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 Hypothyroidism by Lisa Boyer, DVM
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Author  Topic Next Topic: New Book about Thyroid Problems by Dr. Jean Dodds  


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 Posted - 08/03/2012 :  12:18:56 PM Show Profile Visit SpinoneMAX's Homepage Add SpinoneMAX to Buddylist
This article was previously published in the April 2012 Versatile Hunting Dog (NAVHDA) magazine and is being reprinted here with the permission of the author.

HYPOTHYROIDISM, The Ins and Outs of Diagnosis and Treatment by Lisa Boyer, DVM

When I was a young veterinarian, my husband and I became friends with a hunter who owned two Yellow Labrador Retrievers. While on a hunting trip, I received an urgent call from my husband and his friend telling me that one of the Labradors had collapsed. The dog hadn't been particularly overworked, and he had been a strong hunter throughout the season. Unfortunately, the dog passed away several days later despite treatment. Surprisingly, the cause of this dog's death was determined to be complications related to undiagnosed hypothyroidism. I share this story not to worry you, but to explain that in some cases, Canine Hypothyroidism is an under-diagnosed issue that may affect your hunting partner.

What is Hypothyroidism?
Simply put, Canine Hypothyroidism is a condition where the dog has an insufficient amount of active thyroid hormone. It is a very common condition in people and is the most common hormone imbalance in dogs. Although it would seem that supplementing thyroid hormone would alleviate the issue, sometimes diagnosing and treating hypothyroidism is complicated. Often, dogs are over-diagnosed and over-treated for this condition.

There are several causes of hypothyroidism in the dog:

. Congental Hypothyroidism - although this condition may be present in early puppyhood, it is rarely a diagnosed cause in dogs.

. Lympocytic Thyroiditis - Immune-mediated destruction of the thyroid gland.

. Idiopathic - degeneration of the thyroid gland from a non-inflammatory process.

. Neoplasia (cancer) - Very few cases of hypothyroidism are due to this cause.

. Dietary deficiency of Iodine - Very few cases are caused by diet, unless feeding an unblanced. diet.

Genetics are believed to play a role in the development of the immune-mediated form of hypothyroidism, accountable for 50% of canine hypothyroid cases.

What Does Hypothyroidism Look Like and What Dogs are Affected?
The average age of onset of hypothyroidism is between 4 and 10 years. Most dogs that are affected are considered medium to large breeds. There are certain breeds that have a definite predisposition. They include the Doberman Pinscher, the Golden Retriever, the Irish Setter, the Great Dane, the Dachshund, and the Boxer. In testing for lymphocytic thyroiditis, however, many of our hunting breeds have an increased prevalence of testing positive: Pointers, English Setters, English Pointers, German Wirehaired Pointers, Beagles, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Golden Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Brittany Spaniels are all breeds that show a propensity for the immune-mediated cause of hypothyroidism.

Dogs with hypothyroidism typically show one or more of the following signs:

. Most (>80%) have some kind of skin issue (hair loss around the tail or collar or at areas of friction, skin infections, oily coat with a foul odor, brittle or dry coat (outer hairs break off leaving a soft undercoat) or chronic ear infections.

. 50% of the dogs are overweight.

. 50% of the dogs are described as lethargic or low-energy.

. One-third of all dogs have anemia (low red blood cell volume).

. Sudden onset of seizures.

. Thickening of the tissues, especially around the face and head (tragic face).

Hypothyroidism affects almost all body systems. An examination by your veterinarian may show a higher than normal blood cholesterol, an abnormal heart rate, rhythm or heart murmur, fatty deposits within the structures of the eye, infertility, stillborn pups, smaller puppy birth weights and inappropriate lactation in a breeding animal, difficulty swallowing and behavioral aggression.

How Do I Know if my Dog Has Hypothyroidism?
Thyroid disease is not always a straightforward diagnosis as some other diseases produce similar clinical signs. Sometimes, dogs may have more than one issue making the diagnosis very challenging.

A screening test for hypothyroidism can be done inexpensively by your veterinarian. The test is called a T4 test (a measure of the total thyroid hormone in the body). If the result is abnormally low, further testing is required to determine if your dog is truly hypothyroid. The T4 value may be falsely decreased by medications and concurrent illness. Some breeds (sight hounds) have typically low T4 levels and this is not an indication of hypothyroidism.

If your dog has low T4 and clinical signs of the disease, additional testing should be conducted by your veterinarian. A "free-T4" (not referring to the cost of the test) and TSM (thyroid stimulating hormone) test should be conducted. In addition, an Anti-thyroglobulin antibody (TgAA) test should be done to determine if the cause of the disease is immune-mediated. In all cases, a check for high cholesterol and anemia should be part of a thorough workup.

Most veterinarians will use their regular lab services to screen for hypothyroidism. If there is any doubt to the diagnosis, not all labs and test methods are equal. You can request that your veterinarian send the laboratory samples to Michigan State University, perhaps the best laboratory in the country for screening for thyroid disease. Their tests are not much more expensive, but the resuts are superior, especially in complicated cases.

How is Hypothyroidism Treated?
Typically, thyroid hormone supplementation is given to correct the thyroid hormone level. This medication is easily administered and inexpensive. Monitoring of the thyroid levels will be required on a regular basis to ensure that the dosage is appropriate. In addition, any infections or other illnesses wil need to be treated.

Although there are no proven holistic remedies for hypothyroidism, there are dietary supplements that may help a dog with hypothyroid disease. Consulting with a veterinarian who is skilled in alternative medicine may improve the quality of treatment. Just as there are effective products on the market, there are many so-called "miracle cures". If considering the use of an alternative product, it is a good idea to consult with your veterinarian to make sure it won't interfere with treatment.

If your dog has a low T4 level but is otherwise not showing any symptoms of hypothyroidism, there is no need for treatment. Regular monitoring in this case is still recommended.

The good news about hypothyroidism is that if caught early and treated appropriately, this disease is manageable and your hunting partner will remain eager and able to hunt. Owner awareness of this disease is important and will aid your veterinarian in properly advising you about the need for testing or treatment.

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   Topic Next Topic: New Book about Thyroid Problems by Dr. Jean Dodds  
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