The thyroid is a small gland of the human and animal endocrine system, located in the throat. Despite its small size, the hormones it secretes play a major role in regulating a number of the bodily functions relating to metabolism, heart health, and so much more.
Dogs, both male and female, are far more susceptible to Thyroid Disease than cats. For cats, Thyroid Disease is often a disease of aging. When the thyroid malfunctions, the signs, though significant, can be missed or confused with other conditions that produce similar symptoms. The first step in recognizing potential signs of Thyroid Disease, is identifying the two main categories and understanding their impact on the body.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones.
Hypothyroidism occurs when insufficient quantities of hormones are produced, and normal thyroid activity is disrupted.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most common symptoms associated with each form of Thyroid Disease:
Hypothyroidism: ( Reduced hormone production)
– Weight gain not associated with increased food intake
– Newly developed dry or sensitive skin, or skin sores
– Excessive shedding, dull, unkempt appearing coat, hair loss
– Lethargy, significantly decreased energy
– Decreased heart rate
– Sensitivity to cold temperatures not exhibited in the past
– Muscle weakness
– Recurring eye and/or ear infections
Hyperthyroidism: (Excessive hormone production)
– Weight loss…unexplained
– Noticeably increased appetite…ravenous hunger
– Increased urination
– Excessive thirst
– Elevated heart rate
– Unexplained and/or recurring vomiting and/or diarrhea
– Difficulty breathing…shortness of breath
– Bulge or palpable lump in the throat
– Restlessness, hyper-active behavior
– Dull coat
Thyroid Disease can be the result of a tumor on the thyroid. Thyroid tumors are most often malignant, and if one is suspected, it should be immediately evaluated by your Veterinarian. In addition to the symptoms already listed, the following symptoms can be indicators of the presence of a thyroid tumor:
– A noticeable change in bark…not an increase or decrease in frequency, but tone and volume
The changes that Thyroid Disease effect can often be subtle, with a gradual onset of behavior changes. As with any illness impacting your pets, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances for a positive outcome. It’s important to note that left untreated, Thyroid Disease can lead to death. Diagnosis can be as simple as a blood test to evaluate hormone levels, or as complicated as a biopsy if a tumor is present.
Most Thyroid Disease can be treated, and the symptoms that negatively impact your pet’s life can be managed. Hypothyroidism can be controlled by administering synthetic hormone, in the form of a pill or liquid, depending on your pet’s preference. The synthetic hormone will restore proper balance to the hormone levels in your pet’s system. Periodic blood tests will be required to assess hormone levels, with medication adjustments being made as necessary.
Hyperthyroidism treatment is more complicated, and may require radiotherapy or chemotherapy in conjunction with medication.
Where tumors are present, treatment is determined by the type of tumor, and its impact on the surrounding organs and arteries.
As always, the first step towards diagnosis is a vigilant owner who questions changes in behavior and appearance, no matter how subtle. If you’re witnessing something that causes you concern, call your Veterinarian and make an appointment today. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of early diagnosis and early intervention.