Q: I took my dog to my veterinarian recently and they recommended blood work because he was not acting normal and was lethargic. He was diagnosed with a low thyroid level and put on thyroid supplementation. Is this a common issue in dogs and can it be cured?
A: Thyroid hormones are one of the most important hormones in the body and there can be devastating side effects from having low levels (hypothyroidism). The thyroid gland is responsible for producing the thyroid hormones which act on almost every cell in the body as well as being responsible for driving the metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
In dogs, the most common cause of having low thyroid hormones is low production of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland, secondary to auto immune destruction of the thyroid gland. This means that the body will attack the thyroid gland and destroy the thyroid hormone producing cells.
Although the onset of clinical signs is variable, hypothyroidism most commonly develops in middle-aged dogs between the ages of 4 to 10 years. This disease is fairly common but breeds that appear to be predisposed to developing the condition include the Golden Retriever, Doberman Pinscher, Irish Setter, Miniature Schnauzer, Dachshund, Cocker Spaniel, and Airedale Terrier.
Some of the classic signs of low thyroid in dogs are weight gain, poor hair coat, lethargy, and cold intolerance. This disease is relatively easy to diagnose with appropriate blood work that evaluates the levels of the total thyroid hormones.
Once hypothyroidism has been diagnosed, daily oral supplementation of a synthetic thyroid medication will be instituted. This medication will need to be given for the rest of the dog’s life. Follow-up blood work to evaluate thyroid levels and medication dosing is typically done on a yearly basis once the right dose has been chosen.
Q: My neighbor’s dog had puppies recently and I really want to get one for my adult daughter as a Christmas surprise. They are so cute but I’ve heard conflicting information so I’m a little nervous that it might be a bad idea. Any suggestions?
A: I would never recommend getting a pet for someone else even if that other person is closely related or you feel that you know that person very well.
The puppy may be cute but it will require time and effort and it is a personal decision for someone to decide to adopt a pet. As cute as they are as youngsters, all puppies will get bigger and require training, medical care, and daily exercise.
Some questions to ask yourself before making a final decision: Has your daughter expressed an ongoing interest in owning a dog? Does she have the time and ability to care for it responsibly? Does she have enough available time in her schedule to spend the necessary time to help assure an easy transition into the home--especially during the holidays?
Having a pet is a truly personal decision and I typically never recommend getting a pet for someone else under any circumstance.
A cold weather care reminder: As the weather gets colder, our older animals can feel the effect in their joints inducing joint pain and discomfort so it is important to monitor their comfort carefully throughout the winter. Make sure they have a nice warm soft place to sleep and that they are being taken on regular low impact walks every day. Placing older animals on joint support such as glucosamine/chondroitin is highly recommended along with Omega-3 supplementation. If the cold weather is really getting to your older animal then a pain consultation with your veterinarian is highly recommended. Your vet can help assess the need for stronger pain medications or alternative therapies such as acupuncture and cold laser therapy through the colder months.