daily tails logo

Hypothyroidism in Dogs: How to Recognize the Signs and Seek Care

Is your fluffy pal feeling extra sleepy or gaining weight? Find out how to identify and manage hypothyroidism so your canine buddy stays happy.

By DailyTails
Janet Barben Bio
Edited by Janet Barben

Published February 5, 2024.

Hypothyroidism in Dogs: How to Recognize the Signs and Seek Care

Hypothyroidism is a common hormonal disorder that affects dogs. It occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormone thyroxine, which regulates your dog’s metabolism. Left untreated, hypothyroidism can seriously impact your dog’s health and quality of life. However, with proper treatment and monitoring, most dogs live happy lives.

This guide will help you recognize the signs of canine hypothyroidism, understand what testing and treatment involve, and learn how to manage your dog’s care best.

Demystifying the Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is a key aspect in regulating your dog's metabolism, influencing how efficiently they convert food into energy. It produces two key hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones act like chemical messengers, orchestrating various bodily functions, including:

  • Growth and development: Ensuring proper growth in puppies and maintaining tissue health throughout life.
  • Energy regulation: Dictating the pace of metabolism, impacting energy levels and weight management.
  • Skin and coat health: Promoting healthy skin and fur growth, contributing to a vibrant appearance.
  • Nervous system function: Influencing mood, behavior, and cognitive function.
  • Reproductive health: Playing a role in both male and female reproductive cycles.

What Causes Hypothyroidism in Dogs?

In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland becomes underactive, producing insufficient T4 and T3 hormones. This hormonal imbalance throws the internal system out of whack, leading to a cascade of potential symptoms affecting various body systems. There are several potential causes of this:

  • Lymphocytic thyroiditis: An autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid tissue. This is the most common cause in dogs.

  • Idiopathic hypothyroidism: When the cause is unknown, but the thyroid gland shrinks or tissue is replaced by fat cells.

  • Trauma or damage to the thyroid gland

  • Rare thyroid cancers

Understanding these causes can help you discuss diagnostic options with your veterinarian if hypothyroidism is suspected in your dog.

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms

The thyroid hormone thyroxine affects all organs and body systems, so the signs of hypothyroidism can vary between dogs. However, some common symptoms to watch for include:

  • Weight gain: Despite normal or decreased appetite, unexplained weight gain is a telltale sign.

  • Lethargy and decreased energy: Lack of enthusiasm for walks, playtime, or even favorite activities can indicate low energy levels.

  • Skin and coat changes: Dry, dull fur, excessive shedding, thinning hair, or even thickening skin are common concerns.

  • Intolerance to cold: Difficulty regulating body temperature, making them seek warmth more often and struggle in cold environments.

  • Recurring ear or skin infections: A weakened immune system due to hypothyroidism can lead to frequent infections.

  • Behavioral changes: Aggression, anxiety, depression, or even changes in vocalization can sometimes be linked to the condition.

  • Neurological signs: In severe cases, seizures or stumbling gait can occur.

Keeping an eye out for these signs and telling your veterinarian about any changes can aid in diagnosis.

Breeds at Risk and Age Onset:

While any dog can develop hypothyroidism, certain breeds are predisposed, including:

  • Golden Retrievers

  • Doberman Pinschers

  • Rottweilers

  • Dachshunds

  • Boxers

  • Irish Setters

  • Chow Chows

  • Old English Sheepdogs

The condition typically occurs in middle-aged dogs (4-10 years old) but can affect puppies and seniors.

Diagnostic Testing

If your veterinarian suspects hypothyroidism based on your dog’s symptoms, they will likely recommend blood tests to check hormone levels. While these tests can be expensive, they are a key aspect of diagnosis. Pet insurance will cover at least part of the costs, and will provide you additional peace of mind throughout the process.

Common tests include:

  • Total T4 (thyroxine) level: Checks the main thyroid hormone

  • TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone): Evaluates the body’s signal to produce more thyroid hormone

  • General health screening tests

Based on the results, your vet can determine if your dog has hypothyroidism or if other conditions are causing the symptoms. Additional tests like imaging may occasionally be needed to assess thyroid structure. Discuss all your questions about the diagnostic process with your veterinarian.

Treatment Options

The good news about hypothyroidism in dogs is that it is very treatable! Treatment focuses on replacing the missing thyroid hormone. Synthetic thyroxine medication is one option. This oral medication (generic name is levothyroxine) provides the thyroid hormone your dog’s body lacks.

You'll also need to monitor your dog's condition continuously. This includes blood tests every 6-12 months to ensure adequate hormone levels, and your vet will adjust medication dosages over time as needed.

While diet changes are sometimes recommended, most veterinarians focus on high-quality food, proper weight management, and medication compliance. Additional treatments can support skin and coat health if those are impacted.

What is the Prognosis for Hypothyroid Dogs?

With early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, the long-term prognosis for hypothyroid dogs is very good. They typically regain an excellent quality of life once on thyroid medication. However, treatment is lifelong in nearly all cases – stopping medication would allow symptoms to return. Complications are unlikely if you follow your veterinarian’s monitoring and treatment recommendations.

Occasionally, dogs may struggle with polypharmacy if they have multiple conditions requiring many medications. Make sure to fully discuss all treatments, dosages, and potential side effects with your veterinary team. Open communication ensures you understand what is involved in managing your dog’s health.

Seeking Veterinary Care and Long-Term Management

As a dog owner, recognizing potential signs of illness and seeking veterinary care is key to treating your dog promptly. Hypothyroidism can potentially become very serious if untreated. Monitor your dog closely and record any concerning symptoms or behavioral changes. Bring this history to your first veterinary visit. Questions to ask include:

  • What diagnostic tests do you recommend, and what will they tell us?

  • Beyond hypothyroidism, what else could potentially cause these signs?

  • Once we have the results, what treatment options would you advise?

  • What is the expected response time once treatment begins?

  • How often will rechecks and bloodwork be needed for monitoring?

Remember, hypothyroidism requires long-term management in dogs. While this may feel overwhelming initially, your dog will likely gain an excellent quality of life with appropriate care. Maintaining open communication with your veterinary team ensures you understand what successful management involves. Most dog owners find seeing their hypothyroid dogs happy and healthy again rewarding!

Provide Peace of Mind for Your Pup

By embracing these strategies and working hand-in-hand with your veterinarian, you can empower your dog with hypothyroidism to live a long, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Consider pet insurance—managing a chronic condition like hypothyroidism can involve ongoing veterinary expenses. Browse the insurance options on DailyTails. Insuring your pet can help alleviate the financial burdens associated with treatment and unexpected health issues.

Joining support groups to connect with other dog owners navigating life with hypothyroidism. They can offer valuable emotional support, shared experiences, and helpful tips. Online forums and local support groups can be great resources.

Remember, you're not alone in this journey, and with proactive management and unwavering love, your canine companion can thrive despite their condition.