Behavioral issues, lethargy, and weight gain are all signs of a dog thyroid problem. Often times, dog parents will attribute canine weight gain to feeding too many treats, too much dog food, and/or not enough exercise.
As dog mom who has shared life with a hypothyroid dog, I know all too well about the signs, symptoms, and often misdiagnosis of obesity when, in fact, the thyroid gland may be the culprit. Let’s explore so that you can have an honest conversation with your dog’s veterinarian to determine if a weight and/or behavioral issue is thyroid related.
What and Where is The Thyroid Gland?
Both people and dogs have a thyroid gland, which is a part of the endocrine system, which produces all of the dog’s hormones. It is located in the upper third of the neck and shaped similar to a butterfly or bow tie.
You can see the location of the thyroid gland in a dog from this illustration:
Perhaps at a yearly veterinary visit, your dog has blood drawn for thyroid testing. Whenever the prefix ‘hypo’ is used, this indicates lack of deficiency of a hormone.
“The thyroid hormone is involved in basically all metabolic functions including hair growth and wound healing,” writes W. Jean Dodds, DVM. “When the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone or is dysfunctional, wounds do not heal normally or fast enough, so the body is more susceptible to infection.”
As a dog mom to a Cocker Spaniel with hypothyroidism, I know firsthand how a proper diagnosis can change a dog’s entire demeanor. Monitoring the dog’s blood levels and adjusting her medication dosage meant restoring the dog’s energy level and improvement of her coat.
Dr. Dodds reports that dogs need to have their T4, FT4, T3, FT3, and TGAA antibodies tested for an accurate diagnosis.
Dog Thyroid Problems
Any dog at any age or gender can be affected with a thyroid condition, generally called hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Dr. Dodds, in her book, The Canine Thyroid Epidemic, writes that about 90 percent of the time, a thyroid condition in dogs ends up being hypothyroidism, which is what my first Cocker Spaniel had. Dr. Dodds writes that English Setters are the ones most afflicted with thyroid disease. A whopping 43 percent of English Setters have the disease.
Many times a dog will exhibit no symptoms, and perhaps the thyroid levels will show up on blood testing. Symptoms of an underactive (hypo) thyroid include, but are not limited to:
- Increased weight gain
- Cold sensitivity
- Decreased heart rate
- Hair loss or increased shedding
- Dry skin, sensitive skin, possibly with sores
- Secondary infection of the eyes, ears
Since dogs are really good at masking their symptoms, an underactive thyroid may go unnoticed, which is regular a full thyroid panel is essential during wellness examinations or veterinary visits for any issues.
The Merck Veterinary Manual indicates the most common signs of an overactive (hyper) thyroid condition in dogs as, “weight loss, increased appetite, hyperexcitability, polydipsia, polyuria, and palpable enlargement of the thyroid gland.”
For this article, we will be exploring an underactive thyroid and how it is often confused with another important and all too common condition, canine obesity.
Let’s face it: No one wants to face that their dog is fat, let alone hearing it from family, friends, or the veterinarian. I’ve heard of pet parents refusing to return to the same veterinarian after being told their dog is overweight or obese. As painful as it is to hear, it is more painful for the dog to live with obesity and its eventual consequences. Thankfully, there are things that can be done for both canine obesity and a canine thyroid condition.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, a 2 pound Yorkie is the same as an average female weighing 218 pounds and a 14 pound cat is equivalent to a 237 pound man? Did you consider that a 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5’ 4” female or 217 pound 5’ 9” male or a fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds (DSH) is equal to a 218 pound 5’ 4” female or 254 pound 5’ 9” male?
Use these weight equivalent charts to determine how much your pet weighs compared to an average adult human male or female. Click on breed/gender to view the charts. Note: For comparative purposes only. Your pet’s actual body condition should be determined by your veterinarian. Not intended to be used as a substitute for BCS or medical evaluation.
Because weight gain can be an indicator of an underlying thyroid condition, dog parents need to be aware of their dog’s weight and what ‘normal’ is as a baseline of their dog overall.
For example, do you know how to take your dog’s vital signs? If you know what they are when your dog is healthy, then you can assess and take action when monitoring your dog at home.
CLICK THIS: How to Safely Help Your Dog Lose Weight
Canine Thyroid: Diagnostic Testing and Interpretation
In her book on the thyroid epidemic, Dr. Dodds outlines a very in-depth understanding of the very latest findings on diagnosing canine hypothyroidism. She shares that very few veterinary schools have experts in the disease teaching their students. You can understand, then, why it is extremely important that you insist on having your dog’s thyroid tested regularly (at least yearly) with a blood test and sooner if there are any outward symptoms.
A complete baseline thyroid screening consists includes:
- Free T4
- Free T3
The blood is generally sent off site to a lab that specializes in thyroid testing.
My dog had a baseline thyroid blood screening this summer at his overall wellness check. In this outstanding interview, Dr. Karen Becker interviews Dr. Jean Dodds. It is worth the 18 minutes to put this on in the background while you attend to your chores or other things or just sit down and watch:
Dog Thyroid Treatment
Depending on the problem, in most cases, treatment consists of medication that is dispensed and then monitored for efficacy with followup blood draws. Dr. Dodds suggests that regular blood testing should be every four to six weeks at the beginning and then once a year thereafter.
A dog’s thyroid medication should never be stopped: It is hormone replacement therapy and will not cure the disease, but it will manage it. Pet thyroid medication should never be taken with food.
Medicine Vs. Mom
In an effort to bring you the very best in dog health and wellness topics, Fidose of Reality has teamed with former veterinary technician, Rachel Sheppard, of My Kid Has Paws blog, for her perspective on thyroid versus obesity in dogs. Click on over to read her take on this issue, then weigh in below in the comments.
Has your dog ever been diagnosed with a thyroid issue? Do you screen your dog regularly for thyroid issues? Share in the comments below.