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Hypothyroidism in Dogs

It is time once again to talk about that little structure in the neck: the thyroid gland.  We have covered what happens when this gland becomes overactive, but what about when it becomes underactive?  Canine hypothyroidism is a thyroid disease in dogs characterized by an under-active thyroid gland and inadequate levels of thyroid hormones in the body.  It is extremely rare in cats, so we will focus on this disease in dogs.

Hypothyroidism occurs in middle-aged to older dogs and is more common in females than in males.  Certain breeds are at greater risk, including boxers, cocker spaniels, Airedale terriers, golden retrievers and several others.

The thyroid hormones are involved in metabolism, so when there are low levels of thyroid hormones, there is a general slowing of the metabolism.  Hypothyroidism in dogs symptoms develop slowly, and may include:

  • Lethargy and depression
  • Reluctance or reduced tolerance to exercise
  • Increased sleeping
  • Personality changes
  • Weight gain
  • Hair and skin changes
  • Heat seeking behavior
  • Neurological abnormalities such as weakness, drooping of facial muscles, etc.

In the majority of cases, the cause is unknown however it is thought that destruction of the thyroid gland by the body’s own immune system may be involved.

Diagnosis is made by your veterinarian using blood tests.  Treatment for hypothyroidism in dogs is fairly simple and involves medicating the pooch with thyroid hormones daily.  It is usually successful, and the patient is expected to have a normal quality of life and lifespan, provided the medication is continued throughout his or her life.

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