Hypothyroidism is defined as the disease state in humans and animals caused by insufficient production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland. It is very common in dogs but never happens in cats. For whatever reason dogs get hypo and cats get hyperthyroid but never the other way around. It is believed to be due to an autoimmune disease but it has not been proven. Golden retrievers and Doberman Pinschers tend to have this problem very commonly but I see it also very commonly in Labradors, Rottweilers and most other large breed dog. It does occur in small breeds but it is not as common. Most dogs tend to get this disease during middle age around 7-8 yrs old but they can be younger.
I always tell people that of all the diseases that a dog can get, hypothyroidism is one of the best. It’s relatively easy to diagnose, easy and inexpensive to treat and a lot of the time your dog feels so good on the treatment that they act like a new dog.
So, what symptoms does a dog exhibit when they are hypothyroid? If you think of the thyroid as a metabolic throttle and it is stuck on slow speed you can kind of get an idea what the symptoms could be. Most dogs tend to be overweight and no matter how much they diet they can’t lose any weight. These dogs would rather lie around and sleep than go out and play or walk or anything else. The other most common symptom for hypothyroidism is have chronic skin problems such as skin infections, allergies, shedding problems and numerous other chronic skin problems. The reason for this is that the normal skin sloughing that occurs doesn’t work as well. The dead skin cells tend to stick to the new cells below them. This is the same reason that the other most common symptom of hypothyroidism occurs and that is chronic ear infections and other ear problems.
Diagnosing this disease is done by a blood test. Usually your veterinarian will want to run what we call a complete panel, CBC and T4. This will show us not only what’s going on with the thyroid but also the liver, kidneys and give us a total picture of the health of your dog.
After being diagnosed with hypothyroidism your veterinarian will start your dogs on medication which is not a drug but simply the thyroid compound that the dog’s thyroid is not producing. The medication is usually given twice daily and now can even found as a chewable pill.
Follow up for hypothyroidism usually requires blood testing after the dog has been on the medication for a few weeks and then again every six months but your veterinarian may want to do rechecks either more or less often.