Tragic Dog Face: What Causes It, And How to Know if Your Dog Has It

Shannon Lorraine always thought her sweet Rogue was a gentle giant with a slow gait and low energy. Her family even referred to him as “the old man.” But when Rogue, a four-year-old lab mix, lost interest in running and was sleeping way more than normal, she decided to take him to the vet.

Serendipitously, they’d decided to switch up their vet situation and ended up taking Rogue to a new veterinarian, Dr. Anna Kaufman at BondVet. Right away, Dr. Kaufman suspected Rogue might have an endocrine disorder based off his lethargy and a common symptom called “tragic dog face.”

“Blood tests were run, and Rogue was diagnosed as hypothyroid,” says Shannon. “Now, Rogue takes two doses of thyroid meds every day, and he is a new dog! Everyone has seen the difference in Rogue! He runs again, he is losing weight, and he is happy and full of energy!”

What is Tragic Dog Face?

Like many people, Shannon had never heard of the phrase “tragic dog face,” and had no idea it was even something to look for. She’d noticed Rogue had a sort of “sad look” to him, but she just assumed it was part of his appearance.  

While there are other important tests and clinical signs to observe before diagnosing a dog with hypothyroidism or another endocrine disorder, Dr. Kaufman says that tragic dog face is one to be on the lookout for.

“It’s basically a skin abnormality that causes the skin to look saggy around the face, and so it almost makes the dog look sad,” she explains. “Typically, these guys might be a little overweight, lethargic, [and exhibit] some skin changes like hair loss, changes in the face, and dark pigmentation of the skin.”

Another subtle sign is that dogs with hypothyroidism may not want to sit on cold surfaces because it is uncomfortable for them to do so. Instead, they prefer to sit on blankets, couches, and carpet versus tile, wood floor, or cement.

“Not every dog that has these signs, so it’s important to communicate with the veterinarian, who can put together a clinical picture [using blood panels and diagnostics]. It could be other diseases, as well.”

How Common is Tragic Dog Face?

Dr. Kaufman says that hypothyroidism is actually a very common endocrine disease in dogs. In fact, it is one of the most common conditions that veterinarians see. For that reason, it can also be over-diagnosed. She highly recommends having your veterinarian run a full blood panel and do all the appropriate tests before diagnosing or medicating.

Can You Cure Hypothyroidism in Dogs?

Unfortunately, hypothyroidism in dogs is a lifelong disease. So instead of trying to cure the condition, your veterinarian will put your dog on a regimen that helps manage their symptoms and provide them with relief.

While chronic, dogs with hypothyroidism and all its side effects—including tragic dog face, skin disorders, and lethargy—can improve greatly once put on a regimented medication schedule. Dr. Kaufman says that this usually consists of taking a pill once or twice daily.

“It can be really rewarding to see them start a treatment plan,” she says. “Once treatment starts, the hope is that over a few months some of these skin diseases may improve, and their energy levels go up.”

Rogue is a shining example of that. Dr. Kaufman says that Rogue was one of those cases that were particularly rewarding, and Shannon and her family are just as thrilled.  

“He is a new dog, and we are so grateful,” she says. “He is a popular dog in the neighborhood and at the dog park, and everyone has been amazed by his improvement!”

Many pet parents find themselves the owners of an animal companion with a disease or condition they are unfamiliar with. The purrch app was created to help pet owners connect on these matters while also sharing the many joys and silly moments. Come join our wag-happy community and engage with pets like Rogue and others.

Purrch is powered by a team of ultra-passionate pet peeps, adoption advocates, and fellow pet nerds who believe that animals big and smol make us—and the world—better. We can’t wait to see your heckin’ cute pets, watch your Tails, and build friendships along the way. You can download the purrch app here