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Why Are My Dog 's T4 Levels Abnormal ?

Why Are My Cat 's T4 Levels Abnormal ?

Total T4 , tT4

To see what normal blood and urine values are for your pet, go here

For an explanation of causes of most abnormal blood and urine tests go here

To see how tests are often grouped, go here

Ron Hines DVM PhD


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Your Pet's Total T4 Level

T4 or Total Thyroxine, Thyroxin

Your dog or cat’s T4 (Total T4) is a useful screening test to detect an under-active thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) in dogs or an over-active one (hyperthyroidism) in cats. But total T4 levels are a considerably more accurate way to diagnose an overly active thyroid gland in your cat than an under-active thyroid gland in your dog.

T4 is not the same as a the Free T4 test. The free T4 test, is performed using a technique called equilibrium dialysis. It measures the amount of T4 that is actually free and available (biologically active) in your pet’s system and not tied up, bound to proteins in its blood. The rapid tests that your veterinarian performs in the office (such as the Idexx SNAP® T4) determines your pets total T4 level. That, or a T4 level determined by a national laboratory, are good screening tests to rule out thyroid gland disease. When the results are not clear or do not fit well with your pet’s symptoms, your vet will probably order other tests, including a Free T4.

In-office T4 tests are also an economical way to properly adjust your pet’s dose of thyroid medication as treatment progresses.

Although in-office Total T4 tests to check your pet’s thyroid function are fast and convenient for you and your veterinarian, they sacrifice some reliability for that convenience.

Cliff hanger results (= borderline or gray zone T4 readings)  and even Free T4 readings are best confirmed through a thyroid panel consisting of Free T4 , TSH (cTSH) and anti-thyroid antibody (TgAA).

Sometimes the only way to confirm those difficult cases is to simply give a thyroid supplement medication for a few months and see what happens (under your veterinarian's supervision of course). If an improvement in a dog's attitude and energy level or a lower blood lipid level (cholesterol, triglycerides) is seen within the first few weeks or a return to a normal hair coat after a longer period, hypothyroidism could have been the underlying cause. But those dogs need follow up monitoring. There are risks in giving thyroid medications to pets that do not need them - probably the same risks as seen in humans under the same situation (ref)

There are two test procedures used to measure T4, the RIA and the ELISA method. In borderline situations they can yield different results - although that appears to be chiefly due to what different testing laboratories consider normal T-4 levels to be. (ref)  (ref)

In those borderline situations especially, do not compare your pet's results from one lab with results from another - run them all through the same laboratory.

Reasons Why Your Pet’s T4 Level Could Be High :

If you own a cat that has the symptoms of hyperthyroidism and it’s T4 level is elevated, it is most likely hyperthyroid. Hyperthyroidism is quite rare in dogs. So high results in a dog need to be confirmed with a thyroid panel.

Pets less than a year old tend to to have higher T4 values. As pets age, their T4 levels naturally decrease. So what might be considered normal in a young adult pet would not necessarily be normal in a geriatric dog or cat.

In the very rare instances when dogs have abnormally high T4 levels, the cause is a tumor(s) in their thyroid gland.

Some veterinarians believe that pets that are in heat or pregnant can have slightly higher T4 levels. I don’t know of any scientific work has been done to confirm that. But we do know that in pregnant women, T4 nd T3 levels are about 1.5 times higher than normal while free T3 and free T4 are lower than normal.

Reasons Why Your Pet’s T4 Level Might Be Low :

Decreased T4 levels in dogs can mean that your pet is hypothyroid - but , as I mentioned before, non-thyroid illness as the cause has to be eliminated before that diagnosis is made.

Many pet owners associate chubby cats (and people) with sluggish thyroid gland function (low T4). That is not why most cats (or people) become over weight. It is because we or our furry friends eat too much and exercise too little. True low T4 levels in cats are quite rare. When they do occur, it is usually in a kitten or puppy that was born a dwarf. (ref1, ref2)

We are making progress in understanding the genetics that are involved in hypothyroidism in dogs. (ref)

As I mentioned, a wide variety of chronic diseases that have nothing to do with primary disease of your dog or cat 's the thyroid gland will also cause low T4 levels. So your vet will want to perform a complete thyroid panel, and do a thorough general health evaluation before making that decision. (many medications can also lower your pet's T4 levels. Phenobarbitial, given for epilepsy, can be one of them [ref])

Certain breeds of dogs – those that were bred to run fast and track animals with their eyesight rather than their nose – naturally have low T4 levels (about 1/3 - 1/2 lower). They are called sight hound (Greyhounds, Salukis, Afghan hounds, Whippets, Borzois, Irish Wolfhounds, Pharaoh hounds, Ibizan hounds, etc.)

Complementary Tests :

CBC/ WBC and blood chemistry values, thyroid panel, T3 suppression test, FreeT4 levels that are borderline should be rechecked in 2-3 months.

.................... DxMe