Hugging Dogs

DON’T HUG YOUR DOG!

Really? Well, that’s the headline…but you know us, we like to get behind the headlines.

DOGS DON’T LIKE HUGS!

Researchers studied 250 photographs of dogs being hugged and concluded that 80% of them showed signs of being unhappy which has lead to hysterical headlines in the papers, online, on TV and radio, yet every post we’ve seen has pet owners fighting back, “but my dog loves cuddles”!

Most dogs do enjoy physical contact with humans. Many come to us for stroking and tummy rubs, push their heads under our hands, and try to climb up on our laps for cuddles. Stroking or grooming a dog can have positive effects on both parties, with both getting a hit of oxytocin – a hormone normally associated with bonding between mums and babies, or between lovers. The problem comes when a dog is restrained for cuddles against his wishes. A dog who has come to his owner for affection will be feeling quite different from one who has been unwillingly grabbed for a dog hug selfie! In this circumstance the dog may feel afraid and trapped and may show signs of distress. The same can happen if a dog is approached by strangers or children who try to stroke or cuddle. Dogs are not so different to humans…think how good a hug from a friend makes you feel, then think about how uncomfortable a hug from a total stranger in the street might feel!

How can you tell if your dog is comfortable with a hug? Your dogs has many subtle ways of telling you how he feels but they can be quite subtle. If he’s struggling and trying to get away that’s a pretty clear sign he doesn’t want a cuddle! If he is licking his lips, you can see the whites of his eyes, his mouth is closed with tight lips, and he seems to be looking away from you, he also doesn’t want a cuddle. Ignore these signs as your dog might feel he has to warn you with a growl, and if he’s still ignored he might snap at you. He won’t mean to bite first time, but humans are so slow…. Be especially careful to watch for these warning signs when children or friends are petting your dog, and never be afraid to step in and protect him from unwanted physical attention.

We don’t often post links tat take you away from our page, but this one has a nice slideshow about dog body language: http://www.doggonesafe.com/speak_dog

DOGS LIKE HUGS FROM PEOPLE THEY KNOW AND TRUST

The ‘take home’ message is don’t stop touching your dog! But do learn to ‘listen’ to his body language and respect him when he doesn’t want a cuddle.

POSTMAN PROBLEMS

HELP! MY DOG BARKS AT THE POSTMAN!

Barking at the postman is one of the most common behaviour ‘problems’ we’re asked about. So why is the Postie such a problem and what can you do about it?

(I’m going to use ‘Postman/Postmen’ throughout to make for easier reading, but please accept I’m writing about all postal and parcel delivery people).

 

THE PROBLEM WITH POSTMEN…

Most dogs are at least a little bit protective, especially of their homes. We’ve bred them for this trait since the dawn of domestication. Guarding the den is a juvenile wolf behaviour, and domestic dogs share many of their behaviours with juvenile wolves…including guarding. Many dog breeds have been specifically bred to enhance the guarding tendency… both obvious ‘guard dog’ breeds like German Shepherds and Rottweilers, but also the livestock guarding breeds like Maremmas, Dalmatians which guarded carriages, and small breeds like Shih Tzus which, according to the breed lore, guarded temples.

Dogs can learn to be calm when visitors come. With patience it is possible to train them to run to their bed when the doorbell goes, and wait for you to invite the guest in. But often this approach fails with the Postie…why?

Think like a dog for a minute. The Postie usually comes when the owner is out. The Postie approaches the door…and rattles the letterbox. Is he trying to get in? The dog feels that his territory is under threat, and the human isn’t here to deal with it…so… the dog runs to the door barking. The Postie turns and leaves. RESULT! The dog has got rid of the ‘threat’ and feels very relieved. Relief feels very good and makes it more likely that the next time the threatening Postie approaches the door the dog will go through his run and bark routine.

WE known that Postmen approach out front door, put the letters in the postbox, and then leave no matter what the ‘guard dog’ does…but the dog doesn’t.

Barking dogs can be a nuisance to neighbours, and there have been cases of Postmen’s fingers being bitten through the letter box so the Postman Problem needs to be solved…

THE SOLUTION TO THE POSTMAN PROBLEM…

In theory we can treat the Postie like any other visitor…asking the dog to go to bed, and giving a high value reward there. Over time the approach of the Postie should become a trigger for going to bed. But…you will need a Postie with some spare time, or friends willing to be pretend Postmen until the new behaviour is learned. This training often falls apart because the owner isn’t around enough to reward for the correct behaviour.

My usual recommendation then is to avoid the problem! If it is possible to leave the dog in a room where he can’t see or hear people approaching the door this can be enough to solve the problem. Where that isn’t practical a letter box on the wall (out of sight of the dog) or at the end of the drive offers a cheap and easy solution.

ST JOHN’S WORT WORRIES

ST JOHN’S WORT RECALL

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This week six batches of St John’s Wort products have been recalled because they have been found to contain  high levels of a toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA). As PAs are not found in St John’s Wort it is thought that the products have been contaminated with weeds collected during harvest. Certain PAs can lead to liver damage if taken over a period of time and anyone using the affected products should stop using them for themselves or their pets straight away.

Whilst it is good news that these products have been tested, and a problem detected, it is concerning that the manufacturers do not appear to be taking the quality of their raw ingredients seriously enough. We have previously discussed herbal remedies which don’t contain any of the active chemicals, but accidental contamination and deliberate substitution of herbs are also risks.

The herbs that we supply come from companies which only supply trained herbal practitioners. They produce herbs to the same standard as pharmaceutical drugs, and check the chemical profiles of their products to ensure quality and safety.

For safe, effective herbal medicines for your pet always consult a trained Veterinary Herbalist!

For information on the recalled products:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/precautionary-recall-six-batches-of-st-johns-wort-tablets

To find a Veterinary herbalist near you:

http://www.herbalvets.org.uk/

 

UNDERSTANDING DNA TESTS

UNDERSTANDING DOG DNA TESTS

Over the last few years great strides have been made in understanding the genetic causes of many disease which affect dogs.

Perhaps surprisingly, many diseases are cause by single gene mutations. A dog gets one copy of each gene from its dam, and one form its sire. Most of these mutations only cause disease when a dog has two ‘bad’ copies of the gene. This is described as being an autosomal recessive trait. You will have learned about these in O level/GCSE biology (remember the wrinkled and smooth peas???), but it might have slipped your mind since then, and there certainly seems to be a lot of confusion.

For a specific mutation a dog can be ‘clear’ (two good copies); ‘carrier’ (one good copy and one bead copy); or ‘affected’ (two bad copies).

Clear and carrier dogs will NEVER show any signs of the disease in question. But if a carrier dog is bred from there is a 50:50 chance that each puppy could get a ‘bad’ copy of the gene. That’s OK if the other parent is clear…but if the other parent is also a carrier there is a 1 in 4 risk for each puppy that it will get a ‘bad’ copy from each parent and be ‘affected’.

Just to add to the confusion, ‘affected’ dogs may also appear outwardly normal, at least for some of their lives. Some conditions are invariably fatal, others may show varying severity in affected dogs, or not show up until later in life. But, if ‘affected’ dogs are bred, every puppy will get a ‘bad’ copy of the gene.

This table provided as nice summary, but remember…the way probability works mean each puppy has the discussed risk. A clear to carrier mating to result in all clears, all carriers, or a mixture. Each puppy has a 50% chance of being a carrier.

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The status of a dog can be determined through DNA testing. A blood sample or cheek swab is taken, and the dog’s identity confirmed (by a vet or vet nurse usually). If a dog has two ‘clear’ parents it will be described as ‘hereditary clear’. The same mutation spontaneously recurring is VERY unlikely, but some breeders test again every few generations to guard against human or lab error.

Many results are recorded by the Kennel Club and can be seen on a dog’s Mate Select profile. For emerging problems breed clubs may hold a list, or breeders may test for their own peace of mind. Always ask to see the test results if they are not listed on the KC or breed club website.

A final piece of terminology you may see is ‘carrier by progeny’. This isn’t used officially but is used to denote a dog which has produced carrier or affected offspring but hasn’t been tested itself (perhaps as it has died or been sold). A dog can be ‘carrier by progeny’ either if a mating between two untested dogs produces affected puppies, or where a untested dog has been mated with a ‘clear’ dog and pups have been tested as carriers.

The great thing about DNA tests is they allow breeders to slowly remove unwanted genes, whilst keeping as many dogs in the gene pool as possible.

 

AVOIDING JOINT DISEASE

HIP, HIP, ELBOW, SHOULDER… HOORAY?

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Osteoarthritis and joint disease are the most common reason that dogs are referred to Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care. We get great results using combinations of acupuncture, botanical medicines, conventional medicines, supplements, and physiotherapy but wouldn’t it be better to reduce the risk of joint disease and arthritis in our dogs?

BREEDING FOR JOINT HEALTH

Developmental joint problems such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and shoulder OCD are more common in some breeds than in others. This has lead us to believe that there are genetic factors which influence healthy joints. Unfortunately scientists haven’t found single gene mutations which correlate with good or bad joints and it is likely that a number of different genes are involved. For this reason breeders have to rely on having a dog’s joints assessed before breeding and only breeding from those with better than average joints. In the UK dogs of at risk breeds can be scored under the BVA/KC schemes for hips and elbows. Elbows are rated from 0-3 and ideally only dogs with 0 elbows are bred from. Hips are rated from 0 to 106 (0-53 each side). It is recommended to breed from dogs which are below the median value for the breed. In some breeder, breeders can also use ‘estimated breeding values’ to predict if a dog will have puppies with better or worse hips than its parent. Joint laxity is thought to be the major factor in hip dysplasia developing and some breeders use an additional test called PennHIP which assess joint laxity. It is not done as commenly as vets need special equipment and training to perform it. Screening is also available for patella luxation (slipping kneecaps) which is done by a vet handling the dog. This is most likely to be done on small and toy breeds such as chihuahuas, but some larger breeds are also assessed. At the moment there are no schemes for shoulder OCD, or incomplete ossification of the humeral condyle which affects spaniels but breeding from affected individuals is not recommended.

REARING FOR JOINT HEALTH

Pups are born with normal hips, which grown and change with the stresses and strains put on them. Puppies reared on slippery surfaces are more likely to develop hip problems so breeders should ensure surfaces offer good grip. Summer puppies have a lower rate of hip problems, which may reflect that they spend more time outside than on a slippery kitchen or kennel floor. Growth rate and body weight are important too. Obviously puppies need to eat to grow, but growing too fast and being too fat in early life has a negative impact on joint health.

Once you get your puppy home you need to keep up the good work! Exercise on soft, uneven surfaces such as grass or the beach is really good for joint development. Too much pavement pounding, or again, time spent on slippery surfaces, has a negative impact. Strong muscles contribute reduce the risk of lax joints developing, but care must be taken not to overdo things. I work on a rule of thumb of 10minutes of ‘going for a walk’ per months of life until dogs are fully grown. Training, obstacles, hunting games and other low impact activity are much safer for growing dogs than fast running after balls.

Keep your dog on the lean side too. Aim for a body condition of 4-5 out of 9 (ask your vet how to assess body condition).

ONGOING JOINT HEALTH

Active dogs are at risk of wear and tear on their joints, just like human athletes. However, there are things you can do to reduce the risks. Weight control remains key throughout life.Dogs on a restricted diet could live more than 2 years longer than overweight dogs! Ensure your dog is warmed up before intensive exercise and cooled down afterwards, and make sure his is properly trained and conditioned for the tasks you expect him to do. You wouldn’t enter a triathlon with no training…would you?!

Joint supplements aim to support healthy cartilage, ligaments, joint fluid and muscles and may be helpful for very active dogs or high risk breeds. There are many available but we particularly like Joint Aid and Nutraquin.

 

PRICE RISES

PRICE RISES

We endeavour to keep the costs of treatment, visits, and medicines at an affordable level. Our prices for herbal medicines have not changed for several years, but unfortunately our supplier has had to increase their prices significantly due to increasing manufacturing and shipping costs…so we have to pass this on to our clients. Below are the new costs for our most commonly prescribed botanical medicines. Herbal medicines remain great value with most formulas coming in at under £1 a day for a 30kg dog and around 30p a day for a cat.

100g dry herbs £7.50

200ml herbal tincture £23

500ml herbal tincture £ 47

HERBAL MEDICINE SAFETY

IT’S NATURAL, SO WHAT HARM CAN IT DO?

It’s frustrating, as a vet who has undertaken extensive training in physiology, conventional pharmacology, and then studied herbal pharmacology on top, to read the advice of all the ‘experts’ on the internet. Today, a post popped up on my Facebook feed all about the benefits of turmeric which included this gem, “I take it three times a day. It’s natural, what harm can it do?”

The answer is that if there are chemicals present in a herb that can do good, there is also the potential for harm.

Obviously, some herbs are well known for their toxicity. Although foxgloves and lily of the valley contain chemicals that can be used to treat heart disease, we don’t use them because the risk of poisoning and death is too high. But there are many herbs that we do use that can be therapeutic at one dose, but poisonous at a higher dose. A good example would be garlic; small doses can be very useful, but even moderate doses over the long term can cause blood disorders in some animals, especially cats. Some herbs can irritate the nose, mouth, or gut if given in large quantities, or if not mixed well into food.

Whilst we’re on cats, they are very tricky creatures! There are differences in how cats metabolise drugs…and herbs…which make them far more toxic than they are to humans or dogs. Worryingly several herbal preparations are sold over the counter for arthritis in dogs and cats which contain willow bark. Willow bark contains compounds similar to aspirin which can be toxic to cats if given in even moderate doses over a period of time. And although nobody is suggesting lilies as a botanical medicine, these pretty plants can prove fatal to cats if they ingest even a small amount of pollen.

Next comes the problem of giving herbal medicines without your vet’s knowledge when your pet is on medication. Almost everything taken into the body, drug, food, or herb, will be metabolised. Much of this metabolism happens in the liver, where a limited number of enzymes get to work on a huge variety of natural and artificial compounds. Some compounds compete for the same enzyme which slows down their metabolism. Other compounds may slow down or speed up the activity of an enzyme which metabolises another drug. Turmeric has many of its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects through inhibiting enzyme reactions…but this also means it could slow down the metabolism of other drugs. This may be a benefit, leading to a greater effect, but could also lead to toxicity. St John’s Wort is well known for increasing the activity of certain enzymes, meaning other drugs are cleared more quickly from the body. In humans progesterone in contraceptive pills is a concern, but in animals clearing antibiotics too quickly would be a concern. St John’s Wort also works to reduce the reuptake of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, hence its usefulness for depression in humans. But if given with other medications (especially antidepressants) which also block neurotransmitter reuptake there is a high risk of side effects, including the sometimes fatal serotonin syndrome. And it’s not just herbal medicines; broccoli and sprouts can increase specific enzyme activity, and grapefruit can inhibit enzymes.

Finally, I am always concerned about the quality and safety of herbal medicines. Even where a particular herb is safe, and should be effective, buying the right tablet or tincture is essential. Very few companies make herbal medicines with the attention to detail that they should and this can lead to ineffective, or unsafe products. Research done by the BBC last year found that most over the counter herbal products contained little active ingredient. Some contained no active ingredients, and some…unknown compounds. Herbs may be incorrectly identified before processing, poorly stored, or have grown in poor conditions meaning they contain less active compounds. With dried ground herbs, such as turmeric, the method of drying and grinding can significantly affect quality, and where a herb contains essential oils, drying can remove many of these.

At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care we love herbal medicines. But we strongly believe they should only be used after consultation with a vet who is trained in their use. In addition we only use herbs from companies which perform sufficient quality control.

 

VACCINATIONS

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DOG VACCINATIONS: TRUTH AND HYPE

You can’t read a dog magazine, or join a dog Facebook group without the subject of dog vaccinations coming up. Usually the theme is, ‘vets are ripping you off and harming your dog’, but is that true?

The best place to start is probably not an anti-vaccination group, or a drug company website, but the WSAVA who have a committee dedicated to reviewing the research into vaccination and developing guidelines for vets in many different countries and situations.

The WSAVA are concerned with both an individual dog’s health, but also the health of the wider canine, wildlife, and human populations. Many writers focus on their advice that many dogs have long durations of immunity to core vaccinations…but they don’t consider the extra puppy jabs the WSAVA recommend. This article considers the recommendations for pet dogs in the UK.

WHY VACCINATE DOGS?

Vaccination gives dogs protection against a range of diseases. Vaccination pre-warns the immune system so that it can respond better when challenged with the disease. This means the dog either doesn’t get sick, or has a milder form of the disease. Many vaccines also stop dogs shedding the disease and spreading it to other dogs.

CORE VACCINES

Every dog should receive vaccination against Canine Adenovirus (infectious hepatitis), Canine Parvovirus, and Canine Distemper. Of these Parvovirus remains the most common, often being seen in puppies from poor backgrounds. It causes bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, and affected puppies often die even after extensive (and expensive!) treatment. Distemper was becoming something of a distant memory in the UK, though many colleagues have seen one or two cases (often in dogs imported from Eire). However distemper is on the rise in imported dogs from eastern Europe. Early symptoms include lethargy, conjunctivitis, and joint pain. Dogs can recover with intensive nursing, but may suffer neurological damage and problems with their pads. Infectious hepatitis is not often reported in the UK, but may be underdiagnosed with liver problems being attributed to other causes. Most UK core vaccines are proven, by their manufacturers, to give at least 3 years duration of immunity.

NON-CORE VACCINES

These should be given according to risk. In the UK almost all dogs should receive Leptospirosis vaccination. This bacterial infection is found in standing water, especially water which may have been contaminated with farm animal or rat urine. The disease is contagious between dogs, and also to people (where it is called Weil’s Disease). Infection in people starts with flu-like symptoms but the disease can become serious, even fatal. In dogs the liver or kidneys are most commonly affected. Treatment with fluids and antibiotics can be successful, but dogs can shed the leptospires in their urine for some time after recovery making them an animal and human health risk. The number of confirmed canine Leptospirosis cases each year is relatively low because a proper diagnosis required two blood samples, taken a month apart, showing a rising antibody titre. Dogs are usually either dead or recovering by the time the second sample should be taken and its cost means this step is often skipped. Many more suspected cases are treated every year, and Leptospirosis is thought to be responsible for some chronic kidney and liver disease too. In recent years with increased flooding vets have reported clusters of Lepto cases.

Kennel cough vaccines can be considered for any dog which goes to kennels, groomers, training classes, shows, or to a dog walker. Although Kennel cough is not dangerous to healthy adult dogs it can kill old dogs and puppies. Breeding bitches should be vaccinated before mating. The vaccine protects against Bordatella and the Paraninfluenza virus and is given as a nasal drop.

Leptospirosis and Kennel cough vaccines only offer short lived protection and should be repeated annually if required.

Rabies is not a core vaccine in the UK as we are rabies free. However vaccination is required for travel under the Pet Passport scheme.

In the last few years additional vaccines have become available for Lymes Disease and Leishmania; these should be given only to dogs at high risk of those diseases. Herpes virus vaccination is available to reduce the risk of fading puppy syndrome. It is only given to breeding bitches and must be given at each pregnancy.

SICK DOGS

A small number of dogs can’t be vaccinated due to ill health, previous reactions, medications, or simply don’t produce a good immune response to vaccination.These dogs can be protected by ‘herd immunity’, i.e. diseases are unlikely to reach them if all the other dogs around them are protected.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF VACCINATING DOGS?

Nothing that we put into our, or our dog’s, bodies is safe. The immune system can react badly to any food, drug, or vaccination. The risk of reactions from vaccinations may be higehr than for other drugs as we are directly trying to stimulate an immune response. However, vaccines are generally safe with a low risk of reactions.

COMMON REACTIONS

The most common reaction is pain at the injection site. With some vaccinations over 50% of dogs will show some pain. A few of these will get a swelling at the injection site but this is short lived.

Being ‘off colour’ for 24 hours or so is not unusual either, and reflects the stimulation of the immune system.

Some dogs, especially puppies get diarrhoea after vaccination. This may reflect the immune response, but may also reflect the stress of a vet visit on top of rehoming, a change in diet and water, and any parasite treatment given. Most cases resolve with symptomatic treatment.

These common, mild reactions usually pass with little or no treatment, but always contact your vet if you are concerned.

RARE REACTIONS

Anaphylactic reactions are extremely rare, and unfortunately are very unpredicatable. Dogs may react at their first injection, or after having a vaccine on several previous occasions. Anaphylactic reactions happen very quickly after vaccination and may include fainting, fitting, vomiting, and diarrhoea. They usually happen before a dog leave the practice and treatment with oxygen, adrenaline, and maybe steroids is usually effective.

LONG TERM REACTIONS?

Some authors write extensively about diseases caused by overvaccination, but there is actually very scant evidence for this. A ‘hypothyroid epidemic’ is blamed on vaccination, and yet the rate of diagnosis in the UK is the same as that on the Falkland Islands (where no disease risk means no vaccination). Autoimmune disease certainly seem to be on the rise, but many factors may be involved other than vaccines; we know certain breeds, and lines within breeds are more likely to get autoimmine diseases, pollution may play a factor, and understimulation of the immune system due to excellent hygiene and parasite control could be factors too. A survery examinind illnesses suffered in the three months after a vet visit showed no statistical difference between dogs which had been vaccinated, and those which had been seen for other reasons.

That said, it makes sense to only give what a dog needs when he needs it.

ALTERNATIVES TO VACCINATION

Homeopathic nosodes are not a suitable alternative to vaccination. In challenge testing puppies ‘vaccinated’ homeopathically against parvovirus got ill and died.

Titre testing is the best alternative to following the manufacturers recommendations. Titre testing is now available at a reasonable price (around £30) for Distemper, Hepatitis, and Parvovirus. Dogs with good levels of circulating antibody will be protected against disease. Dogs with low or no circulating antibody may not be protected. Advanced testing shows that some dogs with no circulating antibodies actually have cellular immunity…however this level of testing is not available in practice, so revaccination is recommended for low/no titre dogs.

Leptospirosis vaccination only produces circulating antibodies for a few weeks, then the immunity is cellular. For this reason titre testing is not suitable for assessing Leptospirosis protction.

WSAVA VACCINATION RECOMMENDATIONS AND PRACTICAL ONES

For maximum protection the WSAVA recommends either titre testing puppies monthly from 6weeks until their maternal antibody protection fades, or giving core vaccines monthly until 16weeks. They recommend a further vaccination at 6-12months and then either revaccination every 3 years for core vaccines or titre testing.

In practice very few people are going to want to either pay for monthly titre testing, or vaccinate their puppies up to 5 times in 6months. In the UK where disease risk is moderate the current protocols where vaccination starts at 6- 8 weeks and finishes at 10-12 weeks, with a booster at 12months, should provide adequate protection for most dogs. A 16week vaccine or titre test could be considered for certain breeds, or during a disease outbreak. Additionally, breeders keeping puppies which may suckle from their dam for longer than most could consider delaying their vaccine start, or titre testing.

The good news is that more and more practices are offering titre testing and individualised vaccination. Our Vet Vicky Payne offers vaccine consultations and titre testing at Companion Care Vets Eastbourne and Goudhurst Vets.

 

NEW MICROCHIPPING RULES FOR DOGS

MICROCHIPPING DOGS BECOMES LAW IN 2016

From 6th April 2016 all puppies must be microchipped before sale. The breeder must register the puppies in their name and provide buyers with the paperwork to transfer the microchip registration.

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FREE TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP ON PETLOG!

The good news announced today is that if the puppy is Kennel Club registered then transferring the Petlog registration into the new owners name, and upgrading to Petlog Premium will be FREE!

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HOME VISITS FOR LITTER MICROCHIPPING

We have offered a home visit service to breeders for many years to provide litter health checks and microchipping and will hope this will be an even more popular service with the law changes next year. Microchipping and Health Check costs just £15 per puppy (with a small visit fee based on mileage). Our chips are registered with Petlog. Please contact us for further information.

HYPOTHYROIDISM IN DOGS

HYPOTHYROIDISM EPIDEMIC IN DOGS!

Not doubt you’ve seen headlines like this. No doubt you’ve read the articles which blame vaccines, or dog food, or inbreeding. But is there an epidemic of hypothyroidism, and if so, what is the real cause?

DOES YOUR DOG HAVE HYPOTHYROIDISM?

Hypothyroidism is usually seen in middle aged dogs. As the thyroid gland controls the metabolic rate of the whole body a reduction in how well the gland works will have a wide range of symptoms. The most common are weight gain, lethargy, and  poor skin and coat. Recurrent infections, exercise intolerance, cold intolerance, and mental dullness can also be seen. Unfortunately these symptoms are not unique to hypothyroidism and can be seen in other diseases common to middle aged dogs. 

If your vet suspects hypothyroidism she will take a blood sample. The usual first test is to look at free T4 and TSH levels in the blood. A classic hypothyroid case will have low T4 and high TSH. This test is very sensitive and will pick up most hypothyroid cases….but it isn’t very specific and will pick up lots of non hypothyroid cases too. Many illnesses can cause the free T4 levels to be low when sampled, and the level fluctuates through the day. A vet must never diagnose hypothyroidism just on a blood sample, but must consider the whole clinical picture. A few dogs have classic symptoms of hypothyroidism but relatively normal blood values, again the vet must decide whether to trial treatment. Treatment is cheap and safe (it just replaces the missing hormone) so in cases where the blood tests are inconclusive vets will often try a month of treatment.

Additional tests are available including T3, and thyroid antibodies. T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone but little circulates in the blood (most is in the cells) and free blood values do not correlate well with clinical signs. Thyroid antibodies make the autoimmune form of thyroid destruction very likely, but a lack of antibodies doesn’t mean thyroid damage hasn’t taken place.

VACCINATION CAUSES HYPOTHYROIDISM IN DOGS!

Hypothyroidism is the most common endocrine disease of dogs, affecting between 2 and 6 dogs per 1000 (so the risk of any dog developing hypothyroidism in it’s life is 0.2-0.6%). Almost 80% of puppies, and nearly 70% of adult dogs receive vaccinations so there is a good chance hypothyroid dogs will also have been vaccinated…but this doesn’t mean that vaccines cause hypothyroidism. Because around 50% of thyroid cases are caused by the body’s immune system attacking the thyroid gland is has been suggested that vaccines trigger the immune system into an attack. To date though no studies have proven that this happens. It has also been suggested that the immune system starts to go wrong after infection, but again a definitive cause and effect has not been shown. Autoimmune diseases seem to be on the rise generally and a theory often discussed is that because of good hygiene, vaccinations, and parasite control the juvenile immune system isn’t correctly primed. One of the few things we do know is that there is a genetic component to hypothyroidism as it has been shown to run in family lines and be more common in some breeds than others. Studies on gender and neutering status suggest neutered females may be at higher risk. There is a feeling amongst vets that hypothyroidism may be on the rise, but increased pet owner and vet awareness, and the increase in ‘wellness’ blood tests for older pets may simply mean we are detecting more cases.

HYPOTHYROIDISM CAUSES AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOUR IN DOGS!

Hypothyroidism is increasingly blamed for aggression in dogs, but again scientific papers really do not back this up. There are a few case reports but in most cases changes in behaviour can be explained by other factors. There is no doubt that hypothyroid dogs feel rubbish and many have skin infections. If the dog is forced out for a walk, away from his warm place, or molested by children he may feel forced to act in an aggressive way. As hypothyroidism usually affects middle aged dogs other health problems may contribute to the feelings of grumpiness or difficulty in coping with their world; arthritis, dental pain, hearing problems, vision problems etc.

Changes in behaviour in middle aged dogs should always prompt a trip to the vet to rule out health problems.

So…is there an epidemic of hypothyroidism? Maybe not. Is there a clear link to vaccination? No. Does hypothyroidism cause aggression? Usually no, but it can make dogs miserable and grumpy. Can a single blood test (even an expensive one from America) tell me if my dog has a thyroid problem? No. If you have any concerns about your dog’s health book a check up with your vet. And remember we’re available to help with acupuncture, herbal medicines, and behaviour assessments!