Low Battery Mode: Thyroid Awareness

By: Jennifer Hennessey, DVM

TVMA Member
Cypress, TX.

Published September 2017

You provide top-dollar diets, treats galore and hugs to no end, but why isn’t Fido frisky anymore? Sadly, as pets age, they tend to “slow down,” and it is easy to assume their age is to blame for a lack of spunk and energy. But age is just a number, not an excuse for the demise of daily enjoyment or the reason for low levels of energy. Many factors should be evaluated when searching for an explanation behind pets’ changes in behavior and bodily functions, such as the potential for an underactive thyroid.

Low Energy Is a Common Clinical Sign of Underactive Thyroid Gland

When healthy and powered successfully, our bodies as well as those of our furry family members run like finely tuned machines. But, despite working parts and top-notch fuel, if the energy-supply source is depleted (i.e., a battery fails), all engine functions and productivity slow or halt. The body’s main source of energy and control of internal systems is the thyroid gland. Without the thyroid gland, not much can generate pep, even if the rest of the body is in great shape. This is equivalent to a new car not working when the battery is dead.

What Is Hypothyroidism?

Low thyroid function, also known as hypothyroidism, is a common ailment for humans as well as canines. An underactive thyroid, meaning low thyroid hormone production, can negatively affect the body’s digestive system, reduce one’s energy, lead to weight gain, contribute to skin problems (from hair loss to infection) and lead to muscle weakness, among other clinical signs.

Symptoms in Humans and Clinical Signs in Pets

Even when you want to enjoy the day laughing and being productive, the body feels devoid of energy, missing the battery power that boosts your energy from zero to 100. Without adequate thyroid hormone—the key to energy and function—one is often forgetful, feels foggy in thought and could comfortably sleep all day, yet still feel tired and exhausted after hours of what should have been a satisfying night’s sleep. From subtle internal annoyances like constant ear ringing, throat and vocal cord weakness, generalized overall muscle and body aches, loss of appetite, you feel like you are suffering from the flu and haven’t slept in days. We know your pet can’t tell us about these symptoms, but they surely suffer from them too.

Diagnostic Testing

Testing for thyroid disease can be as simple as an in-hospital blood test. However, a more complete and accurate assessment may include outside lab tests by your veterinarian and additional imaging such as an ultrasound.

Treatment Options

Treatment is lifelong but thankfully can be managed with a simple daily medication. Management also means consistent follow-ups with your veterinarian for monitoring bloodwork so that medication dosing can be adjusted as the body changes over time. Significant changes and improvements in skin health, energy and alertness are frequently noted when blood levels improve on medication, thereby enhancing quality of life.

Let’s not assume your pooch is pooped when she is tired. If aging is a factor, perhaps a decline in thyroid function is too. Put the key in the engine, rev those motors and take Fido to the veterinarian’s office for thyroid evaluation. Let’s keep his battery charged and internal engine revved so we can keep those tails-a-wagging for years to come!

Jennifer Hennessey, DVM, CVJ, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Cypress, Texas. Dr. Hennessey practices at Animal ER of Northwest Houston, where she is the practice owner.