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Hormone Imbalance in Dogs: Natural Solutions for Canine Endocrine Disease

Dr Katie Woodley, renowned holistic vet, discusses hormonal imbalance in dogs in this comprehensive guide. She shares valuable information on the canine endocrine system, symptoms of various endocrine diseases in dogs, and how owners can help their canine companions recover naturally.

Dr Katie Woodley aka The Natural Pet Doctor. ProDog expert author.

Author: Dr Katie Woodley
BVSc, GDVCHM, CVMA

Edited By: Anna Bain

Hormone Imbalance in Dogs: Natural Solutions for Canine Endocrine Disease

Hormone imbalance in dogs can be a tricky problem to solve. The canine endocrine system is a complex collection of organs and glands, spanning the entire body from the brain down to the reproductive organs, and each piece is as crucial as the next. 

Endocrine diseases in dogs can feel overwhelming, but there are solutions available. In this article I’ll discuss the importance of hormones in dogs, how endocrine diseases happen, common symptoms to be aware of, and how you can help your dog heal naturally.

Importance of hormones in dogs

The vital roles of hormones in canine health

Dog hormones hold the same importance as the hormones of all species: they’re crucial chemical components that contribute to overall well being in a variety of ways. Hormones act as messengers throughout the body. They’re natural substances created by the body’s cells that act as regulators, assuring the balance of its many systems and functions.

These chemical substances affect vital processes such as digestion, reproduction, metabolism, and others. They’re sent like messages through the blood to their designated areas of the body, where they either stimulate, regulate, or suppress the function they’re assigned to. When there is a hormone imbalance, dogs can experience a domino-like effect of multiple systems and functions becoming compromised, each having their own negative health consequences.

Impact of hormonal balance on overall wellbeing

The effect of a single compromised hormonal process can be far reaching, as each part of the dog’s endocrine system must function optimally. Every dog hormone plays a vital role, and performs in synergy with all the others. When one fails to do its job, others must attempt to compensate, often leading to wide-spread hormone imbalance in dogs. This can result in various dog endocrine diseases, which I’ll discuss later in the article.

When all hormones are balanced and the canine endocrine system is functioning optimally, dogs are able to maintain overall health much more easily. This is because the functions and processes that hormones regulate are all crucial to canine health; they ensure balance within the body and contribute to an environment that can sustain itself without issue.

Understanding hormones and the endocrine system

The canine endocrine system

Like humans, dogs have a multitude of hormones that are each produced by various parts of the canine endocrine system. The endocrine system contains a collection of organs and glands that produce and secrete hormones, and all are vital in their own ways. The main processes that the dog endocrine system is responsible for include:

  • Digestion
  • Metabolism
  • Reproductive function
  • Hair growth
  • Immunity
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Stress response
  • Cognitive function

These processes and functions are all critical to canine health, each playing their own vital role in the delicate balance that the body requires for survival. When one or more of them is imbalanced or compromised, endocrine disease in dogs can result. 

Hormones and their sources

As I’ve mentioned, each hormone is produced and secreted by various organs and glands in dogs’ endocrine systems. There are many hormones that are essential to the body’s various systems and functions, with some being responsible for more of these than others. However, each is critical to canine health, and each of their roles is vital for balanced wellbeing. The major hormones and their sources are as follows:

  • Endorphins, melatonin, dopamine — Originate within various areas of the brain
  • Insulin, glucagon, ghrelin, secretin — Originate in the pancreas 
  • Thyroid stimulating hormone, thyroxine, calcitonin, triiodothyronine  — Originate in the thyroid gland as well as the pituitary gland (brain)
  • Oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, oxytocin — Originate in the brain, sexual organs, and adrenal glands
  • Adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, aldosterone — Originate within the adrenal glands
  • Renin/calcitriol — Originate within the kidneys
  • Serotonin is synthesized via tryptophan, and has a wide-ranging roles in the body, including endocrine function – produced mainly in the Digestive tract

Types of hormones and their functions

Major hormone types

Whilst there are many hormones within the canine endocrine system, some of these are responsible for more functions than others. Each hormone plays an essential role in dogs’ overall wellbeing, though some are considered “major” hormones due to their various responsibilities within the body. Each major hormone type contains multiple hormones that regulate and aid in the functioning of various systems (I’ll discuss these in more detail below). Here are the six major hormone types:

  • Brain hormones
  • Pancreatic hormones
  • Thyroid hormones
  • Reproductive hormones
  • Adrenal hormones
  • Renal hormones 

Functions and regulation

Brain hormones

Endorphins — Regulate stress levels and promote feeling of wellbeing

Melatonin — Regulates circadian rhythm, promotes immunity, boosts mood

Dopamine — Neurotransmitter; regulates feelings of pleasure and satisfaction

Pancreatic hormones

Insulin — Regulates levels of glucose in the blood 

Glucagon — Also regulates glucose levels

Ghrelin — Stimulates production of glucagon and impedes glucose storage in major organs

Secretin — Regulates stomach acid levels and pancreatic pH balance  

Somatostatin — Inhibits secretion of excess glucagon and insulin, helps regulate stomach acid

Thyroid hormones

Thyroxine — Promotes optimal heart and muscle function, bone strength and repair, digestion, metabolism, weight maintenance, and neurological development

Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) — Main hormone responsible for stimulating all other thyroid hormones 

Calcitonin — Regulates calcium and phosphate levels in the blood

Triiodothyronine — Manages neurological development, heart rate, metabolic rate, digestion, bone development and skeletal functioning

Reproductive hormones

Oestrogen — Stimulates egg production within the ovaries

Progesterone — Maintains pregnancy and prepares uterus lining for egg attachment

Testosterone — Regulates fertility and breast tissue (females); regulates body fat distribution, muscle mass, bone density, sperm, red blood cells, and sex drive (males) 

Oxytocin — Stimulates sexual arousal, bonding between mother and puppies, bonding between dogs and their human families

Relaxin — Stimulates placental growth, regulates cartilage, tendon, muscle and bone health 

Adrenal hormones

Cortisol — Stress hormone; regulates distribution of fats, carbohydrates, protein, blood sugar, inflammation, and blood pressure

Aldosterone — Regulates salt and water levels in the blood, aiding in blood pressure maintenance

Adrenaline — Regulates stress response, heightens senses and distributes blood to key muscles 

Noradrenaline — Regulates cognitive function and attention span

Renal hormones    

Renin — Regulates blood pressure, sodium, and potassium levels

Calcitriol — Regulates calcium levels in blood plasma

Common endocrine diseases in dogs

Hypothyroidism 

Hypothyroidism is the most common endocrine disease in dogs. It occurs when the production of thyroid hormones is inhibited, and is often the result of an autoimmune disease, such as autoimmune thyroiditis[1]. Hypothyroidism can also be caused by other, less common factors, such as medications, vaccines, and various environmental triggers. Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include:

  • Excessive, unexplained weight gain
  • Slowing down physically and/or mentally
  • Changes in skin/coat (hair loss, darkening of skin, etc.)

As thyroid hormones are major contributors to various essential functions, hypothyroidism can lead to various other health issues if left unchecked:

  • Neurological problems
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Eye/ear issues, including vision or hearing loss
  • Pancreatitis
  • Blood sugar regulation issues
  • Joint health issues
  • Various other canine endocrine diseases, such as Addison’s, diabetes, etc.
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is also a common endocrine disease in dogs. It involves dysregulation of blood sugar, and directly involves the pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin and glucagon (hormones that regulate blood sugar). When the pancreas is compromised, sugar levels build in the blood, causing various other systems to begin functioning abnormally. Here are some of the common symptoms of diabetes:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy/weakness

Many dogs with diabetes require regular treatment with insulin injections for the duration of their lives. However, there are also natural remedies and nutritional therapies that can help aid diabetic dogs in their disease management. 

To learn more about diabetes in dogs read ProDog’s article, Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Natural Solutions

Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease affects dogs’ endocrine systems in one of two ways. The first and most common version is due to the over-production of adrenocorticotropic hormone, which is created in the brain’s pituitary gland. The second version of Cushing’s occurs when the adrenal glands overproduce the cortisol hormone. Both versions of Cushing’s are caused by tumors on either the pituitary gland or one/both of the adrenal glands. Symptoms of Cushing’s disease include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Enlarged/bloated abdomen
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive panting
  • Recurring skin infections
  • Thin or delicate skin
  • Hair loss
  • Slowing down physically 

Treatment for Cushing’s disease generally involves lifelong management with medication, though occasionally adrenal gland tumors can be removed if surgery doesn’t present additional risk. However, holistic options, including nutritional therapy, can be especially helpful as well.

Obesity

Though it may not be obvious, obesity can also be caused by hormone imbalance in dogs. Weight gain can be a direct result of over or under production of various hormones, such as those responsible for digestion and metabolism [2]. When a dog’s metabolism and/or digestion are affected, the body’s ability to transfer glucose (sugar) into energy becomes compromised, leaving it to be stored in various places it doesn’t belong. 

Fat cells also produce hormones that can contribute to other endocrine disorders like diabetes. Thankfully, obesity can be minimized through feeding a biologically-appropriate diet, free from carbohydrates, starches, and sugars/preservatives, such as ProDog’s raw meals

To discover more about helping your dog shed unwanted weight, read ProDog’s guide, Weight Loss Tips for Dogs

Role of nutrition and diet in supporting hormone balance

Importance of a balanced diet for endocrine health

Nutrition is the first place I start when advising clients on how to help their dogs, including when canine endocrine disease is present. My reason for this is simple: what dogs eat has a huge impact on their wellbeing, one way or the other. For dogs with compromised endocrine systems, an appropriate diet is even more crucial, as their bodies are literally crying out for help. 

Feeding the correct nutrients supports digestion, immunity, and helps to regulate hormone imbalance in dogs. As gut health largely determines the health and functionality of all the body’s systems, it only makes sense that feeding dogs their natural, instinctive diet aids in correcting any imbalances present. This is partly because the digestive system works closely with endocrine cells  by helping them to transmit messages through the use of digestive peptides, but there’s far more to it than that. 

The gut also communicates directly with the brain, which is where many hormones originate. Keeping this line of communication open and ensuring the correct messages are sent helps to regulate any unbalanced hormone levels, calm inflammation, keep immune function balanced, and more. This can all be achieved by simply feeding dogs the appropriate nutrients, and these can even be tweaked to support specific health issues.

Nutrients that support hormonal balance in dogs

Starting with the basics, a raw, meat-based, whole food diet is crucial for maintaining overall health in all dogs, especially those with existing health concerns such as canine endocrine disease. ProDog offers multiple choices of raw meals for dogs, each created with essential nutrients dogs require to thrive.    

However, when disease is already present in the body, nutritional supplements can help to deliver targeted boosts of key nutrients that aid in the recovery process. Some recommendations for endocrine disease in dogs are ProDog’s Colostrum, Boost, and Digest supplements. Here’s a quick break down of how each of these is helpful:

Colostrum

Delivers key nutrients such as growth factors, antibodies IgG, IgM and IgA, bioactive proteins, proline-rich peptides (PRP), and prebiotics, among others. This combination works to build/restore gut health, boost immunity, heal tissues, strengthen cartilage, resolve allergies, reduce inflammation, and so much more. 

Boost 

Includes antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, probiotics and protein. Provides nutrients to support overall health and ensure the endocrine system is getting the fuel it needs.

Digest 

Advanced gut health support supplement; includes prebiotics, antioxidants, amino acids and essential minerals to soothe, normalize, and restore the gastrointestinal tract and promote endocrine health.

Need help with your dog’s diet?

Contact ProDog’s expert team today for FREE tailored canine nutrition advice
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Impact of spaying and neutering on hormones and health

How early spaying/neutering can affect hormone levels

Spaying and neutering is a personal choice based on many factors, but doing this before your puppy has reached full maturity comes with the potential for increased health issues. Though many rescues require it prior to adoption, the early removal of sexual organs can have a negative impact on a dog’s endocrine system [3],[4]. 

I say this because key hormones are produced and secreted by these organs, and removing them from the body, especially before they’ve had a chance to mature, can cause hormone imbalance in dogs. As I mentioned earlier, each hormone has its place within the endocrine system. When some are removed or compromised, others suffer as a result.

Potential health implications

Due to the absence of reproductive hormones in their endocrine systems, dogs that are spayed or neutered too early can experience various health consequences. Some of these include:

  • Decreased metabolic rate, leading to weight gain
  • Increased risk of certain joint diseases, including hip dysplasia 
  • Increased endocrine disorders
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, such as lymphoma and mast cell tumors
  • Increased risk of urinary incontinence (females)
  • Delayed closing of growth plates 

While it’s not always possible to choose when our dogs are spayed/neutered (especially in an adoption setting), waiting until after two years of age minimises these risks substantially. Dogs are physically and sexually mature at this age, and removing the reproductive organs has less of a negative impact on the endocrine system.

Benefits of a holistic approach for maintaining endocrine/hormone balance

Holistic veterinary care overview

Holistic veterinary care approaches canine endocrine disease (and all other health issues) differently than conventional veterinary care. The holistic health approach aims to evaluate and bring balance to the whole animal, taking more into account than what’s noticeable on the surface. 

Aside from evaluating symptoms, holistic vets, like myself, delve deep into a dog’s health history, including their diet and any past/current health issues; essentially anything from their lives (past or present) that might prove helpful to the current situation. Holistic vets are also far more likely to be trained on the subjects of nutrition and natural remedies; both of which provide health benefits without the negative side effects that conventional treatments may cause.

How holistic approaches can complement traditional treatments

The holistic approach can be utilized alongside traditional veterinary care for more effective results in resolving endocrine disease in dogs. Whilst some conventional treatments may be necessary, complementing them with natural remedies, herbs, and nutritional therapy can help to boost results whilst also helping to minimize side effects and potential long term health consequences.

Nutritional therapy aids in restoring and maintaining gut health, which can help to counteract any potential damage that certain medications can cause. This also helps to promote the ability of other systems and functions to regain balance as a result. Herbs and other alternative modalities may also aid in restoring balance, allowing the conventional treatments to do their job without any negative fallout (or at least minimizing it).

Hormone imbalance in dogs: Helping your canine companion heal naturally

Whilst canine endocrine disease can seem scary, there are ways to help prevent and resolve these issues, and without resorting to drastic measures in many cases. Though some endocrine conditions do require traditional treatment, there are ways to minimize the negative effects of these while promoting your dog’s innate healing abilities.

The best way to treat any health issue in dogs is to prevent it if you have the option. Feeding fresh, whole foods that promote canine health is the best place to start, and it’s never too late to make the switch. Reach out to our expert feeding advisors with any questions you have about raw feeding; whether your dog has hormonal issues or as a proactive approach.

Hormones in dogs FAQs

How do you fix hormonal imbalance in dogs?

There are many treatments for hormonal imbalance in dogs, so this depends on the specific condition, and also whether your dog has been neutered. Glandular therapy is something I recommend pet parents explore with their holistic vet’s guidance, this approach can have very positive outcomes for a range of conditions. However, improving their diet by feeding more natural, meat-based foods is a great start to help balance hormones in dogs naturally.

Can female dogs have a hormone imbalance?

Yes, both male and female dogs can have hormonal imbalances. There are multiple hormones circulating throughout the body all the time, and any of these can become imbalanced if the internal conditions allow it. 

How do you test for hormone imbalance in dogs?

Hormone levels can be tested through blood work or saliva samples.

How do hormones affect dog behavior?

Certain hormones help to regulate mood and cognitive function, so they can affect behaviour in various ways if they are imbalanced. For example, overproduction of testosterone can influence aggressive behaviour in some dogs, and underproduction of thyroid hormone can cause depressed mood in others. 

For those seeking deeper insights into this subject, the 2007 study titled “Impact of Nutrition on Canine Behaviour” delves into the intricate relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and hormone levels, alongside an in-depth examination of how tryptophan influences dog behaviour. [5]

What are the symptoms of endocrine problems in dogs?

There are various symptoms to go along with each endocrine disease in dogs. Consult the “Common endocrine diseases in dogs” section for a complete list.

What is the main function of the endocrine system in animals?

The endocrine system produces and secretes hormones from and through its various organs and glands. Read more information in the “Understanding hormones and the endocrine system” section.

What are the side effects of Suprelorin in dogs?

Suprelorin is a temporary form of chemical castration, which can have some negative side effects. These include hair loss, weight gain, reduced activity levels, and urinary incontinence, among others.

What is the hormonal implant for dogs?

A hormonal implant is a non-surgical (chemical) form of castration, and is inserted in the skin on the upper back like a microchip. I don’t recommend using chemicals of any sort to manipulate hormones, though sometimes these are necessary in certain cases.

How long does the dog implant last?

Hormonal implants can last from 6 months to a year, depending on the type and individual situation.

How much does a dog implant cost?

That depends on your vet and the duration of the implant. Call your veterinarian for their prices.

References

  1. Miller, J., Popiel, J., Chelmońska-Soyta, A. Jul 2015. Humoral and Cellular Immune Response in Canine Hypothyroidism. Journal of Comparative Pathology;, 153(1):28-37. Doi: 10.1016/j.jcpo2015.03.003
  2. Cortese, L., Terrazzano, G., Pelagalli, A. May 2019. Leptin and Immunological Profile in Obesity and its Associated Disease in Dogs. International Journal of Molecular Sciences;, 20(10):2392. Doi: 10.3390/ijms20102392
  3. De la Riviera, G., Hart, B., Farver, T., Oberbauer, A., Messam, L., Willits, N., Hart, L. Feb 2013. Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers. PLoS One;, 8(2);e55937. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055937
  4. Kutzler, M. Mar 2020. Possible Relationship between Long-Term Adverse Health Effects of Gonad-Removing Surgical Sterilization and Luteinizing Hormone in Dogs. Animals;, 10(4):599. Doi: 10.3390/ani10040599
  5. Bosch G, Beerda B, Hendriks WH, van der Poel AFB, Verstegen MWA (2007). Impact of nutrition on canine behaviour: current status and possible mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews.20(2):180-194. Doi:10.1017/S095442240781331X

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Dr Katie Woodley

BVSc, GDVCHM, CVMA, otherwise known as The Natural Pet Doctor, is a leading force in the world of holistic pet care and a valued consultant vet for ProDog. With a passion for canine well-being and a commitment to promoting holistic approaches, she is dedicated to enhancing the lives of our fur friends.

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