The purpose of this blog is to help you understand how to prevent, diagnose, and treat hypothyroidism in dogs with a focus on non-invasive and natural treatment.
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition that manifests with lower than optimal thyroid gland function and hormone production. The thyroid hormone plays a vital role in maintaining optimal health of every cell, organ and the whole body.
Thyroid hormones control the the intensity of cell metabolism and can be compared to the “ON/OFF” switch of a cooking stove. When thyroid hormone production goes up, the metabolic rate (“the fire”) increases and vice versa.
Types of thyroid hormones
There are two kinds of thyroid hormone:
T4 (Thyroxine) – which is the precursor (the ingredient) necessary for the production of the second hormone, T3 (Triiodothyronine)
The thyroid gland produces only T4, which is then converted within the muscle and organ tissue into the active thyroid hormone – T3.
In some situations, when there is concurrent organ or tissue disease, T4 will not convert sufficiently into T3, this is called sick-euthyroid syndrome.
Note: T4 cannot be converted into T3 without the presence of selenium. If your dog’s T3 is low, use the HairQ Test to check their selenium levels.
Thyroid gland function and hormone production is regulated by TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is produced by the pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland is located in the base of the brain and it can be seen as “the command centre” for the production of all hormones in the body.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary greatly because low thyroid hormone affects every cell and organ in the body. The most common clinical signs are low energy, depression, skin and ear problems, obesity, weakness, low heart rate, and decreased mobility.
Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by a blood test that should, at minimum, include the following parameters:
Free T4 – the active unbound form of tetrathyroidine (T4) – low levels of this will confirm hypothyroidism
Free T3 Active and important – low levels are a sign of other health issues than thyroid disease (Remember that healthy tissues and organs are required for T4 to T3 conversion)
TSH – high levels are a sign of hypothyroidism
Usually blood tests also include total T4 and T3, but their levels are not as important in diagnosing hypothyroidism, because these levels also include the portion of hormones that are bound in tissues and not active.
Thyroglobulin autoantibody levels – any presence of antibodies against the body’s own thyroid cells are a symptom of an exaggerated response to thyroid gland inflammation. Trauma to the gland is most commonly caused by collars, when a dog pulls, or an unaware dog guardian that corrects their dog by jerking on the leash. The collar pressure is directly applied to the thyroid gland that is located right underneath the collar in the front portion of the throat. For more information click here.
Here is an example of Thyroid Test Results.
NOTE: You can request a thyroid panel when you visit your veterinarian. Please make sure that ALL OF THE ABOVE parameters are included in the test. In house blood analyzers that many clinics operate usually do not provide them all, and your dog’s blood sample will have to be sent to a lab. Failure to include all values may result in missing or misdiagnosing your dog’s condition.
As an alternative, you can ask your veterinarian to submit your dog’s samples to Dr. Jean Dodds at Hemopet.
Causes of hypothyroidism
The conventional point of view
The traditional point of view is that hypothyroidism is a genetically predisposed condition that particularly affects Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers, Boxers, Bernese Mountain Dogs and other larger breeds, which is true.
Holistic point of view
During the course of more then 30 years in veterinary practice, I clearly saw that:
- Hypothyroidism almost exclusively affected dogs on processed food.
- Hypothyroidism is more prevalent in large breeds, especially those who are known to be leash pullers, and suffer from thyroid gland and neck injuries that are largely missed and untreated. Shock collars, tug of war, and accidental twists or falls, can also be predisposing factors. For more info click here.
- Vaccinations may also play a role, as they cause immune overstimulation, which results in the creation of auto-antibodies and thyroid gland damage. Dr. Jean Dodds, a world renowned expert in hypothyroidism, has shown that there is a direct link between vaccination and hypothyroidism.
- Most dogs with hypothyroidism are also suffer from deficiencies of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids, and their gastrointestinal flora is depleted of healthy probiotic bacteria. Such depletion may lead to immune system dysfunction and autoimmune disease.
- Immune system dysfunction (autoimmune disease) and toxin build up can also lead to low thyroid dysfunction.
Prevention of hypothyroidism is always much easier than the treatment. Here is what you need to do in order to prevent your dog from becoming hypothyroid:
1. PROTECT YOUR DOG’S NECK
- Stop using a collar restraint and use a softly padded, custom-fitted harness. I use the Perfect Fit Harness for my dog, Pax. A harness is also much safer in general, which I had the experience of seeing in person when young Pax fell through an unsecured hole on a flight of stairs. If he was wearing a collar, it is very likely that he would have broken his neck.
- Use a shock-absorbing Gentle Leash to minimize shocks when a dog suddenly jumps or pulls.
NOTE: Not all harnesses are made equal, and it took me several years to find one that protects the neck but also provides enough space around the front leg and armpit region. I use both the Gentle Leash and the Perfect Fit Harness for my dog Pax.
2. FEED WHOLESOME FOOD.
- Feed either raw or cooked food, and avoid processed foods.
3. PROVIDE ESSENTIAL SUPPLEMENTS
- Supplements your dog’s food with the four essential nutrient groups – the Fab4 – vitamins, minerals, Omega-3 oil, and probiotics to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Industrialization of agriculture has led to severe soil depletion and inferior incomplete food.
- For a customized supplement plan and exact dosages for your dogs click here.
4. PROTECT YOUR DOG FROM TOXINS AND UNNECESSARY VACCINES
- Avoid drugs and chemicals for internal use or in the environment, such as cleaning products and lawn and garden products, whenever possible.
- Give your dog a semi-annual detox with LiverTune to help eliminate toxins and heavy metals.
- Minimize the number of vaccines, while keeping your dog safe. For more info, click here.
5. CHECK FOR NECK INJURIES
- Ensure that your dog’s neck is checked regularly by a physiotherapist, animal osteopath, or chiropractor.
6. PREVENTIVE TESTS
- Get your dog’s thyroid gland tested on a yearly basis, starting at the age of five, or earlier if you see low energy, increase in body weight, low heart rate, and skin problems.
- Get a HairQ Test to measure mineral levels including selenium and other trace minerals, in addition to toxin and heavy metal levels.
Treatment of hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is a gradually progressive condition that may go unnoticed for years before diagnosis, and this is why the above preventive program is so important.
Stage one treatment
STAGE 1 Treatment (Thyroid hormones are low, normal, or slightly low, without any clinical signs)
Try not to give thyroxine hormone at this stage, as there is a chance that the thyroid gland function can be restored.
Apply steps 1 – 5 as outlined in the PREVENTIVE PLAN
- The Fab4 essentials – click here for dosage information and a customized supplement plan for your dog
- HairQ Test
- LiverTune twice a year
- Healthy Diet – click for Recipe Maker and Raw Diet Course
- Use the Perfect Fit Harness and Gentle Leash to prevent thyroid injury
- See a chiropractor to check your dog’s neck alignment. Neck problems can lead to decreased blood and energy flow to the thyroid gland, compromising its function.
If your dog is at the beginning stage of hypothyroidism, taking the above steps is all you need to do to revert their condition.
CHECK THYROID LEVELS in two to three month intervals. Do not use thyroxine unless your dog progresses to STAGE 2.
Interpreting your dog’s test results:
OPTION A: Your dog’s test results are the same or improved
Continue the above mentioned steps and recheck the blood test again in two months. Try to avoid giving thyroxine unless your dog’s Free T4 levels are in further decline.
OPTION B: Free T4 is lower (worse) than before, proceed to Stage 2.
Stage two treatment
STAGE 2 Treatment
If your dog’s free T4 continues to be low, it means that your dog’s condition is too far gone and stage 1 treatment was not enough to revert their hypothyroidism.
In such cases, it is perfectly reasonable to prescribe thyroxine hormone as a hormone replacement therapy.
I see T4 supplementation in pill form as an equivalent of “a crutch” to be used when the body can’t support its own hormone production. Such treatment usually provides great improvement in energy levels and quality of life for your dog.
NOTE: I have seen some generic brands of thyroxine not being as effective the brand names Synthroid or Eltroxin.
If your dog has been on thyroxine, it is rather unlikely that they can be taken off the medication. However, supplementing missing T4 is very inexpensive and rarely causes any side effects.
This is why hypothyroidism prevention is the best way to go.
Click here to go back to thyroid gland protection plan.
Video: Holistic Approach to the Treatment and Prevention of Hypothyroidism
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM