Thyroid Problems

I have an overweight Border Collie and my friend said that my dog probably has hypothyroidism. How can I tell if my dog needs to be put on thyroid medication? Is it a genetic condition?

First, I do think that thyroid problems are seen in Border Collies, but I don't think it is as prevalent as many people make it out to be (at least in the US). Border Collies have thyroid levels that are naturally lower than most other breeds and this leads to hypothyroidism being diagnosed in far too many Border Collies.

Secondly, just because a Border Collie is overweight doesn't mean that it probably has as thyroid problem. The first thing I ask when I see a fat Border Collie is "How much exercise does the dog get."

This is the scenario - A person has an overweight Border Collie. They go to their vet. The vet sees a fat dog that is supposed to be skinny and immediately thinks thyroid problems. They take a thyroid assay and lo and behold, a low T4 count. They assume Border Collies are like most other breeds and diagnosis - Hypothyroidism. They prescribe thyroid meds and problem solved.

Unfortunately, you have to remember that these are dogs that have been bred to run hours a day for mile upon mile. Rarely do pet Border Collies get this sort of daily exercise. In my opinion, their metabolic pathways are incredibly efficient and without an outlet for their energy, they get fat. The first prescription should be more exercise. Once the dog is up to several hours of exercise a day, then we can comfortably diagnose a thyroid problem if the Border Collie is still overweight (unless of course the T4 counts are so far out of the normal range that thyroid problems are conclusive). I think far too many people (and this includes vets) blame thyroid problems for overweight Border Collies. How many true working Border Collies are diagnosed with thyroid problems? Those numbers, I think, are far more accurate (and they are, to my knowledge, quite low).

Regarding the genetic basis of thyroid problems:

This is sort of a tricky issue because most people consider them to be brought on by disease. Thyroid problems are caused by immune system disorders, cancers or are idiopathic in nature, which affect the thyroid gland and the ultimate production of T4 and the like. However, these immune problems (actually it is a disease called lymphocytic thyroiditis) and the cancers may be genetically predisposed in certain lines. This appears to be the case in some situations but has yet to be demonstrated cleary. Further exacerbating this is the fact that many cases of thyroid problems are never diagnosed or, as in the Border Collie, may be overdiagnosed. In the end, it is most likely, like many biological disorders, partly determined by the genetic makeup of the animal and partly environmental. We may never know. One thing we can say for sure - it's not contagious. :-)

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