Thursday, April 15, 2010

Canine Hypothyroidism

One of the dogs I'm fostering has more things wrong with him than I can count on one hand.  He has allergies and ear infections, he gains weight easily, he's extremely slow to learn, he has anxiety issues as well as aggression issues, and he's just all around weird.  From time to time he'd display other issues, but evenutally I just quit counting.  Being a trainer, I always have to cinsider the possibility that the behaviors are medically driven, but I couldn't seem to find one condition that matched all of his behaviors.  Heck, I couldn't even find just two.  And, honestly, I don't think any dog is that unlucky.

Initially, I overlooked hypothyroidism.  Obviously, I knew it could cause all of the above syptoms, but it generally also presents with hair loss, skin discoloration, and bacterial skin infections.  That's when I started looking at borderline hypothyroidism.

What is canine hypothyroidism?
Canine hypothyroidism  is a disorder of the thyroid gland.  This affects the dog's metabolism and the regulation of the dog's metabolic rate.

Can my dog have hypothyroidism?
 While it is possible for any dog to suffer from hypothyroidism, it is more common in medium to large dogs.  There is often a genetic factor to the disease, so it is more common in the following breeds:
  • Golden retrievers
  • Doberman pinschers
  • Greyhounds
  • Irish setters
  • Dachshunds
  • Cocker spaniels
  • Airedale terriers 
Males and females are typically affected equally, although spayed females tend to be affected more than unspayed females.  As far as age is concerned, hypothyroidism typically affects dogs between 4 and 10 years old.

What are the symptoms?
There are quite a few symptoms, and your dog may have one or many.  They include, but are not limited to:
  • Lethargic behavior such as a lack of interest in play, frequent napping, tiring out on long walks
  • Weight gain, sometimes without an apparent gain in appetite
  • Bacterial infections of the skin
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss, especially on the trunk or tail (“rat’s tail”)
  • Discoloration or thickening of the skin where hair loss has occurred
  • Cold intolerance/seeking out warm places to lie down
  • Slow heart rate
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Severe behavioral changes such as unprovoked aggression, head tilt, seizures, anxiety and/or compulsivity
  • Depression 
How do I know if my dog has hypothyroidism?
The best way is to have your vet run a thyroid panel (a simple blood test).  Many vets, however, have not yet recognized border hypothyroidism as an issue.  Luckily, my vet did.  I was told that technically normal levels fall between .9 and 4.0, but that it's best to see somewhere over 2.0.  It is generally accepted that the higher side of normal is preferred.  So, consult your vet, but if your dogs levels are below 2.0 it might be best to try a low dose treatment.

How do I treat hypothyroidism?
There is no cure for hypothyroidism, but it is treatable.   Most often, veterinarians will prescribe a synthetic hormone replacement called thyroxine, but regular blood tests will be required to test the effectiveness and to make sure the dosage is correct.  Also, dogs with proper treatment tend to lead normal, long lives.

Is the medication dangerous?
Just as with any medication, some dogs can have reactions.  However, side affects with thyroxine tend to be low, and with proper monitoring it is consider to be quite safe.  Also, thyroxine is fairly inexpensive, so it's also safe for the budget!

So, all in all, if you think your dog may have thyroid issues talking to your vet certainly won't hurt anything.  And, certainly, don't be afraid to consider that his behavior issues are actually thyroid-related.  You could end up helping your dog in more ways than one.

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