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Yes, pets can have thyroid problems – mainly affecting both dogs and cats. These generally present in different ways though with cats developing an overactive thyroid – otherwise known as hyperthyroidism, and dogs developing an underactive thyroid – known as hypothyroidism.

What Is The Thyroid?

The thyroid glands are a pair of glands located in the neck, on either side of the windpipe. They produce thyroxine, a hormone which travels in the blood and controls metabolic rate and some other body processes.

Hyperthyroidism In Cats

Around 10% of cats over the age of 9 will develop an overactive thyroid. This occurs when the gland produces too much thyroid hormone (thyroxine), often because one or both of the thyroid glands become enlarged. An excess of thyroxine in the blood causes an increase in the cat’s metabolic rate.

If your cat has an overactive thyroid you may notice some of the following signs:

  • weight loss, whilst maintaining a normal or an increased appetite
  • Hyperactivity, irritability or increased vocalisation
  • Deterioration in coat quality; may appear greasy or unkempt
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Increased drinking and urinating

On examination your vet may notice the following signs:

  • increased heart rate
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • An enlarged thyroid gland (a goitre)
  • Increased blood pressure

Hyperthyroidism is a progressive disease, and if left untreated it can cause other problems, such as heart and kidney conditions. It can be well controlled with medication, surgery, diet, or other treatments such as radioactive iodine. 9 out of 10 cats respond well to recommended treatment.

Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed via a simple blood test, and most cats will need some level of ongoing monitoring depending on their treatment plan.

Hypothyroidism In Dogs

Recent studies show that around 1 in 400 dogs will develop an underactive thyroid in their lifetime. The average age at diagnosis is around 7.5 years of age, with large and medium sized breeds seeming to be at higher risk. In contrast to cats, dogs do not produce enough thyroxine and this can be due to a problem with the thyroid gland itself, or a problem with the pituitary gland which regulates thyroxine production. A deficit in thyroxine tends to cause a reduction in the metabolic rate.

If your dog has an underactive thyroid, you may notice some of the following signs:

  • Weight gain but no change in appetite
  • Dryness of the skin and coat; hair loss or slow hair regrowth
  • Lethargy and exercise intolerance
  • Heat seeking behaviour due to sensitivity to cold

In more severe cases hypothyroidism can cause a slow or irregular heart rhythm, and sometimes problems with nerve conduction.

a dog drinking from a water bowl

Hypothyroidism is also diagnosed via a blood sample. This typically includes measurements of thyroxine, thyroid stimulating hormone, and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies (molecules which damage the thyroid gland).

Treatment for hypothyroidism is simple, affected dogs are given replacement thyroxine, usually in tablet form, and they will require some ongoing monitoring of their thyroid hormone levels. Improvement in energy levels is often noticed first, potentially within 1-2 weeks, although improvement in skin and coat can take several months.

Treatment At Valley Vetcare

If you have any concerns regarding your pet showing any of the above symptoms then please contact us and book in for a consultation at the surgery.

We can also offer specific senior health checks to ensure we are picking up any potential issues early on and to put your mind at ease knowing your pet is maintaining its health as they enter its golden years. These are recommended from around 8 years of age and can be carried out on an annual basis.

Remember that your insight into your pet’s health is vital to the diagnosis of any potential health conditions, so ensure you let your vet know a full history whenever you have an appointment with us. As animals cannot talk and tell us how they are feeling we rely on your knowledge, it can be just as important as our clinical skills!

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