If you’ve noticed your dog is gaining weight for no obvious reason, shivers frequently, and is lethargic, it could be due to an underactive thyroid gland. Recovery can sometimes be as simple as getting treatment and making some changes to your dog’s life.
Keep reading to find out more about canine hypothyroidism, causes, treatments, and how a healthy lifestyle could help prevent the disease altogether.
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Thyroid Gland Problem: What is Hypothyroidism in Dogs?
Canine hypothyroidism is a thyroid disease caused by underactive thyroid function.
The thyroid is a gland in the throat found in all vertebrates including humans. It’s regulated by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain, which produces the thyroid-stimulating hormone TSH. This hormone gives the thyroid gland instructions on how much T4 (thyroxine) and T3 to produce. It regulates the body’s metabolic processes, growth, and development.
There are two main types of thyroid problems: hyperthyroidism, when the gland produces too much thyroid hormone, and hypothyroidism when the gland isn’t producing enough. Primary hypothyroidism is when there isn’t enough thyroid hormone in the pituitary gland.
The most common hypothyroid problem is a disorder of the immune system disorder called autoimmune or lymphocytic thyroiditis.
This means the dog’s own body is attacking the thyroid gland tissues. An inflammation of the thyroid, called thyroiditis, can also occur.
Congenital hypothyroidism is a less common form that affects some puppies, generally due to an underdeveloped thyroid producing limited thyroxine.
What Dog Breeds Are Prone to Canine Hypothyroidism?
A hypothyroid most frequently affects middle-size to large dogs, although it can occur in any dog. Some of the breeds most prone are:
- Chocolate and golden retrievers
- Cocker spaniels
- Doberman pinschers
- Irish setters
It’s especially common in retrievers; up to 80% of this breed who show the signs are diagnosed with a hypothyroid. If your pooch is a retriever, or susceptible to weight gain, you may want to be extra diligent if they start showing symptoms.
What Causes Hypothyroidism in Dogs?
It’s not always clear what causes a hyperthyroid. Some dogs are predisposed, and carrying extra weight or a lack of exercise can increase the chances.
One big contender is a dog’s environment. Exposure to toxins, over-vaccination, and some medications like corticosteroids, can pose health risks.
Diet is often linked to the disease. Poor quality, highly processed dog foods don’t always provide your pet with the nutrients they need. In fact, they sometimes contain chemical additives that your dogs don’t need and that the body really doesn’t want.
Weight Gain, Low Heart Rate, and More… Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Dogs
Because the deficiency of the thyroid hormone affects all the organs in the body, symptoms can be varied. General symptoms can sometimes indicate another non-thyroidal illness.
Knowing your dog’s routine and habits can help you catch the signs early. Even if it’s not due to a hypothyroid, it could be something else that can be easily resolved.
Hypothyroid dogs may:
- Start gaining weight
- Become lethargic or depressed
- Have a decreased heart rate
- Seem chilly and start seeking out warmer places
- Have a dry and brittle coat
Hypothyroidism in Dogs: Symptoms that Occur When Tumors Are Present
Tumors and cancers are sometimes associated with a hypothyroid and can affect TSH levels. Generally, these tumors occur around the larynx or other areas of the throat near the thyroid gland.
A tumor may show as a lump protruding from the throat area, or you may be able to feel this on your dog. However, depending on its size and location a tumor may not always be visible.
Other signs could be:
- A change in the bark (including hoarseness)
- Decrease in appetite
Thyroid Hormone Levels: Clinical Signs of Hypothyroidism in Dogs
Because the initial symptoms of hypothyroid dogs are so general, it is possible you won’t realize your dog is unwell until more severe clinical signs start to show.
As the thyroid function is impeded further, you may start to see the following:
- A change in disposition, such as depression or aggression
- Puffiness on the face and around the eyes
- Excessive hair loss or greasy skin
- Reproductive imbalances (such as failure to cycle in females)
- Secondary infections (ear, eye)
An untreated hypothyroid can be fatal, even leading to a myxedema coma as bodily functions begin to slow, so if your dog is exhibiting these symptoms it’s time to get a diagnosis.
Vets Know Best! Hypothyroidism in Dog Treatment
Early diagnosis and treatment of a hypothyroid can increase your dog’s chances of a full recovery.
Your vet will first want to properly diagnose the illness. This is relatively straightforward with blood tests that check levels of TSH and other thyroid hormones. Your vet may also want to do a urine analysis, Complete Blood Count (CBC) test, and may take a chemistry profile. This will help eliminate the possibility of any other conditions.
Thyroid imaging, X-rays, and diagnostic scans will help to identify any thyroid tissue tumors and pinpoint exactly what needs treatment. For tumors, a biopsy, surgical treatment, or radiation may also be necessary.
To help balance hormone levels, your dog may be prescribed a thyrotropin-releasing hormone to stimulate the production of TSH, or a synthetic thyroxine hormone. In very severe cases, your dog may need hormone replacement for the rest of its life, but this isn’t always necessary.
Make sure you administer any prescribed treatments as your vet advises. Never discontinue medication without your vet’s approval, even as your dog’s symptoms of a hypothyroid lessen. Schedule some follow-up appointments to check recovery is on track.
Quality Food for Doggo! Hypothyroidism in Dog’s Diet
Good quality dog food can help your dog recover or live more comfortably with a hypothyroid. As well as providing the body with nutrients it needs to recover, good food helps maintain general health. You may like to discuss diet changes with your vet.
Foods that are fatty, heavily processed, lacking in nutrients, or aren’t part of a dog’s natural diet can contribute to ill health. So what does healthy, high-quality food look like? Think about a natural diet for a dog and start from there.
- Try giving your dog more raw foods
- Go grain-free, especially because so many cheap grains contain GMOs
- Get any meat only from a reputable source
- For off the shelf food, look for less processed foods with good ingredients
Make any diet changes gradually so your dog’s body can adjust and to ensure they’re still getting enough calories. Also, remember that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
The perfect hypothyroid diet for one dog may not suit yours.
Natural Treatment for Hypothyroidism in Dogs
Thyroid glands need iodine. Sometimes your veterinarian may prescribe this, but you can also look for alternative natural treatments.
Kelp is an excellent source of this mineral and is often recommended by holistic veterinarians. With a range of other nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium, it can also have other health benefits. Kelp supplements can be obtained at many pet stores.
Pay attention to any recommended doses; however, too much iodine can become a problem in itself!
Some people also recommend treatments from traditional Chinese medicine, such as ginseng and astragalus.
And one ultimate natural treatment?
Your love and attention!
Help your dog stay active and in a good mood by playing with them regularly.
Happy Pups + Good Care = Happy Pet Parent
Whether your dog has to live with a hypothyroid for the rest of their life or whether they can recover, one of the best things you can do is give them love and a healthy lifestyle.
Know your dog’s habits and moods, feed them a good diet, and make sure they get plenty of exercise, and you’ll have not just a healthy pup but a happy one.
And when your dog’s happy, you will be too!