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The thyroid gland is a small gland located under the skin at the center of the neck.  It is regulated by a smaller gland at the base of the brain, called the pituitary gland.  The pituitary gland signals the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone and regulates its blood concentration.  The thyroid gland is an intricate part of your dog’s endocrine system.  It effects every phase of your dog’s health, from your dog’s hair coat to liver function, weight and brain activity.  Every cell in your dogs’ body is regulated by the thyroid gland.


Hypothyroidism (“hypo” meaning less than normal) is the result of decreased production of thyroid hormone.  This is normally caused by the thyroid gland ceasing to function properly.  The most common cause of hypothyroidism is “Idiopathic Hypothyroidism” which means there is no biological reason why the thyroid gland is not working properly.  Another cause of hypothyroidism is thyroid inflammation (thyroiditis) which can be familial (runs in related dogs).  Hypothyroidism can be a debilitating disease if not treated.    However, with proper treatment, your dog will live a longer and healthier life.


The clinical signs of hypothyroidism can be a loss of hair often on the tail, hind quarters or flank that is not a result of scratching.  Other signs include dry scaly skin, dull brittle hair, bleaching of the hair coat and possibly the development of oily skin.  Advanced cases of hypothyroidism may cause your dog to become lethargic and overweight, even on a limited diet.  The animal may not want to exercise, may seek out warm places and may have cold clammy skin.  Breeding dogs may have a lack of libido, prolonged anestrus or shortened estrus.  We even see cases of organ failure secondary to low thyroid function.


A blood test will be done to help confirm the diagnosis of hypothyroidism.   When the blood test results are returned and the diagnosis of hypothyroidism is confirmed, your veterinarian will prescribe medication.  The product of choice is levothyroxine sodium tablets.  This medication must be administered once or twice a day, according to your veterinarian’s instructions. (usually twice daily in most dogs)

You should see an improvement in your dog’s overall health in approximately two to four weeks, although total improvement takes about 90 days.  Changes in dog’s coat and weight will take anywhere from one to six months, depending on the rate of new hair growth of your dog.  Not all obese dogs will loose weight well.  In many cases a very low calorie diet is available to speed up the process.


In four weeks, your veterinarian will require another blood sample.  If the results warrant a change, the dosage may be adjusted to maintain proper thyroid blood levels.  When the adjustment is made you will need (and be able to) refill the prescription and administer the medication to your dog according to your veterinarian’s instructions.  The thyroid medication is needed for the life of your pet. Routine check-ups and blood testing will be necessary to maintain a healthy and happy dog. (We test every 6 months.)

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