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The following article is an excerpt from the book,

It's For The Animals! Natural Care & Resources

by Helen L. McKinnon 


 Reprinted with the kind permission of Nix Cuthell

Her story about Billy

originally published in the magazine Dogs Today

photo credit Dogs Today



Do you know something…vets can be precious creatures, but they are not God. They are not all seeing and they are not all knowing though of course we should very much like them to be. 

I had never owned a dog until I got Billy a beautiful Bearded Collie puppy. A homeless girl and her dog had been living with me for a while and I was surprised at how much I missed the dog after they left so I decided that I would get one of my own. I had lived with cats for over thirty years and so I had a good relationship with my vet. The veterinary practice was the first place I turned to for advice which of course I didn’t take. I can still see the faces of the vet nurses when I told them that I had decided to get a Beardie. They said it wasn’t a perfect breed for a first time dog owner and did I realise how much work he would be.  I was not to be dissuaded however and went out and bought my first copy of Dogs Today. I found some phone numbers of people who could give me breed advice and to my great pleasure I was encouraged in my choice by some wonderful Beardie owners. London does have the most fantastic open spaces. Hampstead Heath alone is around 800 acres of wonderful heath and woodland with lots of ponds and the best thing ever…no sheep!!! Getting a Beardie was the best decision I ever made but how could I have known at the time what lay ahead of us. 

Billy is now almost six years of age. Up until about a year ago he had been the most placid of dogs. Suddenly, almost overnight it seemed, he started to ‘attack’ other dogs in the park. He never actually bit any of them but he made a lot of noise, pinning them to the ground by the scruff of their necks. Most of them were his friends with whom he had grown up. They did nothing more that get a bit too close to him. It got to a point where people were walking the other way when they saw us coming. 

After quite a few of these ‘incidents’ and on the advice of a behaviourist, I took Billy to see the vet. I talked about training but he thought that as the behaviour had probably become a pattern, it would be better to castrate Billy as he would then be much easier to train. This is a vet who had treated my cats for over twenty years and who I trusted implicitly. I wasn’t happy but decided to go ahead as I felt he knew best.  

From the very first day Billy came home after the castration he seemed a different dog. He was so very lethargic and depressed but the vet put it down to the anaesthetic. After another day or two and he hadn’t improved I spoke to the vet again who still told me not to worry. Billy’s lethargy got worse and worse until he simply didn’t want to go out at all. All in all I had around eleven appointments with the two vets at my veterinary practice pleading with them to please try and find out what was wrong with Billy. Neither of the vets accepted that there was anything wrong and said that if Billy was their dog they would leave things as they were as any more tests would become invasive. They said that there were worse things than having a quiet dog! 

Twice a day for eight months I drove Billy to Kensington Gardens, his favourite park. He couldn’t even get as far as the first bench and so we would sit under the first tree we came to, he with his bowl of water and me with my magazine and we would spend a restful hour or so there. I am convinced that this kept him going through the summer. People who we didn’t know would stop us in the park and ask if Billy was really old. He was dragging himself along behind me like a really old dog, unable to walk for more that five or ten minutes and sometimes didn’t want to walk at all. In the early hours of every single morning, I would wake to find Billy standing at the side of my bed just staring at me. It was as though he was saying, “Can’t you help me?”  Night after night I would cry myself to sleep.  

I’m so glad that I didn’t take my vet’s advice to leave things alone.  Instead, I joined an online Beardie group and sent in Billy’s symptoms. I immediately received dozens of responses asking if Billy’s thyroid had been tested as it sounded like he was suffering from hypothyroidism. I discovered he hadn’t been tested so I asked my vet to take a blood sample and it was sent off to the lab to be analysed. The results came in that Billy’s thyroid was fine. I was disappointed, I didn’t want Billy to be sick but he was very depressed and I needed to find out what was wrong with him, so this was a real set back. I had now been recommended to CIMDA which is the Canine Immune Mediated Disease Awareness internet group. Jo Tucker, another Beardie owner who helped start the group, and the members of it were the most fantastic support to me at that time. I was sick with worry and exhausted from lack of sleep. They suggested that I send Billy’s blood test results out to Dr Jean Dodds in America. Jean is the blood queen as far as I am concerned. She is a wonderful vet and gives her time selflessly to people like me. She established Hemopet in the States which is the first non profit national blood bank programme for animals.  I wrote to her and she wrote back immediately and said that the T4 test that my vet had done was not really very useful. I was to go back and ask for a complete thyroid profile. 

I turned up at the veterinary practice clutching Jean’s mail and said to the vet, “I really do think that Billy might be hypothyroid.” He looked at me and said, “Billy can’t possibly be hypothyroid because we’ve tested his thyroid and it’s fine.” I informed him that T4 alone can miss the diagnosis, especially if there's a thyroid autoantibody present. I said that we needed to check the thyroid autoantibodies, T3AA, T4AA and TgAA to rule out autoimmune thyroiditis which is a prevalent problem along with Addison's disease in Beardies.  I said that I wanted a complete thyroid profile done.   I had no idea what I was talking about; I’d just quoted Jean Dodds. The vet looked a little panicky and said that thyroid wasn’t really his field. I think there were two of us that day that hadn’t got a clue what I was talking about. He arranged for the blood to be taken there and then and it was sent off for analysis.

A few days later, whilst waiting for the thyroid results, Billy was having problems getting home from the park and once home he collapsed. I had to rush him out to Hertfordshire to the Royal Veterinary College. That day was the most harrowing I shall ever know. It was one of those baking hot days of last summer, I was convinced that Billy was dying in the back of the car, it was the London rush hour and I hadn’t a clue where exactly the College was. We made it eventually and Billy spent most of that week at the College having all sorts of tests. They found nothing wrong with him apart from possibly a little arthritis but while Billy was still at the College being tested my vet called. “There are very surprising results from the thyroid test.” he said.  Billy’s blood test results had come in with a positive for autoimmune thyroiditis! His own thyroid was destroying itself; no wonder the poor dog was lethargic and depressed.   

I have learned so much from Billy’s sickness. I have learned that we owe it to our dogs to do as much research as we can and to not always take the vet’s words as gospel. Before Billy’s onset of sudden aggression he had seen the vet for: weight gain; skin infections; ear infections; chronic offensive body odour; phobia of fireworks and thunder; stiffness and mange. Every single one of these is a symptom of hypothyroidism. If my vet didn’t get it with all of the above symptoms, he should certainly have got it when Billy became suddenly aggressive. There has been tremendous work done on the connection between sudden aggression and thyroid dysfunction in dogs. I am sad to say that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons consider it to be perfectly acceptable for a vet to castrate a dog for sudden aggression before testing for thyroid dysfunction. I consider that to be a disgrace.  

I am happy to say that Billy is now on thyroid medication and has moved forward in leaps and bounds literally. He still has his ups and downs but thanks to a wonderful new holistic vet, I almost have my old Billy back. I am hoping that his stamina will improve bit by bit but it saddens me to think that a lot of this could probably have been avoided if my vet had been more up to date with autoimmune disease, its causes and its symptoms.  

There are many wonderful vets out there, I have found one now but we still have to be vigilant. They aren’t specialists, we must make sure we are. We must listen to our gut instincts, we know our dogs best. We need to do our research and then we need to work hand in hand with our vets so we can make informed decisions together. If your vet isn’t prepared to listen to what you have to say about your dog, find another vet…your dog’s life depends on it!


ă Copyright 1995 Helen L. McKinnon All Rights Reserved

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