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Introduction To The Irish Water Spaniel Thyroid Study


The thyroid is one of the main regulatory glands in man and animals. It plays a major role in controlling all of the body’s complex operations. In other breeds, certain Irish Water Spaniel breed characteristics like the rat-tail have been found to imply low thyroid activity. Early developers of our breed innocently selected for certain traits long before the role of the thyroid was ever known or understood. Out of concern for Irish Water Spaniels, breeders in the US and abroad have been collecting data since 2006 to research and evolve a more complete understanding of thyroid function in the IWS.

  Internationally respected thyroid researcher, W. Jean Dodds, DVM, was our health lecturer at IWSCA 2006, where she spoke at no charge to the IWSCA. She talked at length about many of the different possible expressions and implications of low thyroid/hypothyroidism in dogs (for those who were unable to attend, please take a few minutes to read her Thyroid Disease And Autoimmune Thyroiditis in our Reference Section).
  At that time, the IWSCA Breeders Committee had already been discussing hypothyroidism in our breed for several years. At its IWSCA 2006 meeting, with the Board's sanction, the Committee agreed to work with Dr. Dodds to try to better understand how the thyroid functions specifically in the IWS. The first step was to determine the breed's normal thyroid range, which involved collecting and analyzing data exclusively from IWSs. This analysis has been drawn from new IWS blood samples as well as from previously performed complete thyroid assays. The results of those tests and data have been reviewed alongside answers from completed questionnaires, after which Dr. Dodds has drawn conclusions regarding IWS thyroid function. The normal thyroid range for Irish Water Spaniels has been determined to be consistent with dogs of similar size please see Dr. Dodds' annual reports in the Reference Section.
  Dr. Dodds has been collaborating in this work with Dr. Lorna J. Kennedy of the University of Manchester, Centre for Integrated Genomic Medical Research, to determine the possible DNA markers for hypothyroidism in IWS. Dr. Kennedy believes that she has located the marker, and Phase Two of this study is to verify those findings.
  Another aspect of this Study involves the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals'/OFA's Thyroid Registry, which OFA maintains along with their Hip, Elbow, Heart and other registries. Based upon the data submitted to them, OFA draws conclusions about the health of a breed. The larger the sampling, the more accurate their impression can be. However, OFA's analysis criteria differ somewhat in that they only categorize a dog as hypothyroid once the majority of the gland is no longer functioning.
  The Irish Water Spaniel isn't the only breed that's investigating canine thyroid function. Dr. Dodds is currently working with Alaskan Klee Kai, Basenji, Bernese Mountain Dog, English Setter, Eurasier, Irish Red & White Setter, Kerry Blue Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Leonberger, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Portuguese Water Dog, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Vizsla and other breed groups who are also looking closely at this issue.
  Given the different testing options and paperwork required for this Study, the process can seem somewhat confusing. Please take a moment to read through and understand all the forms and documents associated with this Study. Schedule time to sit down with your veterinarian to discuss and complete the necessary forms, draw the blood, and to ship them all off to Dr. Dodds for analysis. She then submits your dog's whole blood for DNA Analysis directly to Dr. Kennedy. There is no charge for this part of the Study as costs are borne by Hemopet. Your identity and that of your dog are kept strictly confidential by Dr. Dodds, as even Dr. Kennedy knows only the breed, age, sex, and thyroid status of your dog.

Dr. Dodds is not charging us for her time. Her blood bank, Hemopet, serves as the Study’s clearinghouse. They coordinate and tabulate results. OFA testing is done by Antech Diagnostics, a nationwide (US) network of veterinary diagnostic labs with which Dr. Dodds works. Testing fees are set by the labs. OFA submittal charges are set by OFA. The cost of setting up our database has already been donated, although additional contributions are welcomed.


For our Study and conclusions to be accurate, we need to collect as many samples as possible. We have met our initial goal of assembling submittals from over 300 IWSs, but we now need additional healthy and hypothyroid/thyroiditis IWSs to verify the genetic marker. We realize that obtaining so many specimens can be challenging in such a small breed, which is why it’s so important that as many IWS owners as possible participate in the Study by submitting samples and the necessary paperwork.

  At IWSCA 2006, we were extremely fortunate to receive donations of IWS art and memorabilia from the collection of AKC IWS judge, breeder and fancier Alan Stern. Alan donated items to be auctioned off specifically with the intention of the proceeds going to underwrite costs of the Thyroid Study. Those funds have been used to subsidize the fees that people paid to the labs to have these analyses done and submitted as well as to help pay for shipping and veterinary charges at IWSCA specialties. Unfortunately, those initial funds have been exhausted, but our IWSCA IWS Thyroid Study Restricted Fund account has been replenished thanks to the generosity of several altruistic, committed donors. Needless to say, additional donations are always welcomed to the IWSCA IWS Thyroid Study Restricted Fund.

We all love our dogs, and want to do what’s best for them. By participating in this Study, you’ll be doing something for them and for the IWS breed. This Study is an investment in our dogs and in acquiring more knowledge about the health and longevity of the IWS. Please join us in continuing this important task!