The problems associated with canine hypothyroidism range from inconvenient shedding to extreme muscle pain, infections, and feeding problems that make your dog’s everyday life more difficult. These symptoms are caused by an imbalance in your pet’s hormones. Thankfully, medications are available to regulate your dog’s system. So with proper treatment, dogs with hypothyroidism can live longer, happier, and more productive lives. Helping your pet is basically a three-step process.
Step One: Getting the Right Diagnosis
Diagnosing hypothyroidism in dogs can be difficult. If your pet shows signs of the disease such as inactivity, obesity, hair loss, and skin sores or infections, your veterinarian may order a blood test that will screen for thyroxine (T4). If T4 levels are normal, your dog most likely does not have hypothyroidism so the vet will look for other causes of the symptoms. If T4 levels are low, your dog may have hypothyroidism, but since low concentrations of T4 can occur for other reasons, your vet will also need to do a blood test to determine your dog’s levels for free thyroxine (FT4), Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), and cholesterol.
Step Two: Committing to Lifelong Medication Therapy
Once it’s confirmed that your pet has hypothyroidism, your vet will prescribe an oral replacement hormone. Most dogs with this condition are placed on the T4 thyroid medication levothyroxine, which is the active ingredient in Soloxine, or L-thyroxine, which is found in the generic alternative Thyro-Tabs (L-Thyroxine). T4 is converted into T3 in the body. In some instances dogs are unable to make this conversion, however. In those cases, your vet will prescribe a T3 medication instead.
Initially, your dog may need to take two doses of the replacement hormones daily, but you may be able to switch to a once-a-day medication as soon as you can see noticeable improvements such as a healthy-looking coat. It’s important to remember that once damaged the thyroid gland is permanently unable to produce the hormones dogs need to remain healthy. Therefore,dogs with hypothyroidism need to take a replacement hormone for the rest of their lives.These medications are generally safe for all breeds, but if your pet suffers from heart disease, anemia, diabetes, or problems with the pituitary or adrenal glands you should speak to your veterinarian about possible risks associated with hormone therapy.
In addition to treating the hypothyroidism, your vet may need to treat some of the symptoms or complications that the hypothyroidism caused. For instance, pets that contracted ear infections should have their ears cleaned and receive antibiotics. Once the cycle of antibiotics is finished and the infection clears that treatment can be stopped.
Step Three: Continuing to Monitor Your Pet
Ongoing, your vet will need to check your dog’s hormone levels regularly to be sure that the proper dose of T4 or T3 is being administered. Receiving too much of the synthetic hormone can lead to hyperthyroidism (thyrotoxicosis) which may cause weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, hypertension, excessive thirst, excessive urination, rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing. If you notice a sudden onset of these symptoms, you should contact your vet immediately.
Your dog will likely be checked about once a month at first to assess whether the right dosage is being given. At these visits, your vet will test hormone levels and look for signs that symptoms are going away. You can expect to see your pet’s level of activity, personality, and appetite begin to improve within one to two weeks after starting medication. It may take four to eight weeks before fur begins to noticeably grow back and skin problems heal. Eventually, your vet will probably recommend that you bring your dog in once or twice a year to monitor hormone levels and overall health.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.