Thyroid diseases are unfortunately common in pets. The hormones produced by this small gland in the neck control essential components of your dog’s everyday life. If something starts to go wrong with the gland or your dog’s hormone levels are imbalanced, it won’t take long for you to notice.
The most common disease affecting the thyroid in dogs is called hypothyroidism. While other animals may suffer from hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism is much more common in dogs and has some pretty distinct symptoms. If you notice your dog gaining weight and becoming extremely lethargic, there may be something serious occurring on the inside.
The thyroid and hypothyroidism
The thyroid is an integral part of your dog’s adrenal system. It is responsible for producing hormones that help regulate the metabolism. One of the major hormones produced in the thyroid is thyroxine. Diseases of the thyroid can affect how much of this and other hormones are produced and distributed throughout the body.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your dog’s thyroid does not produce an adequate amount of hormones. This usually results in the metabolism slowing, as well as other side effects due to the hormonal imbalance’s effect on other internal organs.
When thyroid hormones are too low, your dog’s metabolism will not function properly, and food will not be broken down into energy. This means that your dog might begin to eat less but also gain weight, since the food is being stored as fat rather than being utilized.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism will vary from dog to dog and can change based on the level of thyroid hormones present in your dog’s body. Generally, though, hypothyroidism can cause the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Increased shedding or hair loss/thinning
- Slow heart rate
- Mental dullness
- Ear infections
- Intolerance to cold
Most dog owners begin to notice a thyroid problem in their dogs because of changes in their coat. Your dog’s hair may begin to thin out in places and look very dull in others.
Your dog’s behavior will likely also change. Because its body will not break food down into the fuel it needs to function, your dog will likely become very lethargic and struggle to do even minor forms of exercise. This, in turn, will result in muscle loss because your dog is not exercising enough to keep those muscles engaged and strong.
Additionally, your dog may become extremely susceptible to the cold and might seek out warm places to hide. This is because, without the proper conversion of food to fuel, its body cannot properly regulate its temperature.
Causes of hypothyroidism also vary and may include the destruction of the thyroid gland, cancer or birth defects. Destruction is the most common and is usually the result of the immune system attacking healthy tissue in the thyroid.
The thyroid will not regenerate on its own once damage has occurred. Therefore, the body continues to receive less and less of the important hormones the thyroid glands are supposed to produce.
Hypothyroidism typically appears in middle-aged dogs, age 4-10. Medium-to-large-sized dog breeds tend to be more susceptible to developing hypothyroidism than smaller breeds. Golden retrievers, Doberman pinchers, dachshunds and cocker spaniels are a few of the breeds most commonly afflicted.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from hypothyroidism, it’s very important to visit a veterinarian to get a careful diagnosis. Many other diseases can present symptoms that are similar to those caused by hypothyroidism, so misdiagnosis is unfortunately quite common. Your vet will need to conduct blood tests and check the levels of thyroid hormones in your dog’s body to reach a conclusion.
Once your dog has been diagnosed properly, the good news is that hypothyroidism is treatable! The main form of treatment will likely be a dose of hormones to make up for the hormones your dog’s body isn’t producing enough of. This supplemental hormone will need to be given to your dog for the duration of its life.
In addition to supplemental hormone treatment, you may also want to consider giving your dog a thyroid support supplement to improve its condition. These supplements contain natural herbs that have been shown to be effective in the regulation of the adrenal system. Supplementation may also be effective for dogs that aren’t able to receive hormones or whose condition is not improving.
Helping your dog manage hypothyroidism is a life-long commitment. But, with the right diagnosis and routine testing, your dog’s hormone levels can easily be regulated, and your pooch will be able to live out a long, happy and healthy life with its metabolism back on track.