How to Treat Hypothyroidism in Golden Retrievers
Hypothyroidism is a condition that is common in dogs, although the golden retriever, along with the Doberman pinscher and the Irish setter, seem to be more prone to hypothyroidism than other breeds. Hypothyroidism literally means an under production of thyroid hormone. The job of the thyroid hormone is to govern the body's metabolic rate, or how quickly it burns calories. Thus, a dog with underactive thyroid glands shows a variety of symptoms consistent with a slowing up of bodily function, including unexplained weight gain. Happily, the problem can be identified and treated relatively easily, as long as you know what to look for.
Getting Veterinary Treatment
1. Get a veterinary diagnosis.
A diagnosis is made by testing the levels of thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone in your dog's blood. Basically, the vet is testing to see if the thyroid, and the chemicals that tell the thyroid to go to work, are functioning correctly.
- Low levels of thyroid hormone in itself are unreliable for identifying hypothyroidism. The thyroid may be suppressed temporarily because of ill health caused by something else. Unless absolutely essential, it is not a good idea to start thyroid hormone supplements based solely on the levels of thyroid hormone.
- Comparing the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to the amount of thyroid hormone in the blood stream is a much more reliable test. If the body needs more thyroid hormone, then levels of TSH should be raised to stimulate the thyroid to make more hormone. However, if there is a lot of TSH and the thyroid levels remain low, then there is probably a problem producing the thyroid hormone.
2. Give your dog thyroid hormone.
Hypothyroidism is relatively simple to correct, as the golden retriever merely needs to be given extra thyroid hormone in tablet form. Most thyroid tablets are given twice a day, so that a steady level remains in the blood stream.
- The tablets contain thyroxine (levothyroxine), of which Soloxine is the brand name product. There are however generic varieties available, which have the advantage of being cheaper, whilst there is a slight question mark that they are not as effective as Soloxine because they are not so well absorbed by the body.
3. Keep monitoring your dog's thyroid levels.
There is some monitoring needed, requiring repeat blood samples, to measure thyroid levels over time. This is to check the levels have risen but are not too high. The blood test should be taken 4 - 6 hours after a pill is administered, and once stable, six-monthly checks are advised.
- Giving too much thyroid hormone can potentially over stimulate the metabolism and cause a racing heart, high blood pressure, and damage to the liver and kidneys.
- Signs of overdose of thyroid include increased thirst and appetite, and restlessness.
- If you suspect your dog is on the wrong dose, contact your vet immediately.
Caring for Your Golden Retriever at Home
1. Continue treatment.
Once started, the treatment is given for life. The thyroid does not recover from hypothyroidism, so your dog will need to take thyroid pills for the rest of its life.
- It is recommended that dogs diagnosed with hypothyroidism should not be bred from, because of the likely genetic link.
2. Get your dog back to a healthy weight.
Optimize your golden's diet in order to reverse the weight gain that usually occurs with hypothyroidism. Discuss the best diet for your dog with your veterinarian, as the vet should understand the dietary requirements that will allow your golden to heal and to lose excess weight.
- In addition to dietary changes, begin an exercise routine. The is a key component of any weight loss plan. Your dog may still be exhausted and lethargic from its illness, so ramp up its exercise routine gradually.
3. Care for ongoing symptoms.
Once your dog is medicated, some of the symptoms, such as sluggishness, should go away quickly. Keep an eye on your dog and make sure it is progressively getting better.
- From the start of therapy, it will take around 4 - 6 weeks for the blood levels to stabilize and the signs of hypothyroidism to reverse.
- Of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, the coat change take the longest to resolve.
1. Pay attention to signs of mental slowness.
Since thyroid hormone governs cellular metabolism, a lack of thyroid leads to a general slowly of the body and it's functions. For example, mental dullness is a common sign, and affects around 70% of those with hypothyroidism.
2. Notice weight gain.
Dogs with hypothyroidism tend to gain weight, as their metabolism is affected by a lack of thyroid hormone. This weight gain will be out of proportion to the amount of food they consume.
3. Assess your dog's coat.
Golden retrievers with hypothyroidism with have coats that are often poor quality and dull. They also tend to molt heavily.
- Hair loss usually occurs on the body but does not occur on the head or legs.
- This hair loss is not usually accompanied by redness or itching.
- Some dogs develop a "rat's tail" where the hair on the tail falls out, leaving a bald tail.
4. Look for other physical changes.
Some dogs are described a having a tragic facial expression, as their features seem to thicken and become heavier looking. These dogs feel the cold, and are often found next to a heater. They are often also depressed and hesitant to interact.
- They are also reluctant to exercise, and may be anemic. They may also have a slow heart rate.
5. Be more aware if your dog has risk factors.
For example, medium-sized to large dogs are more likely to suffer hypothyroidism that small or toy breeds. The golden retriever is predisposed, along with the Doberman, miniature Schnauzer, cocker spaniel, Irish setter, Dachshund, and Airedale terrier.
- Dogs with parents who had hypothyroidism are more likely to get the disease. If this is the case for your dog, just be aware of the potential problem and keep an eye out for signs it is developing.
- Hypothyroidism is thought to affect twenty five percent of golden retrievers and it seems likely there is a genetic basis for the disease in this breed. Get as much hereditary information about a dog you are considering adopting, so that you be aware of your dog's potential risk.