How to Diagnose Hypothyroidism in Golden Retrievers
Hypothyroidism is a common condition in golden retrievers, and affects about 25% of this breed. The hypo in hypothyroidism stands for “low”, and this condition occurs when your dog’s body produces a low amount of the thyroid hormone. As a dog owner, it is important that you recognize the signs of this condition in your goldie and have your vet confirm the condition in your dog, as a definitive diagnosis will be needed to treat this condition properly. Most goldies recover well from hypothyroidism with the right treatment.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
1. Be aware of how hypothyroidism develops in your golden retriever. Hypothyroidism is caused by a low amount of thyroid hormone in your dog’s body. Your dog’s thyroid glands sit on your dog’s neck on either side of his windpipe. They produce the thyroid hormone, which helps to control your dog’s metabolic rate. If your dog’s thyroid glands are underactive, the thyroid will be attacked by your dog’s immune system, leading to health issues.
- Golden retrievers are prone to hypothyroidism, and it most commonly occurs at 4-10 years of age. Other breeds such as Doberman, Old English sheepdog, miniature schnauzer, boxer, and Cavalier King Charles spaniel are also prone to hypothyroidism.
2. Note if your dog has low energy. One of the major symptoms of hypothyroidism in dogs is the dog starts to display a lack of energy and mental dullness. Your dog may choose sleeping beside a heater or a warm area of the house rather than going outside for a walk. He may also display mental dullness, where he is not as energized and playful as he once was and does not make much of an effort to move around or respond to your commands.
- Dogs with hypothyroidism are sensitive to cold so you should note if your dog moves from his normal sleeping spot to a spot that is warmer or close to a heat source.
- Some retrievers with hypothyroidism have been known to display a “tragic” facial expression where they always appear sad or in distress.
3. Check if your dog starts to gain weight. Your dog may start to gain weight as a result of his low energy and mental dullness. He may also start to gain weight due to his thyroid issues, as he is burning calories less quickly and this can lead to a weight gain.
- You can determine if your dog has gained weight by weighing him on a scale. If you note any major weight gain (5-10 pounds) over a short period of time, this may be a sign of hypothyroidism.
4. Look at your dog’s coat for any dullness or patchiness. Dogs with hypothyroidism usually develop a brittle and dull coat, with patches of fur or hair falling out. Your dog’s coat may have a “rat’s tail”, where hair falls from his tail and exposes the skin underneath. It may appear as whip-like and rat-tail like.
- If the vet ends up clipping patches of your dog’s coat to run blood tests to determine if he has hyperthyroidism, the patch may not regrow for a few months.
- You may also notice that your dog’s skin appears greasy. It may feel greasy to the touch. There may also be hyper-pigmentation, where areas that were once buff colored have a blue-grey appearance. Your dog may also itch his skin and may develop a bacterial infection or a yeast infection that leads to itchiness, which is due to his poor immunity.
5. Check your dog’s heart rate. A dog with hypothyroidism may develop a slow heart rate, where his heart rate is below the normal rate for a golden retriever, usually around 60-100 beats per minute. Your goldie may have a heart rate that is at the bottom of this range or below it.
- You can check your dog’s heart rate by using a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand. You can also use the stopwatch option on your smartphone, if available.
- Hold one hand over your dog’s left side, just behind his front leg. Use the stopwatch or the watch with a second hand to count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiple this number by four to get his heart rate in beats per minute (bpm). If it is 60 bpm or lower, this may be a sign of hypothyroidism.
6. Look for enlarged nipples and shrunken testicles on a male retriever. If your retriever is male, you can check his nipples and his testicles. Note if his nipples appear enlarged or larger than usual, also known as gynecomastia. You should also note if his testicles look shrunken.
Taking Your Retriever to the Vet
1. Let your vet perform a physical exam of your dog. If you note your dog’s symptoms are getting worse and you want to confirm his condition, you should take him to the vet. Your vet will do a physical exam to assess his health.
- She should check if your dog has another illness that is suppressing his thyroid hormone production, a phenomena known as “sick euthyroid syndrome”. This will prevent a misdiagnosis, as your dog’s thyroid levels can be low due to a secondary problem that is not hypothyroidism. Treating his illness should bring your dog’s thyroid levels back to normal if he is sick due to another illness or condition.
2. Tell your vet if your dog is on any medications. Your vet should be told if your dog is on any medications, as one the side effects of pet medication can be the suppression of thyroid function.
- Medication that can cause thyroid suppression include corticosteroids and trimethoprim-sulphonamide antibiotics. Your vet may recommend not giving your dog this medication and allowing it to wash out of your dog’s system. This can then help your dog’s thyroid levels bounce back to normal.
3. Allow the vet to run blood tests on your dog. Your vet may run screening blood tests and blood tests specifically made to examine your dog’s thyroid hormone levels. The screening blood tests may note nonspecific changes in your dog like mild anemia and high cholesterol levels. But these are not specific enough on their own to confirm a hypothyroid diagnosis in your dog.
- Specific blood tests for thyroid hormone levels and the presence of the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) are more conclusive. If your dog’s levels of TSH are high and his thyroid hormone levels are low, your vet can make a clear diagnosis of hypothyroidism in your golden retriever.
4. Have your vet run a thyroid stimulation test. This test is often done by vets if the blood results are inconclusive but your dog has clear symptoms of a medical issue.
- The thyroid stimulation test requires an injection of a form of TSH through an IV into your dog. The vet will then measure the amount of thyroid hormone produced in response to the TSH about six hours after the injection. If your dog’s thyroid glands do not produce extra thyroid hormone in response to the TSH in your dog, this is a clear sign of hypothyroidism.
5. Discuss your dog’s treatment. Once your vet confirms your dog’s diagnosis of hyperthyroidism, the treatment is relatively simple. You will need to give your goldie a thyroid supplement twice a day in tablet form.
- Within four to six weeks of treatment, your goldie should start to recover and be the healthy, energetic dog he was before. He should enjoy walking, running, and playing again. His coat should also grow back.