What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a hormone-producing gland at the back of the neck that is present in dogs and humans alike. The thyroid gland produces two particular hormones when a dog is mature called Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). These dog hormones play a part in the metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, digestion and in weight regulation, making this gland pretty important for your dog’s body. A healthy thyroid in dogs will help to keep their weight steady and make sure they get the most out of the food they digest. When there is a problem with their thyroid, however, such as it creating too much or too little of these essential hormones, it can lead to a number of issues for your pooch.
What causes dog thyroid problems?
The majority of these issues are either related to an underactive or overactive thyroid in dogs. When a dog isn’t creating the right amount of these hormones, for whatever reason, it can lead to numerous problems relating to their weight, metabolism and digestive function. Due to the causes and effects of the specific problem, they can each have different thyroid symptoms in dogs (and humans) to look out for, so you can’t assume all will be the same.
What are the most common thyroid problems in dogs?
In general, thyroid problems in dogs can be split into two categories - hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid). For dogs, the former is the most common, with around 90% of overall thyroid problems in dogs being a result of too little of the T3 and T4 hormones being produced. So what are these two thyroid issues?
Hypothyroidism in dogs
Hypothyroidism is also known as an underactive thyroid in dogs and is caused by the gland creating too little of the important T3 and T4 hormones. The majority of the time, this underactivity is caused by damage to the thyroid gland. The two main causes of this are Lymphocytic Thyroiditis (an immune system disorder that results in inflammation of the thyroid gland) and Idiopathic Thyroid Atrophy of the gland (a condition where the gland shrinks for no currently known reason). It can also be caused, in more rare cases, by cancer and birth defects.
As a result of not enough of the thyroid hormones being produced, hypothyroidism in dogs can cause many issues, mostly related to a slowing of their metabolism. This can happen to any dog and at any age and, as it is not a sudden condition, it can advance or worsen over time. Whilst hypothyroidism can, in theory, affect any dog, there are certain breeds that are said to be more predisposed than others. It seems to be most common in medium to large breeds over smaller ones, with those such as Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, Irish Setters and Doberman Pinschers being most at risk.
When looking out for the signs of hypothyroidism, you want to check for those related to symptoms of an underactive thyroid in dogs. As with any health issue, the symptoms will vary from dog to dog and will depend on the severity of the issue as well as any other health problems they may have. In addition, it is important to remember that the signs of hypothyroidism are often confused with other health issues, so consult your vet if you want to make sure. Here are the most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism in dogs to look out for:
- Weight gain
- Dull skin and coat
- Hair loss or thinning
- Lower body temperature
- Intolerance to the cold
Hyperthyroidism in dogs
Hyperthyroidism is also known as an overactive thyroid and is caused when the thyroid gland produces too much of the T3 and T4 hormones. Whilst hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism, there are some typical causes. Hyperthyroidism is usually caused by either an over-functioning thyroid nodule or thyroid cancer (as a tumour can interfere with its normal function). It can even be caused as a response to medication to treat hypothyroidism, causing an opposite effect, so it is important you always watch out and be careful when your dog is on any sort of medication.
When wondering if your dog could have some sort of thyroid problem, it is important you look into the specific hyperthyroidism in dogs symptoms. In a sense, they are the opposite of hypothyroidism but do not assume they automatically have the issue. Dog’s can have a number of health problems with similar symptoms so always visit your vet to be sure. Here are the most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism in dogs to look out for:
- Excessive energy
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite and thirst
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
- Fast heart rate
- Increased urination
- Shortness of breath
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland
Treatment for thyroid problems in dogs
So you’ve noticed some of the symptoms of thyroid problems in dogs, what should you do next? Firstly, you need to make sure that it is a thyroid issue and not something else. Symptoms such as weight loss or gain and a dull coat can be a sign of a variety of health issues in dogs and may have no relation to their thyroid function. To be sure, visit your vets where they will be able to help you diagnose the problem by looking at the clinical signs and by taking blood tests. They can also be more specific and identify if their thyroid is making too much or too little of the T3 and T4 hormones.
Once you’ve established the issue, you can look into what you can do to help. Firstly, there may be treatment options available depending on what is causing the imbalance in your dog’s thyroid hormone levels. If it’s caused by inflammation of thyroid tumours, they can take appropriate action to deal with those issues which may help with their thyroid overall. Once your dog’s thyroid levels have been damaged though, there is, unfortunately, no cure. The good news, however, is that thyroid issues can be manageable and can easily be helped with supplements given to your dog on a daily basis.
Artificial T3 and T4 supplements are usually the most popular for those with an underactive thyroid as they help to boost internal levels. These will, however, need to be given to your dog for the rest of their life but are a simple addition when compared to the consequences of your dog not taking them. You will also need regular trips to your vets to monitor their hormone levels and make sure they are healthy. There are also a number of dog hypothyroidism natural treatments to try for an overactive thyroid too.
Preventing thyroid problems in dogs
Once your dog has a thyroid issue, they’ll need regular treatment to help them with the symptoms. If your dog has not yet encountered a problem with their thyroid yet, but you’re worried they may (either because they are a typically predisposed breed or you just want to care for their overall health), the best steps to take are preventative ones.
One of the easiest ways to do this is through their diet. There are two amazing minerals that are important to work into their daily diet in order to support the health of their thyroid - Iodine and Selenium. Iodine is known to contribute to the normal production of thyroid hormones and normal thyroid function, making it the number one nutrient for your dog’s thyroid. Rich sources of Iodine include seaweed, shrimp, tuna and eggs. If these are too difficult to give to your dog on a regular basis, you can try a natural supplement that has a rich supply of iodine such as kelp seaweed capsules to make supporting their thyroid on a daily basis that much easier.