Pet parents postpone vet visits for all manner of reasons. Some fear what the
veterinarian will find during the examination, while others worry about the
costs. Regardless of the reasons for not keeping an appointment, the advantages
of regular check-ups simply cannot be understated … especially if you’ve been
noticing something different about your pet kid.
Has your dog’s weight ballooned over the past year? Or perhaps you’ve noticed
that your cat drinks more water than is typical … not only that, she’s actually
lost weight. Or, there are no kitty symptoms aside from non-stop meowing at
night. What many don’t realize is that unexpected changes in weight and eating
or drinking habits are all signs to keep that appointment with your
veterinarian. These are some of the common signs of feline and canine hormonal
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
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
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
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.
Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.
Dr. Jane Bicks