Dogs and Human Diseases, Missing the Obvious?

by Mary Haight on July 30, 2010

There was a story here the other day about a new continuous glucose monitoring device for animals to help vets better control insulin levels in diabetics and minimize blood draws in dogs, cats and some larger animals.

A link to a food company owner who talked about how diseases that *can* stem from obesity often have their root in carbohydrate fillers drew some attention. My friend Edie Jarolim read the reference and took exception to language that would lead to the conflation of obesity and diabetes in canines.  The mistaken idea that obesity is the *cause* of canine diabetes has flourished.

Edie will take on that topic in the near future, but it was this conversation that made me wonder what other assumptions are made in the dog and human disease chain?  What’s out there masquerading as a chain of very similar symptoms and actions, when it’s actually missing links?

To help us out with this, I’ve asked another pal, Lorie Huston, DVM, to cite some examples,  make us better, more observant dog caretakers.

Guest Post by Lorie Huston, DVM

As dog owners, it is easy to anthropomorphize our pets and assume that when dogs and people get diseases that share a name, the disease is the same in the two species. In some cases, this is true. In other cases, however, significant differences exist.

Heart disease is one area in which causation is often different in dogs than in humans. In dogs, myocardial infarctions are rare. The most common form of acquired heart disease seen in dogs is degenerative valve disease (DVD), in which the valves located between the heart valves become misshapen and defective leading to a disruption of blood flow through the heart and, eventually, congestive heart failure. The other common cause of acquired heart disease in dogs is dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle itself that causes the heart to be unable to contract effectively, which ultimately eventually leads to congestive heart failure.

A second example of the incongruity between canine disease and human disease manifestations is thyroid disease. While both hyperthyroidism (including Grave’s disease) and hypothyroidism are reasonably common in people, hyperthyroidism is rarely seen in dogs. Hypothyroidism (or a decrease in the production of thyroid hormones) is the form of thyroid disease almost always seen in dogs.  Hypothyroidism in dogs is most often primary in nature, resulting from a reduction of acinar cells in the thyroid gland. Less commonly, canine hypothyroidism can be a result of a decrease in the production of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) by the pituitary gland.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is another area where there are significant differences between the disease seen in people and that seen in dogs. Primary hypertension (high blood pressure for which no medical cause can be found) is the most common form of the disease in people. Obesity, sedentary life-style, genetics and diet are often implicated as predisposing factors for primary hypertension. In dogs, however, primary hypertension is rare. Hypertension in dogs is most often secondary to another medical issue, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or adrenal disease.

As you can see, there are numerous differences between canine and human medicine, even for disease conditions that superficially appear similar to one another.

Thank you Dr. Huston for clarifying these issues for us.

Lorie Huston has been in veterinary medicine for over 20 years in Providence , RI.  Dr. Huston is a successful freelance writer, the feature writer at’s Pet Care section, a National Pet Health Examiner at, publishes her blog, The Pet Health Care Gazette and is The Voice of Pet Care on Facebook. Dr Huston also co-moderates DogTalk, a weekly twitter chat that focuses on a variety of dog topics.

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