Hormones are a big part of the body’s functioning, whether you be a human or a dog. These chemical messengers are secreted into the bloodstream by glandular organs and result in some pretty important functions. At Animal Medical Hospital & 24 Hour Urgent Care, we can often help with problems related to hormone imbalances, but we rely on you as the pet owner to notice and bring to our attention the signs and symptoms of canine hormone problems.
What Hormones Do
While you may not immediately be able to rattle off the main hormones the body produces, you are likely fairly familiar with most of them. Estrogen, testosterone, insulin, thyroid hormone (T3 and T40), cortisol, progesterone, and melatonin are among those that you have probably heard of before.
Within the body, hormones have several important functions. They might:
- Regulate growth and development
- Play a role in metabolism
- Support normal sexual function and reproductive health
- Regulate mood and cognitive functions
- Keep body temperature in check
- Affect overall appetite and thirst
Without hormones we (and our pets) would be a little lost. They are key to healthy physiology.
Symptoms of Canine Hormone Problems
There are certainly entire disease processes that affect our pets’ hormones. These are called endocrine diseases. As you can imagine, canine hormone problems that fall into this category can have some fairly serious consequences.
The exact symptoms of a problem depends on what hormonal system is being disrupted. Many times hair loss or skin coloration changes, increased thirst and urination, weight loss or gain, lethargy, and/or panting occur with endocrine issues in veterinary patients.
In general, most hormonal imbalances are the result of secreting too much hormone (hyper) or not enough (hypo). Some of the more common canine hormone problems that we diagnose include:
- Addison’s disease—Addison’s, or hypoadrenocorticism, results when the adrenal glands are not producing enough cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol helps the body respond to stress, while aldosterone balances the electrolytes sodium and potassium. Without enough of these hormones, patients may have gastrointestinal disturbances, weakness, weight loss, low blood pressure, and kidney problems.
- Cushing’s syndrome—Cushing’s is hypoadrenocorticism, the opposite of Addison’s disease. In Cushing’s syndrome the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol, resulting in increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, abnormal hair coat, muscle weakness, and panting. Patients affected by Cushing’s syndrome are also at high risk for secondary skin or urinary tract infections and high blood pressure.
- Diabetes mellitus—Diabetes results when there is not enough insulin being produced, either due to the pancreas not secreting enough or the body’s cells not responding to normal amounts. Not enough insulin means that the body cannot properly utilize carbohydrates for energy. This results in increased thirst, increased urination, a ravenous appetite, and weight loss.
- Hypothyroidism—When the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone, the metabolism slows down. Hypothyroid dogs often gain weight and have an increased appetite. They may be sluggish and often have hair loss along their sides. The opposite, hyperthyroidism, is rare in dogs, but is often diagnosed in cats.
Our veterinarians also see problems related to reproductive hormones in our patients. Things like benign prostatic hyperplasia and perineal adenomas are often related to testosterone in the intact male dog. Unspayed female dogs might experience estrogen-related disease in the form of mammary cancer, pyometra (uterine infection), and pseudopregnancy.
Of course there are many other canine hormone problems that exist. If you suspect that an endocrine problem may be affecting your pet, don’t hesitate to contact us so that we can help assess the situation. Many times diagnostic testing is essential to diagnosing the problem.
Managing a Hormonal Imbalance
Most canine endocrine diseases are treatable or manageable. Success, however, relies on achieving an accurate diagnosis and close oversight of the pet’s response.
Having the pet owner and our internal medicine team work together closely can help our pets with hormone imbalances lead relatively full and happy lives.
Most of life is a balancing act, and our hormones are not exempt from this. We are happy to help get your pet’s levels in check while providing the best care veterinary medicine has to offer.