Three days! Last night we both caught up on our sleep. BTW, expense was mentioned. We have Pet’s Best insurance. It is covering the hyperthyroid procedure as well as followup visits!
Great info on the insurance (thanks for that). The Hyperthyroid Cat Group on Facebook is here:
They also run a Yahoo support group if you prefer that format:
Both are great groups with very active members.
Oh and I wish the BEST of healing to your fur baby! Taggart is totally cured now and I hope your gal will be too.