Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q & A: Hypothyroid Dog Not Responding to L-T4 Replacement

"Molly" is a 7-year-old Laborador Retriever weighing 31 kg, who was diagnosed over a year ago as being hypothyroid based on the finding of a low-normal serum T4 concentration (0.9 μg/dl; reference range, 0.9-3.9 μg/dl). Her clinical signs included non-pruitic alopecia of the pinnae and truncal dermatitis. Based upon her clinical signs and the low serum T4 value, she was started on L-thyroxine (Soloxine) a the dosage of 0.5 mg, BID.

Over the past year, a number of post-pill serum T4 concentrations have been done, but all of her serum T4 values have remained in the low-normal range (between 0.9-1.5 μg/dl). Her dose of Soloxine was increased to 0.6 mg but there still has not been improvement in clinical signs.

This week I repeated an entire thyroid panel while the dog is on the L-T4 and send the serum to the Michigan State University Endocrine Lab ( Here are the results of that thyroid panel:

TT4: 59 nmol/L (15-67 nmol)
TT3: 1.5 nmol (1.0-2.5 nmol)
FT4: 20 pmol/L (8-26 pmol)
FT3: 5.2 pmol (4.5-12 pmol)
T4AA: 11% (0-20%)
T3AA: 5% (0-10%)
TSH: 0.01 mU/L (0-37 mU/L)
Thyroglobulin AA: 2% (0-35%)

My questions: Will being on L-thyroxine cause these numbers to all be normal? Is it advisable to stop the thyroid supplementation for a few weeks and run another serum thyroid panel, as clinically it doesn't seem to be doing much? Is she really hypothyroid at all?

Thank you so much for your help!

My Response:

Yes, the goal of thyroid hormone supplementation is to completely normalize the serum thyroid panel (i.e., to raise serum total and free T4 and T3 values and suppress serum TSH concentrations). So these results indicate that the L-T4 supplementation in this dog is being well absorbed and is feeding back on the pituitary gland to lower TSH secretion.

But you are correct: if the dog isn't hypothyroidism, the clinical signs aren't going to improve. I would recommend that you stop the L-T4 supplementation and redo the thyroid panel. Unfortunately, we need the dog off all L-T4 for at least 6 weeks prior to testing to allow the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis to recover. Once you stop the thyroid medication, this dog may be mildly hypothyroid (due to iatrogenic suppression of pituitary TSH secretion) even if his thyroid gland was normal prior to the thyroid supplementation.

When you do recheck Molly after stopping the thyroid mediation, remember to also run a CBC and serum chemistry panel. This will rule out any nonthyroidal diseases, but will also help in diagnosis of hypothyroidism, especially if mild anemia, or fasting hyperlipidemia/ hypercholesterolemia is present.

PS: I don’t know what the prior post-pill test results showed serum T4 values only in the low-normal range, but the serum T4 on this panel is perfect.  Have the owners been consistently giving the L-T4 without food or at time of meals?

It’s been shown that absorption of L-T4 in dogs can be better when given on an empty stomach. So if the owners were not consistent in when they administer the thyroid medication, that could explain why the previous results were so different that the current results. And it may also explain why the dog hasn’t responded to the thyroid supplementation (if she really is hypothyroid, which still needs to be determined).

1. Le Traon G, Burgaud S, Horspool LJ. Pharmacokinetics of total thyroxine in dogs after administration of an oral solution of levothyroxine sodium. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2008;31(2):95-101.

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