Kittens with congenital primary hypothyroidism may be lethargic, uninterested in their environment, have seizures, constipation, and dwarfism.
Hannah Shaw, aka the "Kitten Lady," was at a complete loss when little Lucy, a female tabby kitten, wasn't progressing as much as her littermates. Shaw, a kitten rescuer, humane educator, and New York Times bestselling author, noticed that Lucy — who was significantly smaller than her six siblings — was being easily pushed aside by the other kittens at feeding time and reached out to Dr. Karen Vernau at the UC Davis veterinary hospital. According to a 'Case of the Month' January 2021 feature by UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, based on prior experience, Dr. Vernau suspected that Lucy may have hypothyroidism.
Her suspicion was confirmed when Shaw sent Lucy's blood samples to the UC Davis veterinary hospital’s Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory. An extremely rare condition in cats, hypothyroidism is even poorly characterized in kittens and is generally reported only in kittens over 6 weeks of age. Kittens with congenital primary hypothyroidism may be lethargic and/or uninterested in their environment, have seizures, constipation, poor growth, dwarfism, and retention of baby teeth. In some cases, it can even be fatal to the little ones. Fortunately, the condition can be easily treated with inexpensive oral medication.
Shaw kept Lucy's fans updated on her progress through her Facebook page, Kitten Lady. "Lucy had another seizure today, the second one I've witnessed. It's hard to watch. Both times, her body has seized up and fallen to the side for 2-3 minutes, and both times she has been unable to walk for about 2 hours afterward," she wrote on June 22, 2020. "I hold her, comfort her, keep her warm and hydrated, and tell her to keep hanging on. Once she starts to come to, she purrs and licks my face for minutes on end. She absolutely loves to be held and swaddled. She is the sweetest baby and hits me right in the feels, a love punch straight to the heart."
"She's now had 4 doses of her thyroid medication and all I can do is hope to start seeing a change sometime soon. She still latches and eats a ton, she just literally does not put on weight. She is one month old this week and is the weight of a healthy 10 day old. I know everyone thinks she's cute because she's a micro-kitten, but her size and body composition is terrifying and heartbreaking to witness. All I want is for her to grow. C'mon, Little Lucy. Please grow..."
In another update six days later, Shaw shared: "Lucy had a growth hormone blood test done by UC Davis and they found that she has a very low number—6. [The] normal range for cats is 12-92. We don't know if this number will go up as she receives treatment for her congenital hypothyroidism or not, but we will be tracking that over the coming weeks. For now, Lucy is doing great with her thyroid medication, and she is officially over 250g! She's been seizure-free for the past few days and has a great appetite. She's definitely a bit slower-moving than her siblings, but she's very sweet and loves to snuggle and eat. My littlest unicorn."
Slowly but surely, Lucy showed great progress and within two weeks of starting treatment for congenital hypothyroidism, she'd gained over 100g. "Little Lucy is TINY BUT MIGHTY! She's still half the size she should be, and is definitely developmentally delayed if you compare her to other kittens... but I say comparison is the enemy of individual progress," Shaw wrote on July 3, 2020. "Lucy is a unicorn who can't and shouldn't be compared against other kittens—when measured against herself over time, she's a superstar! This little micro-unicorn is packed with potential, and she will flourish in her own way, on her own timeline, in her own teeny-tiny body."
With the proper treatment, Lucy grew into an adorable little lady. "How do I begin to describe this majestic bean? I'm pretty sure if you analyzed her DNA, you would find that Little Lucy is part cat, part hamster, part bullfrog. Her body is shaped like a grapefruit & she has the unkempt fur of a soft little coyote pup who has recently been digging in the trash. She spends most of the day chillin' like a bump on a log but goes full sonic-speed when it's dinner time. She's a little peanut and a glorious unicorn, a total hot mess, and also, somehow, perfect," Shaw wrote on Facebook.
Not long after she started treatment, most of Lucy's clinical signs of hypothyroidism resolved and she has since been spayed and adopted. "Lucy is doing great," said her new owner Julia. "She's very happy, sweet, and soft. She weighs about seven pounds now – such a far cry from her (tiny early) days." She added that she continues to work with Dr. Vernau and has Lucy's bloodwork checked regularly, in addition to keeping up with the kitten's twice-daily medications.
Here's what Lucy looks like now: