Don't be shocked if your Labrador retriever is diagnosed with hypothyroidism: It's fairly common in the breed. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland isn't producing enough thyroid hormone. With treatment as simple as a tiny daily pill, your best pal can soon be back to normal.
Located on the dog's windpipe, the thyroid gland controls your Lab's growth and maintains normal metabolism in his body through production of the hormone thyroxin. As a crucial part of the his endocrine system, this hormone affects just about every one of your dog's internal organs. Low amounts of thyroxin can mess up your dog's body in all kinds of ways.
If you Lab is gaining weight even though you haven't increased his food or decreased his exercise, hypothyroidism might be the culprit. His coat could start looking funky, or his hair could begin to falls out, leaving bald spots. That thick Lab tail could show signs first, becoming skinny, ratty-looking or bald in patches. His skin may become rough and scaly, and he may become more tired than usual, with little desire to go out and play. Your dog may exhibit neurological signs, such as loss of coordination, seizures or inability to bark. Since the thyroid affects so many aspects of the body, symptoms of low thyroid appear in various areas of your dog's body and behavior. Authoritative opinion varies regarding onset; some vets say it occurs as early as age 2 or as late as age 7; it's been documented to occur in dogs well past 10 years of age. Four to 6 years of age is an accepted average.
A simple blood test tells your vet whether your dog's thyroid levels are low. However, since some serious illnesses also result in low thyroid levels, your vet will have to rule those out. A complete thyroid blood profile will accurately diagnosis hypothyroidism. Some steroids affect hormone function, so let your vet know if your Lab is on any kind of medication.
Fortunately, hypothyroidism is a simple and relatively cheap condition to treat. Your Lab will need to take thyroid medication every day for the rest of his life. Thyroid pills usually don't cause side effects. Most vets prescribe pills to be administered once or twice a day, but the medicine is available in chewable or liquid forms, too. If you give pills, hide them in his canned dog food, or wrap them in cheese or meat. Within a month or so of taking the thyroid supplements, your buddy should be as good as new. All the symptoms of his hypothyroidism should disappear. As time passes, dosage may change; you'll bring your dog to the vet regularly (typically about every six months) for blood testing to make sure he's receiving the right amount of hormone over the long term.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.