I’ve had personal experience with dog hypothyroidism and natural treatment. It all started with my dog’s limp tail and a surprise on her blood test results. I was very committed to natural treatments at the time and tried many approaches before landing on something that worked for my dog.
Natural treatment cannot replace thyroid hormone in dogs with severe symptoms of hypothyroidism. Asymptomatic dogs with early thyroid changes on blood tests may benefit from natural therapies including acupuncture, herbs, and nutritional therapy.
Let me share my experiences using natural treatments vs. conventional thyroid medication for my dog’s hypothyroidism.
Dog Hypothyroidism Causes & Treatment
- Age: 2–9 years old
- Breeds Prone to Hypothyroidism: Beagle, Border Collie, Boxer, Dachshund, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Miniature Schnauzer, Poodle, Sheltie, & others
- Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Dogs: see below.
- Cause: autoimmune disease is most common, inherited tendency exists. There is no clinical evidence that neck trauma contributes significantly to the likelihood of a dog developing hypothyroidism.
- Diagnosis: blood tests should include total T4, Free T4, TSH and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies.
- How Much Does a Thyroid Test Cost for a Dog? Current pricing in a large metro area for the recommended thyroid tests is about $300-400. Periodic monitoring tests will cost less, around $100-150.
- Standard Treatment: synthetic thyroid hormone given orally once or twice a day for life. Levothyroxine (Thyro Tabs) is the most common medication used in dogs. Desiccated thyroid supplements like Armour Thyroid can work for dogs. They’re more expensive and have little veterinary clinical history to guide their usage.
- Cost of Thyroid Medication/Hormone for Dogs: This will depend on your dog’s size plus the amount and frequency of medication required. In general, the cost of thyroid medication for dogs is inexpensive. You may spend around $15-20 per month on medication (Thyro Tabs is a common brand) for a 50-pound dog.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Dogs
Symptoms are variable, but some are more common than others. Here’s a list ordered from most common to least common symptoms of hypothyroidism in dogs:
- Weight gain without a change in diet
- Poor coat quality–dull, thin/hair loss, bristly, “rat tail”
- Skin problems- excessive dander, skin infection, bad odor
- High cholesterol
- Heart abnormalities–slow heart rate, abnormal rhythm
- Behavior changes–anxiety, aggression (uncommon)
- Eye abnormalities–corneal dystrophy (uncommon)
- Neurologic problems–weakness (rare)
My Dog’s Anxiety and Cold Intolerance
My female dog has always been kind of an odd duck. Ever since she first came to live with me at 13 weeks old, she had her own way of doing things.
When I taught her to fetch a ball, she figured it out in a matter of minutes. Then just when I got excited about it, she decided it was too much pressure and turned away in shyness. I guess she’s always had something akin to performance anxiety.
Shyness and all, she loved playing with her brother and was a pretty active young dog. Then sometime around when she turned three, I noticed a gradual decline in her activity level.
Plus, her noise phobias (buzzing, wind, retractable tape measure sounds, whistles) worsened and she spent a lot of time hiding upstairs or in the bathroom.
By the time she turned five, many days she refused to come downstairs to go for a walk. Or she’d leave for the walk and put the brakes on a block away from the house!
I thought she was just being moody. Then I noticed she seemed so cold all the time and she was usually curled tightly on her bed.
Limber Tail Syndrome Strikes
One day, I noticed her normally curly tail was hanging limp! I’d seen Limber Tail Syndrome a few times at the clinic and figured that’s what was going on. Limber Tail Syndrome happens rarely in dogs for unknown reasons, often after a bath or swimming and she did have a bath the previous day.
The next day, I did some acupuncture to help her tail and noticed she had a lot of pain around her tail and lower back area. Her tail slowly improved but did not quite return to normal. [Editor’s note: Please note Limber Tail is not a common symptom of hypothyroidism. And this dog was later diagnosed with lumbosacral disease.]
Hypothyroidism can cause muscle weakness… Learn about other reasons for Hind Leg Weakness in Dogs
Blood Tests Showed Classic Underactive Thyroid
I decided to run some routine blood tests as part of her annual checkup. I didn’t think anything would come back abnormal. Nothing really did except her total T4 (one of the thyroid hormones) was at the lower limit of the normal range.
That happens a lot in normal dogs and those suffering from some other illness, so I didn’t think much of it.
Diagnosing Hypothyroidism in Dogs Isn’t Always Easy
Diagnosis of this disease is not always straightforward. There are many hormones involved in the thyroid health of dogs. Testing only one hormone gives an incomplete picture of the situation.
Veterinary endocrinologists recommend running a blood panel to check the following:
|Lab Test||Hypothyroid Expected Result|
|Total T4 (total thyroxine, the main hormone produced by the thyroid gland)||Normal or Low|
|TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone)||Normal or High|
|Free T4 by equilibrium dialysis (the active portion of thyroxine in the body)||Usually Low|
|Anti-thyroid antibodies (presence indicates active autoimmune disease)||Normal or High|
Anti-thyroid antibodies can show up before the hormones test low and may alert you to watch closely for developing hypothyroidism.
Even with all of these tests, the diagnosis may not be completely clear. Sometimes, the best you can do is a trial with treatment and then evaluate the response.
Truly hypothyroid dogs should have a noticeable improvement in symptoms with the addition of thyroid hormone supplementation.
My Dog’s Classic Signs of Hypothyroidism
Thinking I was being overly cautious, I ran a few more thyroid tests. They were far from normal. She had a raging case of autoimmune thyroiditis.
Her TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) level was very high and her blood test also showed high levels of thyroglobulin antibodies. Her immune system was attacking her thyroid gland. Autoimmune thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in dogs.
In short, my dog had a classic picture of hypothyroidism on her blood panel:
- Slightly low total T4
- Low free T4
- High TSH
- High anti-thyroid antibodies
Natural Treatments Did Not Cure My Dog’s Hypothyroidism
I hated to jump right into lifelong prescription medication. Hoping natural therapies would help her, I tried several natural interventions and waited to see what would happen. The holistic hypothyroid treatments we tried over a period of months included:
- Chinese herbs including Happy Wanderer/Xiao Yao San
- Canine thyroid supplement from Standard Process
- Human thyroid support supplements
- Food therapy (check out this great book Healing with Whole Foods) including some time on a raw diet
What Happens if Hypothyroidism is Left Untreated in Dogs?
What can you expect if your dog has hypothyroidism and you don’t treat it? Well, a few months after stopping her medication, most of the hair on my dog’s chest had fallen out. Her coat looked dull and kind of like a Brillo pad. She had flakey scabs all over her back and severe dandruff.
She gained weight, going from 50 pounds to 57 pounds with no change in diet or exercise level. When I rechecked her thyroid hormone panel, things had not improved.
She also seemed sore and tired all the time. I practically had to drag her out of the house. She no longer wanted to go for walks and preferred sleeping most of the time in a spot of warm sunshine. She acted like she was 15 years old instead of five!
Basically, most of the symptoms from the list above, my dog had.
Thyroid Hormone Improved All Hypothyroid Symptoms
After watching my young dog languishing in hypothyroid haze for a few months, I finally realized the natural treatments were not working. Dogs need thyroid hormone to be healthy and my dog’s thyroid was not kicking in again, no matter what I tried.
I started giving her levothyroxine tablets (Thyro Tabs). Within a couple of months, her hair regrew and it was much prettier than it had been in years.
I nearly cried when she started playing with her brother again. She became excited to go on walks and even started to be a little bit ornery. She was up and about, not hiding, curled in a little ball on her bed.
It was amazing to see her physical and behavioral changes when her thyroid levels were restored to normal. Only then did I realize just how horrible she had been feeling for a long time.
Homeopathy Didn’t Work for My Dog’s Hypothyroidism
A year or so later, I became convinced homeopathic remedies could treat my dog’s hypothyroidism. I took her off her thyroid medication in favor of natural remedies again. Several experienced homeopathic veterinarians advised me as I administered a series of constitutional remedies.
With each remedy, I became hopeful that my sweet dog would overcome her hypothyroidism. Instead, I saw a gradual decline in her well-being.
Soon, she was back where she started: suffering from severe anxiety, gaining weight, losing hair and having lots of pain.
Homeopathic remedies did not cure or even help my dog’s hypothyroid symptoms. I was disappointed, but after I saw her feeling bad again, I thought it would be cruel to withhold the treatment that I already knew worked for her.
Thyroid Hormones Again and Miraculous Hair Regrowth!
I finally threw in the towel and put her back on Thyro Tabs (levothyroxine). Once again, her health improved markedly within a few weeks. Honestly, I could tell she felt better after just a few days!
Her dry hair coat started to shed in patches and new shiny black hair replaced it. She looked and acted like a different dog than she was without Thyro Tabs.
Armour Thyroid Treatment for Dogs
I chose not to use a thyroid supplement made from desiccated pig thyroid. Armour Thyroid and NaturThroid are two brands of dessicated thyroid gland that are popular among human naturopaths.
These animal-based thyroid hormone replacement medications can work for dogs. However, they are more expensive and more difficult to source. They are not approved for use in dogs and we don’t have much information on how to best use them to treat dog hypothyroidism.
The biggest reason I chose not to use natural desiccated pig thyroid for my dog was that synthetic thyroid hormone worked great for her. It has a very long track record in veterinary patients and a very low-risk profile.
Do Natural Treatments Work for Dog Hypothyroidism?
Maybe I didn’t hit on the right natural remedy or maybe her thyroid was too far gone to respond. In any case, I’ve never taken her off Thyro Tabs after that and she continues to do well.
I felt disappointed that I couldn’t fix her naturally, but I thought it was unfair to let her suffer when I knew the Thyro Tabs would work.
Over time, I’ve come to grips with the fact that conventional medicine has a lot to offer for some diseases. We pet caretakers need to be willing to admit when natural treatment for your dog’s hypothyroidism isn’t working.
When illness occurs slowly over time, it may go unnoticed by even the most diligent caretakers. If you see changes in your pet’s body or mental state, start doing some detective work. I was lucky that my dog’s illness showed up on a blood test and had a specific treatment.
But even if you don’t get a firm diagnosis, you should still pursue diagnostic testing and do everything you can think of to get your buddy back on track.
There won’t always be an answer to your quest, but if you don’t even look your pet has no chance of getting help.
Canine Hypothyroidism Is Treatable
For dogs without symptoms of hypothyroidism, it might be worth trying natural treatments. For symptomatic dogs, a Thyro Tab pill given once or twice a day is inexpensive, well-tolerated, and has a predictable outcome.
Most vets believe that if there is no working thyroid gland, the only effective treatment is thyroid hormone supplementation.
In my dog’s case, I think I discovered the problem too late to turn things around naturally. The change in her after treatment with Thyro Tabs is the most remarkable of any hypothyroid dog I’ve ever treated. She went from acting like she was 15 years old to acting more like a 3-year-old dog!
I no longer feel guilty about treating her with thyroid hormone instead of natural remedies. I know she needs thyroid hormone to feel good and I will never make her go without it again.
One lesson I hope you learn from my experience is that diagnostic testing can be extremely helpful in figuring out why your pet is acting strangely. If I hadn’t run that “routine” blood panel, I wouldn’t have known to check for hypothyroidism.
Don’t wait if you feel there is something not right with your pet. Ask your vet to check for auto-immune thyroiditis, not just the T4 levels. It will cost more, but a full thyroid panel may be the only way to identify a major but entirely treatable problem.