Hypoparathyroidism is a potentially dangerous condition characterized by low production of parathyroid hormone. The condition is most likely to affect toy poodles, miniature schnauzers, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and terrier breeds. The average age of diagnosis is just under 5 years. If you notice any signs of hypoparathyroidism in your dog, take him to the vet for evaluation immediately.
The Ins and Outs
The parathyroid glands are small glands located near the thyroid gland, which sits in the front of your dog’s neck. Normally, these glands release parathyroid hormone, which regulates the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. When blood calcium levels get low, parathyroid hormone signals the release of calcium from the bone, which stabilizes blood calcium levels. In hypoparathyroidism, the parathyroid glands do not release enough, or any, parathyroid hormone. As a result, blood calcium levels drop and a host of symptoms can develop.
The Signs and Symptoms
Most of the symptoms of hypoparathyroidism are due to low levels of calcium in the blood. The most common symptoms include muscle twitching, spasms and seizures, which get worse as calcium levels diminsh. Other possible symptoms include wobbly or stiff movement, fever, growling, panting, weakness, increased urination, increased thirst, vomiting and lack of appetite. Over time, your dog may also develop cataracts and mental depression. You may also notice behavioral changes as the condition worsens.
Why It Happens
In most cases, the cause of hypoparathyroidism in dogs in unknown. Often, the condition occurs as a result of an autoimmune disease that causes your dog’s immune system to attack the parathyroid glands. This results in inflammation and inadequate functioning of the parathyroid glands. In order to diagnosis hypoparathyroidism, your veterinarian will likely do a differential diagnosis, which involves ruling out other conditions, such as heart disease, hypoglycemia, metabolic disease, liver disease and epilepsy, that can cause symptoms similar to those of hypoparathyroidism.
Keeping Your Dog Healthy
The first treatment step is to restore blood calcium levels by administering calcium carbonate intravenously. The veterinary medical team may also recommend large doses of vitamin D, which helps your dog’s body absorb calcium. Once your dog’s calcium levels are restored and symptoms are under control, treatment focuses on long-term maintenance of normal blood calcium levels. Maintenance may require oral calcium supplements and low doses of vitamin D, although some dogs need only calcium supplements.
Lindsay Boyers has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.