I know it sounds crazy, but I really do have a favorite disease. I like this disease because it is relatively easy to diagnose, inexpensive to treat and the response to treatment is dramatic. I have also had two of my own dogs to be diagnosed and treated for this disease and have seen firsthand how quickly dogs respond to the treatment. How could it not be my favorite? So which disease is it that I like so much? It’s hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a disease that affects the thyroid gland that we see in dogs. Because the thyroid gland produces a hormone that drives our metabolism, when the gland is underactive (or “hypo”), the metabolism slows to a crawl and symptoms begin to occur.
Typically, a hypothyroid dog will be lethargic and obese, but owners will insist that no matter how much they cut back on their dog’s food, the weight refuses to budge. Extra exercise doesn’t work because affected dogs can barely make it around the block before they give up and lay down for a rest. Dogs with hypothyroid disease also tend to have poor coats and skin that is prone to infection and excessive dander (what we like to call seborrhea). Some dogs will also have a classic facial swelling that gives them what we call a “hangdog” expression – making a Lab somewhat resemble a chubby Bloodhound. Because hypothyroid disease typically comes on gradually, most owners will assume that these changes are part of aging and often the disease will go unrecognized for a very long time.
While it may be easy to overlook, lucky for us, hypothyroidism is fairly easy to diagnose. Once we are suspicious that a dog may have thyroid disease, all it takes is a quick blood test to verify a diagnosis. I prefer to run a complete thyroid panel, because a thyroid level by itself can have some false positive results if the dog has other health problems. If you suspect your dog could be hypothyroid, discuss with your veterinarian the best way to go about diagnosing it in your individual case.
The best part about hypothyroidism, though, has to be the treatment. Treating hypothyroidism involves giving a tiny, relatively inexpensive pill once or twice a day to replace the thyroid hormone that your dog is lacking. There are no side effects, and the pill is so little it is easy to disguise. For a dog suffering from this disease, this little pill is something of a miracle. As the dog returns to normal levels of thyroid hormone, it is as if he wakes up out of a fog and leaps back to life. Within weeks the weight starts to come off and the energy level returns to normal. Monitoring the disease is easy with routine follow up blood work to make sure the hormone level remains within the normal range.
If you suspect your dog could have hypothyroidism do not hesitate to ask your veterinarian. Owners will tell me that it is like they have their old dog back! Which is exactly why it is my favorite disease to treat!