Just like humans, our pets’ health and well-being are governed by their endocrine system, a complex collection of glands and chemical messengers that control everything from hair growth to metabolism. Also just like people, pets can experience hormonal issues that may lead to more significant problems.
So what are the top signs that your pet might be suffering from a hormonal problem?
1. Hair Loss
Your pet’s lustrous hair is getting thin. For dogs, this is especially true for the trunk and tail. For cats, you’ll notice it first on the tips of their ears. Hair loss can be a sign of abnormal thyroid levels, either low or high, or even an early indicator of Cushing’s Syndrome. We’ll talk more about this disease in a moment, which results from abnormally high levels of cortisol, a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland.
2. Weight Gain
Stubborn fat that can’t be shed even with a strict diet. Unfortunately, this too could be a sign of Cushing’s Syndrome or hypothyroidism. Companion animals with Cushing’s also can have a pot belly despite being very active, whereas pet kids with low thyroid function tend to be sluggish and seem exhausted.
3. Sudden Weight Loss
It’s alarming when your pet kid eats with a voracious appetite, but is still losing weight. This could be a sign of abnormally high thyroid levels (usually in cats) or diabetes mellitus in either species.
4. Increased Thirst and Urination
As you might imagine, increased thirst and urination can be a sign of kidney problems. But it can also be a sign of several hormonal disorders, including hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s Syndrome and diabetes mellitus.
5. Other Symptoms:
Changes in appetite
Agitation and nervousness
Changes in energy level
All of these are signs that something might be awry, and your dog or cat needs a full checkup right away. Your veterinarian will ask you some questions, examine your pet and usually recommend lab work. Most hormonal conditions are easily diagnosed with blood work or urine analysis, and fortunately, most conditions can be controlled with supplements or medication. As with most diseases, early detection is essential to successful treatment or control of the problem.
Now that we’ve covered what symptoms you need to be aware of, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common hormonal conditions in dogs and cats.
Hypothyroidism is much more common in dogs than cats. It is caused by an underactive thyroid gland, and symptoms include low energy, weight gain, hair loss, even neurological dysfunction. It is treated with a thyroid supplement and therapy is a life-long commitment.
Equally common in dogs and cats, Cushing’s Syndrome is due to an overactive adrenal gland secreting too much cortisol. Common signs include increased drinking, excess urination, increased appetite, weight gain and hair loss. Cushing’s is diagnosed with blood work and sometimes abdominal ultrasound. Treatment is achieved with a medication that is used to decrease cortisol secretion or surgery to remove a tumor on the adrenal gland.
Hyperthyroidism is seen primarily in cats, and is due to an overactive thyroid. Signs include increased appetite, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, hair loss and agitation. The condition can be treated with a medication to decrease thyroid hormone, surgery to remove a thyroid tumor, or possibly radioactive iodine.
Diabetes is caused by decreased insulin or insulin resistance (Type 2, primarily due to obesity) which leads to increased blood sugar levels. Signs include weight loss, increased appetite, increased thirst and urination. This is a serious condition if it remains untreated … severe cases can lead to coma or even death. Treatment is with insulin injections and supervised weight loss.
In many respects, Addison’s is the opposite of Cushing’s. It’s caused by an underactive adrenal gland. The symptoms are usually severe, include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and possibly even coma. Addison’s is diagnosed with blood work and urine analysis, and the standard treatment is with hormone replacement therapy. These patients are often very dehydrated when they are first seen by veterinarians, which may necessitate hospitalization and intravenous fluids.
How can I prevent hormonal problems in my dog or cat?
New research is actively being done to determine the causes of hormonal conditions in dogs and cats. One promising area of research is in the effects of early spay/neuter surgeries. Veterinarians are studying what changes these alterations have on the endocrine system of our companion animals.
Always feed your dog or cat the robust nutrition offered by premium quality food. Pet parents should consider providing a food supplement to support health and overall well-being as well.
Make sure your companion animal receives an annual veterinary exam. If your pet kid has achieved senior status, annual blood work and urine analysis play key roles in early detection, before medical issues become full-blown problems.