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Addison disease in dogs

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Addison’s disease in dogs can be potentially fatal. So let’s find out what it is, what symptoms to look out for, and how it can be treated and managed.

By Ashley Murphy

Updated on the 27/11/2019, 17:48

What is Addison's Disease in dogs?

Addison's disease is caused by faulty adrenal glands. Located next to your dogs' kidneys, the adrenal glands are responsible for producing two very important hormones called cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol helps manage yours dogs stress levels; aldosterone regulates the water and electrolytes (sugar, salt, etc) in their body.

Although all dogs are susceptible to Addison's disease, it’s more common in young to middle age female dogs. In fact, around 70% of dogs with the disease are female, although in standard Poodles and Border Collies the split between male and female is roughly 50/50. Certain breeds have a higher disposition to Addison's disease. These include Labradors, Rottweilers, and Springer Spaniels.

A dog can suffer from primary and secondary Addison's disease. Primary is the most common form, and it's caused when your dogs’ immune begins attacking the adrenal gland. Unfortunately, specialists are yet to figure out why this happens. Secondary Addison's disease is usually caused by a tumor on your dogs pituitary gland, which is an important hormone regulator located in the brain. It can also develop after a long-term course of steroids, so be mindful if your dog needs or is having this kind of treatment.

The most common symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs are lethargy, weakness, and loss of appetite. This can lead to depression and weight-loss, as well as other notable symptoms like shaking and excessive thirst. In more serious cases, your dog may experience severe vomiting and diarrhoea, and may even collapse. If this happens then contact your vet immediately. The following video from Dr. Amy Starr of the  Paws N Hooves Veterinary Service covers what you need to look at for:

Diagnosing and treating Addison's disease

To find out if you're dog has Addison's disease, a vet will need to perform a thorough physical examination. They will also need to know everything about your dogs' history and behaviour, and will most likely perform a serious of diagnostic tests. Depending on your dog's symptoms, these may include.

  • Blood work: this evaluates how well your dog's organs are working. It also checks their blood sugar levels, as well as ruling out any other potential diseases or infections.
  • Urine test: this screens for any urinary tract infections, making sure that the kidneys are concentrating urine correctly.
  • An Electrocardiogram test (ECG): this is on the look-out for any abnormal heart rhythms, which may suggest underlying heart problems.
  • An ACTH-stimulation: this is used to diagnose adrenal insufficiency, which is a clear indication of Addison disease in dogs.

If your dog is diagnosed with Addison's disease then don’t panic;  there are plenty of ways to treat and manage the condition. Very sick dogs will require a short to a mid-term hospital stay. They will be kept on an intravenous drip and undergo a cortisol replacement programme to help them get back up on their paws.  Most dogs show a dramatic improvement within 24 to 48 hours after this kind of treatment. For luckier dogs, your vet will most likely prescribe oral medication, which has a very high success rate in managing Addison's disease in dogs. Your dog will need to go back for regular check-ups, especially in the early stages of any treatment; you'll also need to keep a close eye on their diet and energy levels.

Some dogs with Addison's disease will require ongoing hormone replacement therapy. Long-term treatment means either a pill or an injection once every 25 days or so. And because your dog can’t produce enough cortisol to manage their stress, they may need additional medication during particularly difficult times for a dog, i.e. travel, boarding, or new environments. Much of this will depend on your dog’s temperament, so be mindful of anything that may potentially disrupt their day-to-day routine. If in doubt it’s always best to play it safe as any significant increases in stress can aggravate symptoms.

Living with Addison's disease

This can all sound a bit worrying, but remember that after diagnosis most dogs make a full recovery. You will need to pay them a bit more attention, but with the right kind of medication and treatment, there’s no reason whatsoever why they can’t live a full and happy life. Speaking in a recent interview about dogs with Addison's disease, Dr. Julia Bates said:

Addison’s disease is a very manageable disease. Dogs with Addison’s disease should lead a normal life."