Hypothyroidism in dogs can be mistaken for a dog just getting old. But hypothyroidism is treatable and your dog can recover his mojo, so be alert for the signs.   Is your dog gaining weight, shedding heavily, or constantly tired? If your answer is “Yes,” then he may have underactive thyroid glands (hypothyroidism).  

What is Hypothyroidism in Dogs?

The thyroid is a small gland in the neck. It produces thyroid hormone, which controls cell activity and metabolic rate. Think of the thyroid as the gas pedal in your car: too much gas (thyroid hormone) and the engine revs too hard, not enough and it hiccups and falters.   The result of an inadequate supply of thyroid hormone is a range of vague dog health problems such as weight gain and lack of energy.  

What Causes Hypothyroidism in Dogs?

  The most common cause, responsible for 95% of cases, is the immune system attacks the thyroid gland in a case of mistaken identity. When around 75% of the active thyroid tissue has been replaced by scar tissue, then the dog starts to show general symptoms relating to many of the body’s systems.   No-one knows why this unwarranted attack happens, but we do know hypothyroidism is more common in some breeds than others, including:

  • Dobermans
  • Old English sheepdogs
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Golden retrievers
  • Boxers
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniels

What are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Dogs?

Hypothyroidism is one of those dog diseases with a range of vague symptoms, which may be mistaken for a dog getting old.   Lack of thyroid hormone leads to a slow metabolism, which results in:

  • Lethargy and tiredness
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling the cold
  • Constipation

  In particular, a poor skin and coat condition are general indicators of dog health problems, but especially hypothyroidism. Be vigilant for:

  • Symmetrical hair loss on either side of the body
  • Heavy coat shedding
  • Failure of the coat to regrow after clipping
  • A dull coat
  • Recurring skin infections
  • Greasy skin

How to Treat Hypothyroidism in Dogs

  To get the bounce back into your best buddy’s step it takes a holistic approach including a thyroid supplement from the vet, along with dietary changes and supplements.  

Treatment and Monitoring

  Great news, treatment is easy. All it takes is a tablet (thyroid supplement), taken once or twice a day, to boost the dwindling levels of thyroid hormone. It takes a few weeks for the dog’s energy to return, and a few months for the coat to recover.   Ongoing monitoring is important to check the dose is hitting the sweet spot between too little and too much. Just as insufficient hormone affects the whole body, you can also have too much of a good thing.   Over-supplementation with thyroid hormone is the equivalent of putting your foot hard to the floor on the gas pedal. It drives the metabolism too hard, resulting in diarrhea, hyperactivity, and a racing heart rate – none of which are good news.   Regular physical exams and blood tests by the vet are essential, but it’s also helpful to be alert for change at home. This is where a PetPace collar can prove an invaluable tool. It allows you to monitor both the dog’s activity levels and heart rate over days, weeks, and months. By spotting trends early, such as a racing heart and out-of-character activity levels, you can alert the vet a medication dose change may be required.  

Diet and Hypothyroidism

Making changes to diet can benefit your dog’s health by alleviating constipation and strengthening the immune system. Hypothyroid dogs tend to gain weight, so a high fiber, low calorie food is ideal. This has the added benefit of reducing the risk of constipation.   Choose good quality foods free from artificial colorings, flavorings, or preservatives, and don’t be afraid to offer supplements of fresh fruit and vegetables. Iodine rich foods such as kelp, cranberries, and strawberries, also help by providing the raw ingredients for making thyroid hormone.  

The Hypothyroid Dog’s Behavior

  Once the levels of thyroid hormone are corrected, your dog should regain normal activity levels. However, whilst the correct dose is being found, your dog may still experience tiredness and feel the cold.   Even before treatment it’s a good idea to use a PetPace collar to monitor the dog’s activity levels, so that you have baseline reading. In the future, a return to these lower activity levels could alert you that a dose change is advisable.

Golden Retriever jumps over a fence | PetPace

Golden retrievers are also prone to hypothyroidism, but with correct treatment can lead a full and active life.

Home Remedies for Hypothyroidism in Dogs

As with many dog health problems, hypothyroidism alters the body’s ability to cope with stress. Holistic veterinarians suggest giving flower essences, such as Rescue Remedy, at times when stress is anticipated.   In addition, the following can help to strengthen a weakened immune system:

  • Echinacea
  • Vitamins C & E
  • Rosemary extract
  • Dog probiotics
  • Omega 3 & 6 oils

  Hypothyroidism is one of those dog diseases which is surprisingly common and often mimics old age. If this article has struck a chord, don’t write your dog off as “Showing his age,” but get a vet checkup.

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