Acromegaly in cats: causes, symptoms and treatment

Acromegaly in cats: learn to recognize the symptoms of this pathology, they could be subtle and act too late.

Acromegaly in cats is a disease that mainly affects elderly cats (average age 10 years), a predisposition in any particular breed has not been ascertained, but we know that male subjects with poorly balanced diabetes suffer more.

Excessive production of a hormone (growth hormone) in the brain generates many problems for our furry friend. Normally, the production of this hormone is regulated according to the needs of the body.

Causes of acromegaly in cats

Acromegaly in cats is mainly caused by the presence of a pituitary adenoma, which is a non-malignant but productive tumor responsible for the overproduction of growth hormone. This tends to increase its size, creating problems at the local level as well.

The overabundant production of growth hormone (GH) generates arthropathies, bone remodeling, progressive increase in the volume of the abdominal organs, cardiovascular diseases and a reduction in insulin sensitivity at the cellular level which leads to the development of insulin-resistant diabetes mellitus (prevents insulin to act on cells).


The symptoms of acromegaly in cats are generated both by the effects of GH and by the compression of the tumor in the brain. In this pathology, a characteristic symptom is the development of type II diabetes mellitus, due to hormone-induced insulin resistance. Other clinical signs due to this disease are:

  • weight loss in cats;
  • moderate dehydration;
  • noisy breathing, especially during sleep;
  • morphological changes in the head and extremities of the limbs;
  • intolerance to carbohydrates;
  • increased urine (polyuria);
  • feeling of intense thirst (polydipsia);
  • increased sense of pathological hunger (polyphagia);
  • lameness in the cat;
  • heart murmur;
  • heart failure;
  • dilation of the pupil of the eye in the absence of light (mydriasis);
  • increase in interdental spaces;
  • blindness.

Diagnosis and treatment of acromegaly in cats

The diagnosis of acromegaly in cats is certainly complicated, especially in its initial phase as the particular characteristic of this disease consists in a very slow progression, to the point where many owners are not able to perceive the typical morphological changes. In this way the vet will be able to take note of the disease very late and therefore in the meantime several complications will have arisen.

To establish a diagnosis, the doctor will proceed with urinalysis, blood tests (to establish the presence of hyperglycemia, increased enzymes, high cholesterol, the presence of urea and higher creatinine) and the dosage of growth hormone ( even if currently scholars have considered it an unreliable examination).

On the other hand, radiographs and magnetic resonances can be very helpful in studying the diagnosis. The first to identify the presence of hyperostosis of the vault of the skull, osteoarthritis of the spine, the presence of osteophytes and swelling of the soft tissues. While the second with the purpose of identifying the presence of a mass (tumor) in the pituitary gland.

But only after death it will be possible to carry out an indisputable examination for the diagnosis, it is the histological examination of the pituitary tumor. As far as the treatment is concerned, to date there is no real cure, but it is possible to try the radiotherapy treatment which is long and expensive and requires several weekly sessions but is intended to reduce the size of the tumor in the cat.

An alternative could be surgery to remove the tumor, but this is only possible at the University of Utrecht. Unfortunately, currently there is still talk of experimental protocols with drugs borrowed from human medicine, but which do not seem to have met the expected success.

It therefore remains to be able to consider medical treatment in cats,  which mainly consists in the correct management of insulin-resistant diabetes. Prognosis will depend on whether the diabetes can be stabilized, as most cats with feline acromegaly die from heart failure or kidney failure or complications from diabetes.

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