Friday, November 6, 2009


Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is the absence of sufficient thyroid hormone to maintain healthy body functions. It is considered the most common endocrine disease of dogs. I dealt with this condition on a German Shepherd bitch that I owned back in the early 80’s. She was a large brood bitch who I had bought from a breeder friend because she had a great pedigree. She had a good disposition and was an easy dog to take care of because all she did was lay around the house all day. I just assumed that she was a big lazy girl. I bred her and she ended up developing mastitis (bacterial infection of the mammary glands) which was no fun treating. One of her teats was red and swollen. The poor thing was in so much pain and had hungry, greedy puppies that demanded to be fed. I had to apply warm compresses on the infected area several times a day which was extremely uncomfortable for her. Eventually we got that cleared up.

This bitch was very sluggish and it was like looking at a dog that didn’t have a care in the world. In fact, I think if the ceiling fell in on her, she would barely raise her head to notice. One day she got out of the yard and was very heavy in whelp. I looked out the front door and there was “Bandera” (tummy filled with puppies) following some people who were walking down the street. Thank God I lived in a very rural area. I used to think she was so dense. She had no spunk or energy. Then after taking her to the vets for an exam, I found out why she was the way that she was. She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Because it was so long ago, I don’t remember the name of the medicine she was put on to help her live with this condition. I knew that this was not a bitch that I wanted to have another litter from so my friend who sold her to me found a good pet home for her.

There are many different symptoms a dog that has this disease may exhibit. Sometimes they can be confusing and hard to diagnosis. Some things to look for: lethargy, lack of mental alertness, weight gain, dull coat, aggression, diarrhea, constipation, skin infections, low tolerance for the cold, hair loss, skin odor, greasy skin, reproductive problems (a bitch may have a hard time getting pregnant, etc.). It’s interesting to note that indeed, some of these signs can be contradictory…….my bitch was so mellow and easy going and really quite sweet and yet I’ve read articles about this condition where some dogs can be very problematic because of their extreme aggression! It is not unheard of that a dog may go from having a good disposition to becoming nasty and having a completely different personality than he normally exhibits. He may become fearful or shy and your once friendly dog is now the terror of the family. Before you label him as a “psycho” dog, take him in for blood work and have his thyroid checked. With proper medication, your sweet natured dog should be returned to you.

Another thing that I didn’t know even though I had a bitch with this disease is that sometimes the animal will have associate diseases because of this condition. They include: mega esophagus, ruptured knee ligaments, testicular atrophy, cardiomyopathy, excessive bleeding and corneal ulcers. Some of these conditions I never even heard of before. It’s probably a good idea to have your dog checked for these conditions if he is diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

It is not completely known if this condition is inherited. Because it is uncertain how a dog develops this condition, it’s probably a good idea not to breed the animal that is diagnosed with it. That’s why I sold my bitch into a pet home. Of the one litter that she had while she with me, one of the bitches was very much like her mother in personality……….dull! I did not keep her either for breeding although her body structure was beautiful.

The hormones produced by the thyroid govern the body’s basic metabolism which includes the control of growth, development and maintenance of protein, carbohydrates and lipid metabolism for the life of the dog. If the thyroid fails to operate correctly, then one sort of trouble or another may occur in the dog’s body.

The treatment of hypothyroidism is not complicated, but sometimes the diagnosis of the disease is because the clinical signs can mimic other diseases. Sometimes it’s just best to treat the dog who displays any of the above symptoms with hormone treatment and if it works, then you know that you are dealing with this condition. Usually the vet will do a thyroid blood test and send it to a lab that has special equipment to test for this condition. Usually the treatment consists of two daily doses of levothyroxine, the hormone identified in the test as T4. Levothyroxine is converted to triiodothyronine by the body; dogs that cannot make this conversion will need both levothyroxine and triiodothyronine.
After the dog is on this treatment for one to two months, your vet will probably want to retest him to see that his levels are in the normal range. Some dogs will be on this therapy for a longer time and should have a more complete set of tests every 6 – 12 months.

Until we know for certain what causes this type of disease, it is the wise breeder who eliminates any of these dogs from there breeding program. This is where honesty among breeders will determine the further health of the German Shepherd Dog.

My rating: treatment success for this disease: (3), using these animals in a breeding program: (1)

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