Staff at a local health centre reported a tatty looking stray living in the garden of an empty bungalow near where they worked.
When he came into our shelter, we discovered that Charlie had very matted fur on his stomach, and was thin and bony.
Our vets removed the worst of the tangles, and took a blood sample to test for hyperthyroidism, a condition which affects older cats.
Sure enough the test came back positive.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition which causes the thyroid gland to overact. The gland swells up and the results of this are an increased appetite, an inability to maintain weight and ultimately organ failure - more commonly heart and/or kidney.
Hyperthyroidism can be treated though, and cats who have this condition can live for many years. Tablets can manage the condition, and removal of part of the thyroid gland can remove the problem altogether - although it may recur later if the remaining part of the gland develops the same condition.
Charlie was found to have a very fast heart-rate, and is on medication to slow the heart-rate before we go ahead with the op, which we hope will give him many more years of happy life.
The bungalow where Charlie lived is now up for sale, and we are informed that an elderly lady lived there, so we must assume that she has either died or gone into residential accommodation. Poor Charlie, he must have been so disorientated when he was left alone.
The staff at the health centre were absolutely right to bring Charlie to our attention, given his condition, and the place where he was living, but it can in some cases be very difficult to make an accurate judgement of a cat who appears to be a starving stray. Some cats with this condition do look to be uncared for, but that is often not the case, and we have had many occasions over the years where "starving strays" have turned out to be very much loved cats who were well cared for and receiving appropriate medication.
If your elderly cat is starting to eat more, and yet still losing weight, it would be well worth having a blood test taken, and if the results show positive for hyperthyroidism, we recommend that you take steps to inform all your neighbours, in case they think that she is a stray, have her microchipped in case she is taken and handed into a rescue centre, and consider putting a safety release collar on her with a message to the effect that she has a medical condition.
As for Charlie, he continues to eat well (!) and we are monitoring his heart rate, so that once he is fit enough his operation can go ahead, and then hopefully we can rehome him.