People who have met my dog describe him as a furry rainbow. He is so full of love and energy that it just brings a smile to your face. My cat on the other hand is more like impending doom but that’s a story for another day.
Even for my dog, there are days when he just doesn’t feel like socializing much. We are all allowed to have our off days. But what if you noticed that your dog has been showing more signs of anxiety and other behavioral problems recently?
Canine hypothyroidism is one medical condition that can cause a behavioral change in your dog. It can some dogs to exhibit abnormal behavior like anxiety, unprovoked aggression, depression, OCD, phobias and more. Hypothyroidism in dogs can be medically managed with proper thyroid medication.
Let us take a closer look at canine hypothyroidism and if it plays a significant role in giving your dog unprovoked anxious behavior.
What Is Canine Hypothyroidism?
Canine hypothyroidism is basically a problem with your dog’s thyroid gland. Your dog’s thyroid gland looks like butterfly-shaped lobes located in the neck and near the windpipe.
The thyroid gland in your dog is controlled by the pituitary gland. This gland secretes two thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, which help regulate the dog’s metabolic processes.
The most common form of hypothyroidism in dogs is known as autoimmune thyroiditis. This is when the dog’s immune system attacks its own thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland tries to overcome this by producing more and more thyroid hormones up to the point where it can no longer do so.
This thyroid dysfunction then causes the dog’s thyroid gland to not secrete sufficient hormones to keep the dog healthy.
Common Symptoms In Hypothyroid Dogs
If your dog has hypothyroidism, here are some of the symptoms that it can have:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Skin infections
- Anxious behavior
- Hair loss
Can Hypothyroidism Cause Anxiety Symptoms?
There has been a lot of discussion on the impact that thyroid problems have on a dog’s behavior.
There have been studies conducted by Dr. Jean Dodd, who is a thyroid expert, who states that there has been an increase in the cases that links thyroid dysfunction in dogs with irrational behavioral problems.
Another observation made was that when these dogs acted irrationally, it looked like they were in a trance, with little to no awareness of their behavior.
Dogs with abnormal thyroid function tend to have more cortisol in their blood and this puts the dog in a constant state of stress. And these dogs tend to respond to stress in a stereotypical manner due to an impairment in their normal mental functions.
So let us try and connect the dots here.
You may have the most well-trained and friendliest dog in the world but you still need to realize that your dog is still an animal.
The main thing that separates us from animals is our ability to rationalize and reason. Well, most of the time anyway.
Animals tend to operate on impulses and primitive instincts. Your dog eats when it is hungry, mate when it’s horny and fight when it is angry.
Given that hypothyroidism in dogs causes a surge in cortisol and mental impairment, this means that your dog could be constantly stressed and confused.
This would make anyone if us anxious, let alone a dog.
One common behavioral problem that many dog owners notice in their hypothyroid dogs is unprovoked aggression toward other people and dogs.
I’m no Cesar Millan but as a dog owner myself, I do notice that aggressive and anxious behavioral problems tend to feed off each other.
In the wild, an animal that is anxious will have a flight or fight response to anything that it deems as a threat. If it feels that running isn’t an option, it will attack to protect itself.
On the flip side, there are some who claim that hypothyroidism has no impact on a dog’s unexplained aggressive and anxious behavior. That might be true as many dogs with suboptimal thyroid function do not show the classic clinical signs.
My friend’s dog with hypothyroidism was totally fine except for dry and peeling skin on its groin area that just wouldn’t heal properly.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Hypothyroidism?
As mentioned earlier, thyroid problems in your dog can be difficult to properly diagnose as most dogs only show a few symptoms. And to make things more confusing, the symptoms might not be in line with what’s expected of hypothyroidism in dogs.
The best and most accurate way to diagnose thyroid problems in your dog is to do a very comprehensive test at the vet.
Get your vet to do a complete thyroid antibody profile of your dog with one that measures the T3 and T4 hormones as well.
You will more or less know if your dog has healthy and normal thyroid hormone levels once the results are out.
How To Care For A Dog With Hypothyroidism?
Having a dog with hypothyroidism isn’t a death sentence, there are many dogs who can still go on living good quality lives with the proper care and management.
Here are some ways to help your dog.
Thyroid Replacement Therapy
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for hypothyroidism but will thyroid replacement medication, your dog will be able to manage its symptoms well.
According to a study by Dr. Jean Dodd, many dogs on medication showed more than 50% improvement in their symptoms. Some even managed to totally suppress all their symptoms.
Your vet will prescribe medication for your dog that needs to be taken daily for the rest of its life.
It is important to be regular and timely with your dog’s medication as missing a single dose can dramatically reverse its effectiveness.
Less Stress Is Better
Dogs with hypothyroidism are constantly more stressed out than healthy dogs. In order to help your dog cope with its increased stress, you should do what you can to make your dog’s life as stress-free as possible.
These changes don’t have to be life-changing but more subtle in nature. Ensure that your dog has enough exercise, is on a good diet and has a nice quiet corner to sleep.
If your dog doesn’t like loud crowded places for walks, then go for walks during off-peak periods or choose a park that has lesser people.
Learn to be more aware of your dog’s body language to see if it’s feeling stressed or relaxed.
More Positive Reinforcement
Another way to reduce stress in your dog is to give it a lot of positive reinforcement. If you have always been vocally harsh to your dog when it does something wrong, please stop.
Studies have shown that our dogs feed off our emotions and it won’t do your dog any good if you are always raising your voice at your dog.
Positive reinforcement with treats and lavish praises will boost your dog’s confidence and self-esteem.
What Foods Should A Dog With Hypothyroidism Avoid?
Ever heard of the sayings “You are what you eat” and “Garbage in Garbage out”?
Truer words have never been spoken.
And when it comes to dogs with health problems, their diet can make or break their well-being. Dogs with hypothyroidism should be on a diet that is low in fat and carbs but high in animal protein.
A diet that is too high in fat and carbs will interfere with your dog’s metabolism as dogs are carnivores in nature. This means that our dogs thrive on a diet that is very high in animal protein.
This means that you should stop feeding your dog dry food or kibbles and switch over to good canned food or a raw meat diet.