Thyroid -- W Jean Dodds, DVM

On Saturday, March 1, I attended a seminar hosted by the Croix Valley Tracking Club. Dr. Dodds filled a whole day with fascinating information about canine health issues. Since she is most well known for her research in the area of thyroid dysfunction, that's where I'll start.

Basal thyroid levels are different for puppies (higher), middle aged dogs, and geriatrics (lower). More importantly, basal thyroid levels are also dependent on breed and even different lines within a breed (her example was the difference in basal thyroid levels for African bred Basenjis and North American bred Basenjis). Sighthounds have their own category, and their basal thyroid level is lower. For this reason, it is important to assess thyroid function with the signalment (age, breed, sex) of each dog in mind. She is obviously a proponent of sending all thryoid samples to her for analysis and diagnostics at her facility: Hemopet.

Why is her report different?
First, the analysis is more comprehensive. The Thyroid Profile 5 includes T4, freeT4, T3, freeT3, and TgAA. (Many veterinarians are still recommending just a T4 for screening purposes, which provides incomplete data for accurate diagnosis.) She is an OFA certified laboratory as well as offering her own Thyroid Gold registration and certificate for dogs deemed normal within their respective breed's levels.

Second, the results are interpreted by Dr. Dodds personally and a consultation with follow up is included in the price.

Third, each dog's result is evaluated based on the data collected for other dogs of the same breed. Dr. Dodds confidently says this is the most accurate way of correctly diagnosing (and treating) hypothyroidism in dogs. She does offer the option of interpreting thyroid results from an outside lab, as that is more convenient for some people. However, she did mention during a break that there are also differences in medical testing equipment and reference ranges for humans and animals. Therefore, she will recommend sending the sample to certain labs over others.

Why test?
Symptomatic dogs are generally the only dogs tested. The problem is that there are "normal" symptoms that most vets, and even the general public will notice. And then there are the not-so normal symptoms. Typical clinical signs include: moodiness, erratic temperament, disorientation, hypoattentiveness, depression, anxiety, unprovoked aggression, sudden onset seizure disorder, and compulsiveness. More subtle changes include a change in muscle in the face which leads to a change in the dog's expression; there can be significant temporal muscle wasting above and below the eyes. Seborrhea oleosa (oily skin) and seborrhea sicca (dry skin) can both be indicators of hypothyroidism. Inability to regulate body temperature is also a symptom of hypothyroidism that can go unnoticed for months due to weather changes, among other reasons.

Breeding is the number one reason a dog should be tested for hypothyroidism. Autoimmune thyroiditis is a heritable trait and will be present in the dog, even if not showing clinical signs. If a dog has autoimmune thyroiditis (genotype), that doesn't automatically mean the dog is currently hypothyroid (phenotype). Testing for heritable autoimmune thyroiditis requires T3AA, T4AA, and TgAA. Dr. Dodds recommends that potential breeding dogs be screened for the first time just after puberty. In bitches that is 12-16 weeks from the onset of estrus, and in males 10-14 months. Ideally, the dog would have two negative tests by age 3 before considering breeding. It is important to continue to screen regularly (recommended yearly for breeding dogs, less frequently for non-breeding dogs).

Other causes
Basal thyroid level can be suppressed up to 25% by certain medications such as steroids, phenobarbital, sulfonamides (overlooked sulfas: Zonisamide & Deramaxx), and excess iodine. Iodine (found in kelp, a commonly used dietary supplement for dogs) excess and deficiency can cause immune responses. Iodine depletion is one cause of dietary induced hypothyroidism. While Dr. Dodds is a proponent of raw feeding, she did caution feeding throat/gullet meat because it has been linked to dietary hypothyroidism in dogs and hyperthyroidism in cats. Her advice was to know where the meat is coming from, specifically. Rabies vaccines given within 45 days will cause an elevated TgAA. Neck pressure from all types of collars has also been linked to thyroid disorders. An article by Peter Dobias, DVM was referenced as an anecdotal example of neck injuries leading to hypothyroidism.

Dogs and cats should receive thyroid treatment twice daily. In an ideal world the medication would be given one hour before ingestion of calcium or soy and exactly twelve hours apart. Realistically, it is more important to give the medication one hour before or three hours after meal time. The animal should either be pilled dry, or you can use a food without calcium or soy such as peanut butter. Read the label carefully on anything that is designed to "hide" the medication, to make sure calcium and soy aren't ingredients. Brand name (Soloxine, ThyroTabs) thyroid treatment has proven to provide more reliable results than generic. Depending on the type of thyroid disorder, natural thyroid supplementation can be considered. These are typically bovine or porcine based (Nature Throid, Westhroid Pure Thyroid, ERFA-Canada only). Supplementation should not be started before consulting with a veterinarian.


Trial Preparations

If I'm actually going to show Gabby (and Siri!) at the MMBC WCRL trial in April, I figured I should probably train the dogs!

My focus with Gabby has been heel position and stays. Yesterday we had three training sessions, one of which was in public. Gabby has a staring problem. I generally attribute it to her lack of vision as that seems the most likely reason a normal/stable dog would stare at other dogs for an uncomfortable length of time without reacting.

Yesterday our field trip was to the dog park. This dog park is really nice because I can walk about 10 feet outside of the fence line, and we can work on reorienting. The first pass, I think she stared at a dog for a full minute before reorienting. And then the dog would move and she'd stare again. We slowly made our way down the fence-line then took a detour to play/train away from the other distractions. When we made our way back to the car, Gabby was offering bouncy behavior, attention, and reorienting at an alarmingly fast rate.

This scenario isn't new to Gabby but the situation was. We usually either go into the dog park (when it's empty) or we walk the trails. I was very happy to see that the work I've been putting in has been paying off!

Our other training sessions yesterday involved pedestal work, right finishes, and stays. Today we worked on transitioning between food and toys. I still can't quite believe that we're finally to the point where she will re-engage with a toy after I've used food. That was an incredibly lengthy process, but she was doing it pretty well this morning!

Goals for the rest of the week: downs, stays, stand, and more toy/treat work!


Geriatric Care: Enrichment

Geriatric care is a topic that has become very near and dear to my heart. Having a geriatric animal (or four) is emotionally taxing, and expensive. Despite that, I want to be able to say I did everything I could to make sure those last years, months, days, and hours were well lived.

This topic will be broken up into four blog posts.
1. Enrichment
2. Exercise
3. Nutrition
4. Pain Management

Merriam-Webster says the definition of enrich is "to improve the quality of (something)." When discussing enrichment specifically for geriatric animals, it is important to keep the brain active, especially when the body starts to slow down. The Shape of Enrichment, Inc has created five categories for enrichment. The five categories are not mutually exclusive. The categories are social, cognitive, physical habitat, sensory, and food. I likely won't address all of these, but being cognizant of all five is important.

Sniffing-walks which I try to do daily, even if it is only for 5-10 minutes. Buzz loves to get out and check the pee mail, see if any new animals have visited, and it's good for both of us to breathe in some fresh air! I usually take him out alone.

Food toys use to be a huge part of Buzz's life. He LOVED to play with his Tug A Jug and especially chew on Kongs. Now that his mobility is limited (and he took a few too many headers into the floor after losing his balance following a toy on the floor) I had to find a different toy to stuff. The JW Megalast Bone has been a great alternative! I stuff it with canned food and freeze it. It can't roll away from him, he still gets to chew, and I can still control his diet.

Store visits are an option again now that Buzz is strong enough to walk on linoleum! We used to go to stores so he could look at the fish. He LOVED looking at the fish. Now we go so he can look at the small animals and check out the treat/chew aisle. Last time I took him to a store, we were in there for about half an hour. He had SO much fun! When we got home, he just crashed out--mission accomplished. That was a mental and physical stimulation visit! Social enrichment is typically part of store visits. I don't make people pet him, but I do encourage it now rather than discourage it. He had a very nice lady love on him for at least five minutes last time we were out. She pet his ears and told him what a good boy he was. It was really neat to see someone appreciate him like that.

Play isn't something Buzz has ever done much of. Occasionally he will show interest in a toy of Gabby's and when he does, I take advantage of that. He's much more likely to play with a toy if Gabby has already been playing with it. Just this morning I had a toy out with a gazillion squeakers. When he saw how much fun Gabby and I were having, he just had to join in! So we played the game where I put it on his head and then release him. He throws his head back and tries to catch the toy. Other variations of play are retrieves and holds. He will do those with enthusiasm for food!

Training is one of our favorites, now that I've thought of ways to modify most of the behaviors he knows. We'll often sit on the floor and do nose target/foot target discrimination games (where I feed him for every single correct response, because why not). A week or two ago he wanted to work on the pedestal while I had Gabby out. Standing on it was hard, so he elected to sit on it instead. It was so hilarious! We work on stand to down (because sit to stand is hard) and when he's in the underwater treadmill at work, he loves to practice his spins in both directions.

Resting places are changed as frequently as I remember. I move his bed around to different locations in the apartment and I rearrange the blankets on it almost daily. As much as that doesn't sound like a big deal, it's an indicator of his cognitive state that he can find the new location of his bed. Oh, and he prefers to be near people while he's resting so he spends a fair amount of time resting on some part of me when I'm home. Yesterday, he fell asleep on my feet as his bed is currently in front of the couch. He can't seek out other animals to cuddle with but is so happy when Gabby or Rasza choose to curl up next to him.


More Buzz Photos

(Every single one of these is from my phone. Because I broke my camera lens that I can use for indoor photos. Waah!)
Don't even try to deny the adorable!

Again, adorable!

Determined, he is.


Pro-Tip, don't attach a Flexi to the light loop on a young dog.

Oh winter! It wasn't even that bad yet for this photo!

More cuddling.

Cuddling with friends.


Choosing a Dog

Numerous dogs in my life have tugged at my heart strings. A few dogs not my own I've bonded to. And then there are the dogs that leaped into my heart when I least expected it and held on tighter than I ever imagined possible.
My first foster. The one about yanked my heart out of my chest. 

 Buzz and Bailey are an integral part of my young adult life and I adore them. I have a very different relationship with each dog because they are drastically different dogs. They've taught me so much that I have been able to share with other dogs and for that I will be forever grateful. And because of them, I knew the kind of dog I would look for when the time came. Each will always hold a very special place in my heart, which is cliche, but true.

Buzz is stable, he's structurally sound, he is vibrant, and he is so cuddly. He also loves to do all kinds of stuff, but I wouldn't call him busy. I learned that my next dog needs to be socially stable--the kind of dog you can just take anywhere. I also really enjoy the fact that he can check out when I don't want him to be working. I didn't have to teach him to leave me alone, he just knew when I'd like his company and when I wouldn't. I used to take him to the local coffee shop that allows dogs. I'd bring a mat for him to lay on and that's what he'd do. He didn't try to work. He didn't pester me. He just let me drink my coffee and relax.

Bailey is certain the whole world revolves around her and she is hilarious. She lives to do stuff and is a very busy dog (although, around age 12 she finally started settling in the house better). Her idea of a good time is to be with her people 24/7. She has gone many places with me just because it makes her so happy. I learned that my next dog needs to be up for anything, anytime, anywhere. I love most though, her innate love of interaction with her people. She loves to fetch, loves to tug, and loves to just roughhouse.

From both Buzz and Bailey, I learned that being comfortable in the car is a big deal. I do quite a bit of driving and can't stand having dogs pant in my ear (I'm looking at you in your younger years, Bailey). Being able to coexist with others happily (not just peacefully) is a key factor for me. Buzz is that dog. Bailey is not. It is something I struggled to acknowledge and accept for a long time. Once I did, I knew that I could never put another dog through the stress that she used to endure daily. I needed to choose a dog who enjoyed the company of other animals.
Golden foster Reba quickly learned how to ride in the car.

I have a list of my necessary qualities in a dog (mentally stable-enjoys cats, dogs, and people-rides well in the car), a list of qualities I don't feel as strongly about (plays with toys-goes hiking-competition dog), and the deal breakers (not friendly with cats, dogs, or people-separation anxiety-expensive medical conditions). I've done my research and spoken to numerous breeders about their dogs, their breeding programs, and their goals. I've learned as much as I can about the breed, and the different types and lines within the breed. I was so sure my next dog would be from a very carefully planned litter, from a responsible breeder, out of fabulous dogs. And it would be perfect.
Rasza is Buzz's cat.

And then I got this photo in an email about a foster home request.

I was drawn to her because she needed a lot of help. I didn't like or dislike her. When I got her, she wasn't really a dog, more like a living, breathing, rock. As we went about life getting her fixed up medically, I remember saying "she is the easiest dog I've ever lived with."

She is an agreeable dog. If she understands what I'm asking, she'll do it (despite a lack of reinforcement history). Life continued on and my boyfriend took a special interest in her, unlike my previous three fosters. He, and our friends, started making jokes about me keeping her. When I said "someone else deserves a dog this easy," he replied with "then I'll take her." That gave me pause. My boyfriend enjoys dogs, but I never really thought he'd want a dog of his own. That, coupled with the interest ESRA was starting to get in her made me look at that list.

  • Stable-check (she'd gone on vacation, stayed in someone else's home, met strange dogs, allowed grooming, and more)
  • Enjoys "doing stuff"-check (hiking, vacation, bonfires, playing in the water, etc)
  • Plays fetch and tug-check
  • Good with cats-check
  • Good with other dogs-check
  • Rides well in the car-check
  • Enjoys people-check
  • Healthy (relatively speaking, I guess)
  • Praise and play are reinforcing (from a competition stand point, I love this quality of Bailey's)
I couldn't have hand selected a better dog for myself at this point in my life. I wouldn't have known the perfect dog for me without also embracing Buzz and Bailey. Much to the pleasure of my boyfriend, and unlike my previous fosters, Gabby stayed for good.

Despite my best laid plans, this big tri-colored dog wiggled her way into my heart and held on tight. I am still amazed that she is such a perfect blend of Buzz and Bailey's traits that I adore.


Learn to Dance in the Rain

Buzz has an undiagnosed neurologic condition that affects the signals to his right rear leg. It's undiagnosed because we won't be doing an MRI, a CT, or a myelogram. At his age, it wouldn't change anything I'm currently doing. His gait is different back there and watching his leg, it looks like he's missing every other signal. He'll take one normal step then miss a beat, then take a normal step, repeat. That leg also fatigues quicker and  frequently gives out on him when standing or walking.

What does this mean? If he's having a good day, he drags those toes a little. If he's having a bad day, he can't walk. He was having a lot of bad days in a row last week, and then he fell on the ice. Suffice to say I think he hit all parts of his body while I grabbed for him and missed. So, I finally fitted him for a Help 'Em Up harness. I swear, that device is magical!

Before I got the help 'em up harness, I had to carry him outside and try to support him while he did his business--not the easiest task! He was also limited to being outside only for as long as his leg would support him (which wasn't very long).
And more cuddling (the slightly more crowded version)
Now, I use my euro lead with one end attached to his butt and the other to the top of the chest harness... and I feel like I'm driving some kind of horse! I can take Buzz and Gabby outside together again, I don't have to carry him, and Buzz's favorite--he can go for walks again! Once he gets going, he really does pretty well. It's the getting up and getting going part (with the occasional imbalance) that's troublesome. Now that it's cold, snowy, and icy we've been walking the hallways in our apartment building. Tonight we walked for 10 minutes before his right rear tired to the point of knuckling. When we started this with the help 'em up a week ago, I don't think he made it more than 3 minutes.

He's taking a ton of drugs, he eats a micromanaged diet, he needs help getting up most of the time, and often he asks to pee or get a drink in the middle of the night; but he appears to be happy.

So we walk up and down the hallway, I handle disgusting raw tripe daily, I buy the bully sticks he loves, and we cuddle on the couch. Life really is about the journey. Not a beginning and an end. But about what we learn along the way, the friends we make, and the love.
Canine Caviar bully stick and Help 'Em Up harness--essentials

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass... It's about learning to dance in the rain."
Vivian Greene


Progressive Retinal Atrophy/Degeneration

Gabby came to me as a foster, and not really a dog, but I've told that story before. One of the things I noticed from the start is that Gabby was either very clumsy, or had some vision loss. It really wasn't a pressing matter, as there were other, more time sensitive medical issues that needed to be taken care of. She needed a bath (or five), and to have the mats shaved out from between her toes. She needed to have her ear infection treated, and her urinary tract infection treated. She needed a dental, with a few teeth extracted. She needed soft places to lie so the callouses on her elbows would heal and her hair could grow again. 

And in the midst of her settling into my home, she became very good at navigating familiar places. I really only noticed her bumping into things in a completely new place, I would very occasionally see her not be able to locate where a sound came from, and even more rarely, she would hesitate to move forward when out walking at night. So, it took me a while to put the pieces together again. When I did, my heart sank. I know what an incredibly common cause of vision loss is called, especially when the dog is an English Springer Spaniel.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy
(from the ESSFTA and Canine Genetic Diseases Network)

  •  autosomal recessive disorder
  • degeneration of the retina in dogs
  •  results in permanent blindness
  • rods, responsible for night vision, deteriorate first
  • cones, responsible for bright light vision, deteriorate second
So, I scheduled her for an exam with a veterinary ophthalmologist I know and trust. Gabby's eye exam by Dr. Larocca of Animal Eye Speciality Center told us that Gabby has generalized retinal atrophy and bilateral diffuse retinal thinning; PRA

Unfortunately, it didn't stop there. Gabby also has distichiasis of both her left and right eyelids. 

"Distichiasis is a condition where eyelashes emerge from the ducts of glands within the eyelid (Meibomian gland) which does not normally produce hairs. These "extra" eyelashes often rub on the surface of the eye and may cause irritation. Distichiasis is considered to be a breed-related problem in dogs, and is most commonly found in retrievers, spaniels, poodles, Shih Tzus and Weimeranas."

And just so that we cover all the bases, she also has cataracts on the nucleus of both eyes.

I went in to the appointment knowing we'd find something wrong with her eyes. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she had to have some vision loss. I was hoping against all hope it wouldn't be PRA, but it is.

One of the reasons I take my dogs, and took Gabby specifically, to see Dr. Larocca is that I trust him. He always tells it to me straight. When he told me Gabby has PRA, he also told me that he knows of a drug trial study using Ocu-Glo to help halt the progression of PRA. He didn't know if her eyes were too progressed at this point, but he said he would make contact with the ACVO in charge of the study.

I've been giving her the human version of this supplement currently, because it's something I can do while we wait.

And of course, Gabby is just her happy self. I don't know how long this has been going on, but she's definitely coping well. PRA certainly won't stop us from having fun, but we'll probably have to make some modifications along the way!