Since 1979, a mysterious epidemic has been afflicting house cats. Feline hyperthyroidism, usually characterized by weight loss, hyperactivity, and eventual heart disease, is now the leading hormonal disorder in cats. A pilot study tentatively links it to certain flame retardants that began showing up in the environment in 1979 and are now ubiquitous.
The chemicals, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), show up in water, fish, house dust, human foods, and people (SN: 10/25/03, p. 266).
Veterinarian Janice A. Dye of the Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, N.C., realized that indoor cats—already known to be at high risk of hyperthyroidism—consume a lot of dust when they groom themselves. Data have suggested that sick cats are also more likely than healthy felines to have eaten canned cat food, especially fish varieties.