Hypothyroidism in Dogs

Is your dog lethargic and losing its hair coat?  It may not be old age — it may be treatable hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism is the most common endocrinopathy (glandular disorder) in dogs. The thyroid gland, due to inflammation or atrophy of un-known origins, becomes incapable of producing an adequate amount of thyroid hormone, and dogs develop clinical signs of hypothyroidism. The signs are quite variable, because thyroid hormones are needed for normal metabolism, and deficiency can affect nearly all body systems, including the skin, the reproductive tract, the neuromuscular system and the cardiovascular system. Metabolic signs include lethargy, sensitivity to cold, mental dullness, unwillingness to exercise and a tendency to gain weight despite eating less food than normal. Because some of these signs progress fairly slowly, dog owners may unconsciously adapt to the changes in their pets and fail to recognize them as problems.

The most common abnormalities seen in hypothyroid dogs involve the skin and haircoat. A dry, dull, flaky coat is most often described, with hair that is easily pulled out. Hair loss often occurs in a characteristically symmetrical pattern on both sides of the body, sparing the head and legs; some dogs develop a “puppy coat,” as the guard hairs fall out preferentially, leaving the soft undercoat behind. Sometimes the hair loss only involves the tail, giving affected dogs a “rat tail.” Although skin and hair problems are more unsightly than health-threatening, signs that relate to vital organ systems, if undiagnosed and untreated, have the potential for serious illness.

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