Canine Fur Analysis: What Fur Can Reveal and Differences between Labs

There was more than one reason I wanted to run a canine fur analysis for Cookie.

I wanted to make sure her diet provides everything she needs, particularly when it comes to minerals. Cookie is on a raw diet so I am not worried about proteins or vitamins. It is the minerals that can be a challenge.

I also wanted to evaluate Cookie’s exposure to toxic elements, whether from her food or from the environment. And because of her mysterious coat color changes, I wanted to see what answers might lie in her fur.

Canine Fur Analysis: What Fur Can Reveal and Differences between Labs

Why fur analysis?

Blood and urine testing provide a lot of precious information about canine health. However, there are some good arguments to hair testing.

  1. It is a matter of survival for blood is highly regulated to preserve balance at any given time. It can take a profound deficiency or a breakdown in regulation before problems show up in the blood.
  2. Standard blood panels don’t include many things you might want to monitor and specialized testing can be expensive.
  3. A blood sample reflects the state of things within a narrow point in time.
  4. Test results can be affected by circumstances including stress, level of hydration, and even the procedure itself.

On the other hand, fur accumulates minerals as they come. It is sensitive to mineral levels while making no attempt to correct imbalances. Therefore chronic deficiencies or toxicity can show long before they become a clinical problem.

  1. Minerals and heavy metals accumulate in fur based on their presence in the body.
  2. While the range of tested elements varies by a lab, many of them are not normally included in blood screening.
  3. Fur, similar to rings on a tree, reflects historical data of mineral levels over a period of months.
  4. Test results, however, can be influenced by external contamination.

A fur analysis is a potential indicator of the long-term effects of diet and toxic exposure.

There is some data indicating that fur testing might become a useful tool when managing your dog’s health.

We did run fur analysis for Jasmine in the past and it provided useful insights. Deciphering fur analysis results was also part of my Canine Nutrition course. That is when I first learned about it. I got to review and study the results from multiple case studies.

Cookie’s results look vastly different from Jasmine’s.

There is an obvious difference between the two labs, which elements they test and how they present the results.

Some of that looks pretty wild and very little interpretation was offered by the place where we ordered this one from. We chose it because it is a Canadian veterinarian using a Canadian lab. However, apparently, he does not include any comments, explanations or recommendations beyond what the lab automatically spits out. It was not overly helpful. So that was rather disappointing and we won’t be using them again.

You can review Jasmine’s results here.

I was able to gain some useful information and the rest just left me baffled.

Nutritional elements
Canine Fur Analysis: Nutritional Elements

The craziest-looking values are for iron and manganese, along with a couple of other minerals. After some research, deliberation, and digging, the only reasonable conclusion is that the sample was contaminated by the clippers during collection.

We did not want to use scissors in order to prevent potential injury to Cookie. The clippers are not high-grade steel and it could be where some these numbers come from. As well as no signs of high systemic levels of iron are present in Cookie.

So we’re not going to worry about these values for the time being.

Toxic elements
Canine Fur Analysis: Toxic Elements

The findings regarding toxic elements look satisfactory, except aluminum. Aluminum seems to be a thing that cannot be avoided; I wonder if it comes from Cookie’s Rabies booster she was due last year. Or perhaps some of that is again from topical contamination. Some grooming tools can also be a source of aluminum contamination of the sample. The things that normally would be affected by high levels of aluminum doesn’t seem to be. We’ll see what it looks like next time.

Canine Fur Analysis: What Fur Can Reveal and Differences between Labs

The elements that are high in this additional chart could again come from external contamination rather than systemic accumulation.

Nickel is commonly found in civilized environments.

The lithium is of interest, particularly since it can mess with thyroid function. We will dig further to see where it might be coming from. Some water supplies can be contaminated. Cookie gets bottled water for drinking but I guess that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be contaminated. The same goes for barium; no idea where it could be from but we need to try and figure that out.

Element ratios
Dog Hair Analysis: Ratios

The only ratio out of whack above is the one concerning iron; which we do believe does come from topical contamination rather than what is actually in the body.

Overall conclusion

Cookie doesn’t seem to be suffering from any nutritional deficiencies.

There are some things present that should not be so we have some homework to do to determine where exactly they come from. We will re-test in the future but we’ll definitely use a different place. With this one, it took forever to get the results and then they didn’t provide any individual comments above of what the lab automatically spits out.

Meanwhile, they requested detailed information with the sample submission. You gotta wonder why as it doesn’t seem they did anything with it.

Lithium

The element on Cookie’s fur analysis results I decided to research more closely is lithium (Li). These elements weren’t included in Jasmine’s analysis, and I don’t know anything about it. More importantly, the notes from the lab state the following:

“Lithium is found occurring naturally in some water supplies. Lithium accumulates primarily in the pituitary and thyroid glands. If excessive, lithium will interfere with iodine uptake by the thyroid gland, possibly blocking thyroxine release of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Therefore, long-term lithium excess may possibly contribute to decreased thyroid activity, fatigue, and weight gain.”

Cookie's Fur Analysis: Lithium

Since there clearly have been issues with Cookie’s thyroid function, this element stood out to me the most.

Now, none of the other possible conditions associated with excess lithium have been present. Those include:

  • increased urination
  • increased thirst
  • blood sugar disturbances
  • alkaline urine
  • heir loss
  • osteoporosis
  • hypercalciuria
  • leukocytosis

The first thing I did was to consult with Dr. Dodds.

I emailed her the analysis results and asked specifically about the potential connection between lithium levels found in Cookie’s fur and poor thyroid function. Mainly since Cookie was negative for autoimmune thyroiditis.

She replied that the analysis would not explain Cookie’s hypothyroidism.

It is also true that ratios between nutritional elements indicate normal thyroid function which we now know was not normal. So what does one make of all this?

What is lithium?

You might be familiar with the use of lithium in rechargeable batteries. But what the heck would it be doing in Cookie’s fur? Was it from water? Cookie gets bottled water to drink, but she also drinks water from puddles and ditches.

Trace amounts of lithium can also be found in plants. It can be found in kelp, fish as well as in dairy, eggs, and meat in minute concentrations. Legumes and grains contain it too, but Cookie doesn’t eat those.

Some sources cite there is no known function of lithium in the body. Others assert that lithium plays a role in B12 transport to cells, as well as neurological function. Cookie does not have signs of a problem, though.

I’m none the wiser.

In closing, I believe there is a lot of information to gain from fur analysis. However, choosing your lab or a provider makes a big difference.

Related articles:
Jasmine’s Fur Analysis

Further reading:
Hair Analysis for Animal Health

Categories: ConditionsDiagnosesDog health advocacyFur analysisReal-life Stories

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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