On Sunday evening, I attended a webinar on “[Canine] Thyroid Disease and Autoimmune Thyroiditis” presented by Dr. W. Jean Dodds, DVM and sponsored by the Danish-Swedish Farmdogs USA.
As a pet person who has already read Dr. Dodds’ book and slogged through other peer-reviewed publications on canine hypothyroidism as best as I could, the vast majority of this was repeat information. I paid attention and took notes anyway as if it was all new to me. Perhaps I would’ve gotten more mileage out of the talk and Q&A opportunity if I was a dog breeder, because she had a lot of really thorough information directed towards breeders on how to screen and select for thyroid disorders. Her open liaison with breeders, in my opinion, is quite invaluable and one thing that sets her apart as a public spokesperson for canine health issues.
I also appreciated some of the detailed observations she presented with pictorial examples, which went beyond the level of description in her book (most of her pictures were already in there). Some of her comments about barrel-chested and front-loaded hypothyroid dogs made a lot of sense to me, based on what I’ve come to understand about Bowdu’s form and the range of movement he’s capable of.
She also talked a little about natural thyroid options. It’s hard to find good information about natural thyroid therapy for canines, so I would have liked to hear more about that. I wouldn’t say she embraces the idea, but she does mention it as an option, and she was willing to name-drop a few brands with a couple caveats: 1) it’s much more critical to get the dosage right and monitor reactions, since natural thyroid supplies BOTH T3 and T4 (whereas synthetic pet meds on the shelf right now just supply T4), and 2) it’s more expensive, and would probably be prohibitively so for dogs that weigh more than 60 pounds. This was covered in her book as well.
She mentioned a new double-blind clinical trial that she just wrapped up with Drs. Linda Aronson and Nicholas Dodman at Tufts (they’ve collaborated before). Results should be forthcoming in a veterinary behavioral journal. Thyroid function and aggressive/aberrant behavior were under investigation. I await the publication of that study to see what new information is presented.
In response to a good question from a trainer, who asked how she can talk to pet owners about Hemopet/Hemolife without disparaging the work of her clients’ regular vets as inadequate, Dr. Dodds clarified her organization’s position as a clinical research laboratory that needs to collect its own samples for publication purposes, using its own procedures. Hemopet is not meant to replace the work of conventional vets or compete with the handful of commercial labs that handle the majority of diagnostic tests for North American vets. Dr. Dodds’ lab is open to discussing their interpretations with conventional vets, and this would be an ideal professional relationship for the pet owner. If any part of this process is blocked, however, it’s really up to the client to decide if it’s in their best interest to work with what they have, or to seek another vet.
In all this, she hinted at some of her criticisms of the current state of the veterinary establishment. The talk was interlaced with other non-specific commentary that made it clear she understood her marginalized position, but I thought she was quite discreet. She’s been a lot more diplomatic than some vets have been to or about her, in my experience! She professed her love for the veterinary field and believes strongly in her line of work and research, though she found several things lacking in veterinary education. True to her word, that’s been one area in which she’s been campaigning for a long time. At times this does involve a bit of self-promotion that borders on oversell. But I think once you acknowledge how many questions remain in the vast, open and interconnected fields of canine health, genetics, behavior, breeding practices, pet culture, etc., then a lot of that kind of laboratory territorialism falls by the wayside as petty turf wars — particularly disadvantageous to pet people who have no stakes in that establishment, like myself.
Should the opportunity arise again, I’d recommend participating in one of Dr. Dodds’ presentations or webinars if:
- You want a quick overview of how hypothyroidism affects canine health, and you’re not inclined to spend the same amount of money on her book.
- Your own vet is unhelpful, dismissive, talks down to you, or oversimplifies explanations about thyroid issues.
- You’re a dog breeder and want to understand the dynamics of thyroid health and testing for your own breeding goals.
- You are a holistically-minded trainer who appreciates how genetics, overall health, diet, and living environment can affect a dog’s behavior, and you have some specific questions you’d like to ask.