Hypothyroidism in dogs is a fairly common issue. It can affect any dog, but is more common among middle-aged dogs of medium to large breeds. While breeds such as the Boxer, Golden Retriever, Dachshund, Doberman Pincher, Irish Setter and Cocker Spaniel are more susceptible, it can certainly affect Australian Shepherds as well. If it does affect your dog, the sooner you can get him treated the better off he'll be.
So what exactly is hypothyroidism? It is a condition that affects the thyroid gland, preventing it from functioning normally. The thyroid, which is located in the neck, produces a hormone called thyroxine that helps to control metabolism, the process in which the body turns the food that is eaten into fuel. When the level of thyroxine is not adequate, it can cause serious issues within the body.
In hypothyroidism, the thyroid does not produce enough thyroxine. The exact cause of hypothyroidism in dogs is not known but it is believed to result from the dog's immune system attacking the thyroid gland. In other cases it can be caused by shrinkage of the gland or, rarely, by a tumor on the gland. Whatever the cause, what is known about hypothyroidism is that it is not life-threatening, however if left untreated it can have a serious effect on your dog's quality of life.
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Does your dog not seem like their normal self? Hypothyroidism can manifest itself in many physical and behavioral symptoms.
The common symptoms of hypothyroidism in dogs can include hair loss, usually on the trunk, the back of the rear legs and the tail along with a dull and thin coat. His skin may appear flaky, but not red or itchy as it would with an allergic reaction, and he may have black patches of skin. Other symptoms include weight gain, muscle loss, sluggishness, a slowed heart rate, toenail and ear infections and intolerance to cold. Less common symptoms include seizures, heart and blood vessel problems, and infertility.
If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should get him to the vet as soon as possible for a thorough exam and proper diagnosis. In order to pinpoint a diagnosis of hypothyroidism your vet will need to run a series of blood tests. Once the diagnosis is made you will then be able to start your dog on the proper course of treatment.
Fortunately, hypothyroidism in dogs is fairly easy to treat, usually using the drug levothyroxine, or L-thyroxine. L-thyroxine is available under several brand names. It is administered orally and must be taken for the rest of your dog's life. A dog is usually given a standard dose based on his weight and then the vet checks blood samples from time to time and adjusts the dose accordingly. Once treatment starts, the symptoms of the condition usually begin to subside and most are completely resolved.
Because the symptoms of hypothyroidism can often mimic those of other conditions, it is often overlooked as a possible cause. This is particularly true for dogs that exhibit one of the most common symptoms, changes in behavior. Formerly sweet natured dogs that suddenly start acting grumpy, fearful, or aggressive are often just assumed to have behavioral issues when it could actually be hypothyroidism at the core of their problem.
So if your once happy, active and friendly Aussie suddenly starts acting withdrawn or aggressive, you may want to have your vet check for the possibility of an underlying issue. Hypothyroidism in dogs is nothing to be afraid of but if it does rear its ugly head, getting him treated quickly will make life easier for both of you.
For more information about Thyroid Disease in Australian Shepherds see the Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute (ASHGI).
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