Is your dog overweight? Has he or she failed to lose weight despite your best efforts with a diet? Perhaps there’s a medical reason for their plumpy figure? Does your dog suffer from recurrent skin infections, have a dull coat and shed a lot of hair, or maybe even have some balding patches? These can all be symptoms of an under-active thyroid gland.
Hypothyroidism, or an under-active thyroid, is far more common than you may think. But because it does not cause one specific symptom, nor does it make dogs suddenly sick, the symptoms often go unnoticed for some time before the disease is diagnosed. The symptoms are relatively mild, vague and certainly not specific to hypothyroidism.
Classically dogs with an under-active thyroid have the following complaints – they are overweight, lethargic, have a poor hair coat and don’t tolerate the cold!
However, not all hypothyroid dogs have all these classical signs, and so it is a disease that we can only definitively diagnose using blood tests. As well as dull, wirey hair with thin balding patches of skin, hypothyroid dogs commonly have excess black pigment in the skin of their groin, a condition called acanthosis nigricans. Sometimes this pigment is present over much of the body and the skin becomes oily and thickened. Hypothyroid dogs can also have mental dullness and a reluctance to exercise since a deficiency of thyroid hormone causes a slowing of their metabolism.
Several breeds that seem to be popular with South Africans, such as Ridgebacks, Staffies, Golden Retrievers, Labradors and Boxers, are commonly affected.
If you suspect your dog has an under-active thyroid gland, see a vet who has an interest in hormone diseases (endocrinology) and they may suggest some blood tests. Often more than one test may be required to make a definitive diagnosis. Fortunately if your dog is diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, there is very successful and not too costly treatment available. This consists of thyroid hormone replacement therapy with a drug called Thyroxine.
Whilst there are dosage guidelines, every dog’s requirements for Thyroxine are slightly different and so follow up thyroid tests will be regularly required to adjust the dose to the correct level for your individual dog, and to monitor that the level stays correct over the years. It does mean life long medication but you will gradually see your mate come back to life and their former glory. It is truly wonderful to have your lively pet back again and in a much healthier state.