Rocky’s Viewpoint

Rockys Viewpoint

A blog for people who treat their dogs better than family

Low Thyroid and Behavior Problems in Dogs

Yankees 7th birthday photoI’ve noticed over the last six months or so that my dog Yankee has developed some anxieties. At Rocky’s, if I put him in the office with his pal Beau, he starts scratching at the door wanting to come out and be with me. He’s never done that before. He’s also started to develop some storm related anxiety, a very new development.

We went to the vet a couple of weeks ago for his annual exam, and his vet mentioned that his thyroid was in the very low range of normal. Not hypothyroidism yet, and nothing to be concerned about at this point, but something to watch. I asked whether I should look at herbal supplements and she said it was worth a try.

I wondered how he could have a thyroid problem – he doesn’t exhibit any of the normal symptoms, such as being overweight, lethargic, or have skin or coat issues.

So I started doing a little research. And what I found was very interesting, to say the least.

The thyroid gland is in the neck and it makes a hormone that controls metabolism. With hypothyroidism, the gland doesn’t make enough of that hormone. Hypothyroidism is a common disease in dogs, most often found in golden retrievers, Dobermans, Irish setters, dachshunds, , boxers and cocker spaniels. It usually develops in middle aged dogs, and is more common in medium to large breeds, and in spayed or neutered dogs.

Most of the time, thyroid problems develop because the dog’s immune system attacks his thyroid. Other causes are due to a shrinking thyroid or perhaps a tumor. By the time it’s diagnosed, a dog is usually exhibiting the classic symptoms I mentioned above.

But some veterinarians are doing research into behavior problems and low thyroid and their findings may indicate a connection. They believe that problems such as anxiety and aggression may manifest before the classic symptoms.

In an ongoing study, Drs. Jean Dodds and Linda Aronson obtained the thyroid function data for more than 1500 dogs that presented a range of behavior problems. Of these 1500 dogs, 61% were either hypothyroid or had reduced thyroid function (as is Yankee’s case). Analysis of the first 499 cases showed a significant relationship between thyroid dysfunction and dog-to-human and dog-dog aggression.

After these dogs began thyroid treatment, available follow up revealed that 62% showed more than 50% behavior improvement, 36% showed more than 75% improvement to complete resolution, 25% showed between 25% and 50% improvement, 10% failed to improve and 2% got worse. Behavior improvements were usually apparent within the first week of treatment.

As with humans, hypothyroidism in dogs manifests as impaired mental function, so reasoning is replaced with panic.

The symptoms are most noticeable when the dog is stressed. Problems can begin very early, or may appear in adulthood. In adulthood, separation anxiety or noise phobias may suddenly appear.

Unlike classic symptoms, these dogs may only show behavioral problems. They may also be underweight and hyperactive, a distinct difference from the classic signs. They may have a worried appearance, and may suffer from seasonal allergies, or recurrent skin, ear, and foot infections.

Now that I know this, what should I do?

What should you do if you suspect a thyroid problem? At the very least, I suggest you do what I did, have your vet do a complete thyroid profile, a more comprehensive test which among other things measures free T3 and T4.

Once you have the results, you can decide on your next course of action. My vet suggested that we could try thyroid medication in a low enough dose, but I’m opting to try supplements at first to see if that makes a difference. You have to make your own decision based on your comfort level.

We’ll try the supplements for six months, and then have Yankee’s blood work redone. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on him to see if I notice any changes in his behavior, for better or for worse. Yankee is my sweet boy and I’ll do anything to help him have the best quality of life possible. I’m sure you feel the same way about your beloved four legged friend!