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A Weekend with Dr. Jean Dodds
By Nancy Beach
Anyone who has had pets for any period of time knows how hard it can be to make decisions when it comes to their health care. Sometimes the more information you find out about a pet’s condition, the more confusing it is. You find veterinarians can have differing opinions about diseases and treatments. So what’s an owner to do?
If you have a specific disease or condition you are trying to learn more about, one thing you can do is go to a seminar given by someone who is considered an expert in that area. So that’s what this Greyhound owner did. There has been much controversy over the last few years about hypothyroidism in Greyhounds. Concerns and questions include the seriousness and number of occurrences of it; should every Greyhound have its thyroid levels tested, and if so, when and how much should we supplement if necessary?
To try to get to the bottom of this issue, I attended a seminar on November 6 and 7, sponsored by the Yorkville (Illinois) Kennel Club, featuring Dr. W. Jean Dodds, director of HEMOPET animal blood bank in Irvine, California. Dr. Dodds has done extensive research into the problem of hypothyroidism in dogs and has developed some theories about its occurrence.
I was surprised to learn that, in most cases, hypothyroidism is caused by the dog’s own body attacking the thyroid gland, thereby destroying the tissue so it no longer functions. Dr. Dodds estimates that 80 percent of hypothyroidism results from this process known as autoimmune thyroiditis. She also believes dogs must be genetically susceptible to autoimmune problems in order to develop them. There are triggers that can start the autoimmune disease process — such as exposure to viruses, sex hormones, stress, environmental pollutants, chemicals, and some drugs.
How can we reduce the load on their immune systems so they have the best chance possible to stay healthy?
Dr. Dodds’ advice to breeders was to try not to breed individuals with suspected autoimmune problems. She stated that some day we may have tests for genetic markers that indicate susceptibility to autoimmune disease, but in the meantime, it is up to breeders to be cautious. For our current pets, she made the following suggestions:
The Seminar was for all Breeds
The seminar I attended was for all dog lovers, and thus only covered the situation of sighthound hypothyroidism very briefly. At her HEMOPET facility, Dr. Dodds keeps 150 retired racing Greyhounds to be used as blood donors for her blood bank. Naturally their blood has been very thoroughly tested to make sure they are suitable donors. They are only kept for about a year, then adopted to families. Hundreds of sighthounds have been tested there. Dr. Dodds’ concludes the thyroid levels of healthy sighthounds are typically in the lower end of the normal reference ranges for dogs, and may even be slightly below the low end of the reference range. The reason for this is genetic selection. Fast, slender hounds don’t require high levels of thyroid hormone — they just do not need to produce that much. Therefore, it is important to look at the overall health of the patient, not just rely on the results of a thyroid panel when determining whether a sighthound will benefit from thyroid supplementation. Interestingly, the bald thighs seen on a lot of Greyhounds does not necessarily mean that the dog is hypothyroid. There are a number of hypotheses about why some Greyhounds have bald thighs, but the true reason(s) have yet to be determined. Furthermore, Dr. Dodds recommends sighthounds and geriatric dogs should be dosed at half the typical rate (.1 mg per 20 pounds of body weight twice a day instead of the usual .1 mg per 10 pounds) if they are to receive thyroid supplementation.
I came away from this seminar with a pretty good feeling about my Greyhounds and the knowledge that hypothyroidism is not as prevalent a problem as I feared. I feel more confident about what I should do if one of my dogs develops a problem in the future. I also made the decision that once any new dogs I get are settled in and appear to be in optimum health, I will have my vet do a baseline thyroid panel. That way, if we are considering hypothyroidism as a problem sometime in the future, we will have something to compare a new thyroid panel to and can look for changes.
Going to a seminar can enlighten you tremendously about health concerns you may have for your dog. Kennel clubs, universities vet schools, and even some SPCAs offer educational programs for dog lovers. They are usually reasonably priced, and going to one may help you feel a lot more confident about caring for your pet.
Many Greyhound owners know Dr. W. Jean Dodds’ name as she is the founder and director of HEMOPET, a non-profit blood bank and laboratory in Irvine, California. HEMOPET keeps 150 ex-racing Greyhounds at the facility to use as blood donors.
After being extensively tested to assure its suitability as a blood donor, a dog is admitted to the closed colony at HEMOPET (the dogs are not allowed exposure to others outside the colony in order to protect them from contracting blood-borne diseases). The dogs typically live two to an enclosure, and can see the other dogs in the colony through the chain link sides.
Each dog gives a pediatric unit (250 milliliters) of blood every two to three weeks. The blood is drawn from the jugular vein in a three to four minute procedure during which the dog has been trained to sit quietly; no sedatives are used. Once finished, the dog is praised and given a snack. The dogs donate blood for about a year and are then adopted out. Male hounds are available through HEMOPET for a donation of $175, and females are available for $200.
The hounds are also therapy dogs. Every three weeks mentally and physically handicapped individuals are brought in from the surrounding county to walk, pet, and bond with the dogs. There are other volunteers who come on a regular basis. Visits from others who wish to tour the facility are also welcome. For more information, contact HEMOPET at (949) 252-8455.
HEMOPET also serves as a testing facility. Thyroid panels, tests for Von Willebrand’s disease, and vaccine titers for distemper and parvovirus can be performed there. Dr. Dodds herself will provide interpretation of the thyroid panels to help guide your veterinarian in treatment if necessary. Instructions on how to prepare a blood sample for a thyroid panel are available from HEMOPET at the above number.
Dr. Dodds says she hopes to move the HEMOPET facility to a larger location and expand her colony of Greyhounds from 150 to 300. HEMOPET is continually sold out of the blood products they produce, so it is clear there is a need for greater capacity. Thanks to the existence of HEMOPET and the donations of the hounds, the lives of many pets in need of blood have been saved.
Webmaster’s notes: The facility has been completed. Take a look at the Hemopet website to see the facilities and inquire about adopting a Hemopet greyhound. The hoped-for improved leptospirosis vaccine mentioned has not yet been achieved. (5/23/10)
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