Common Cause of Low Thyroid in Dogs

From the monthly column “On The Line” by BJ Andrews. ShowSight Magazine, September 2017 Issue.

If you own, show, or breed a northern breed dog, you need to be aware of one of the most common (and overlooked) causes of hypothyroidism and the simple prevention solution.

Most pet “northern breeds” Akitas, Huskies, Malamutes, etc. have low thyroid hormone.  Owners will be told it is “hereditary” and indeed it is.  As a show dog owner and/or breeder, that term is usually reserved for describing faults in someone else’s bloodline but low thyroid hormone levels affects mongrels and purebreds alike.  More so today than ever before and yes, it has to do with nutrition, prepared dog food, but most of all modern changes in the canine’s natural diet.

First some background.  I did a study 34 years ago, motivated after a very distinguished Japanese business man came to see Sachmo.  He had heard about him from the famous (AKC and JKC) judge Hideo Ito.  Ch. Okii Yubi’s Sachmo Of Makoto, ROMXP was already a legendary Akita, the All-Time top Breed Winner, he was destined to become the #1 Sire of AKC Champions in all Working Breeds. (Cinnar, the magnificent Siberian finally unseated the Akita.)

The long and short of it (he was hard to understand and he was bemused by my southern accent) is that our Japanese visitor was quite put off by what we Americans feed our Akitas.  “Fish – you know fish? Fish natural!”  I can hear him as though it was yesterday.  I finally realized the significance of his bewilderment.  “This Japanese dog.  Japan is island.  We have no cows.  Some chicken but very much fish. Feed him FISH!”

Realizing the logic in what he said, that week I did a survey of breeders who confided in me when I promised not to use their name. The question was “are you treating for low thyroid?” I also called several veterinary friends. Over 80% prescribed or used Soloxine, the “other” little blue pill.  The universal human medication for low thyroid. For perspective, internet hadn’t even been thought of back then, this was all by telephone and shorthand notes but Soloxine is still the first choice for hypothyroidism. 

What a revelation it was.  The Japanese judge was right.  We take “northern breed” dogs that evolved on fish and feed them corn and wheat…and then we wonder why they all suffer from low thyroid.  Fish.  High in iodine.  You know, the stuff they put in SALT after they’ve “purified” and made it pour as “table salt”…. 

Decades (and a much smaller breed) later, I re-verified the statistics with veterinarians who took my call because I name-dropped a very prominent name, Dr. Richard Fayer-Hoskins, UNGA Theriogenology Professor.

You’ve had it happen.  You give new puppy owners tons of information, especially diet, and then they apologize with excuses about how little time they have to prepare the “fresh food diet” for the puppy they waited months to get and for which they paid a lot of money … but here they are, confessing to buying bag food. 

On my first trip to England in the early 1980s, I verified what I had heard about European “dog food” and feeding practices.  English dogs were raised on whatever meat there was and being an “island” there was always fish.  They also fed “porridge” or what we now call oat meal.  It seems that the first commercially available dog food was grain-based Kennel Biscuit, (they later added “Ration” to the brand name) but left-over bread and oatmeal was standard fare, along with fish or fresh meat when a butcher was close by.  Thank goodness they didn’t have much corn and remember, what they did have was NOT pesticide sprayed and genetically modified.

So by now you’ve gotten the gist of this.  Northern breeds evolved on fish, high in natural iodine.  Some years ago in watching the Iditarod I noted that most of the dogs were tossed frozen fish for their layover meal. Are they also fed dry “dog food”?  I’ll have to ask Trish Kanzler, eh?

Most of you reading this have show dogs and breeding stock but are you and your owners feeding REALLY “natural” food, specific to your breed? Be aware of how your breed evolved and relate it to the rampant problem of (low) thyroid disease in domestic dogs?  Do field dogs eat pheasant? 

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