I said a couple of months ago that I’ll discuss Addison’s Disease in Dogs with you. It just took some time to be okay after the last time I spoke of what killed Tony.
What is Addison’s Disease?
According to the Whole Dog Journal: Addison’s disease, named for the 19th century physician who defined this adrenal gland dysfunction, is also known as hypoadrenocorticism or adrenal insufficiency. Is Addison’s Disease fatal to dogs? Yes, if left untreated, but with appropriate treatment Addison’s can be managed so that affected patients lead normal, active lives. First diagnosed in dogs in the 1950s, it is considered an uncommon canine disorder. However, veterinarians who routinely test for Addison’s often find it, suggesting that the illness is not really rare but rather under-diagnosed and under-reported. You don’t find Addison’s unless you look for it. Some veterinarians speculate that Addison’s disease occurs in dogs at a rate as much as 100 times the rate in humans.
Scary, or what?
It is most common in young to middle-aged dogs – the average being about 4 years old. Mostly, it occurs in females more than in males. Certain breeds are more susceptible than others.
- Portuguese water dog
- Bearded Collie
- Standard Poodles
- Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Wheaten Terriers
- West Highland White Terriers
The common symptoms are listed below. The one’s in bold, Tony experienced.
- Increased thirst
- Muscle/joint pain
- Painful/sensitive abdomen
- Excessive urination
- Changes in coat (colour, become longer/shorter/thicker/thinner or even curly, hair loss)
- Hind-end pain
- Muscle weakness
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Dark, tarry stool (blood in stool)
- Blood in vomit
- Cool to touch
When dogs are stressed (just like humans), their bodies produce cortisol which helps them to deal with stress. But dogs with Addison’s cannot make enough cortisol, so they cannot deal with the stress. Usually symptoms get worse when they are stressed. Every dog finds something stressful – some more than others – according to their temperament, whether it be a change in their routine or the death of a playmate.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Examinations usually look the same: once the veterinarian knows to look for something deeper, Addison’s patients have some commonalities.
- Mental depression
- Thin/emaciated bodies
- Muscle weakness
- Slow and weak pulse
- Irregular heart rate
- Patches of darkened skin
- Low blood pressure
- Low body temperature
- Pale mucous membranes
Blood tests are the first step after the initial physical examination. They can show:
- Low sodium
- Elevated potassium
- Low protein
- High calcium
- Low glucose
- Low cholesterol
- Elevated liver enzymes
- Metabolic acidosis
- Elevated BUN and creatinine
Other things in the blood can also indicate Addison’s Disease. More tests are also done according to the Pet Health Network:
- Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
- Antibody tests to identify if your pet has been exposed to vector-borne or other infectious diseases
- A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood-related conditions
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infections and other diseases, and to evaluate the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine
- A thyroid test to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little thyroid hormone
- An ECG to screen for an abnormal heart rhythm, which may indicate underlying heart disease
- An ACTH-stimulation test to evaluate cortisol levels in the blood
The reason Addison’s Disease is so often misdiagnosed, is because it resembles so many other illnesses. The most common ones being:
- Pancreatitis (a favourite when my dogs are ill for some reason)
- Urinary blockage
- Liver disease
- Renal failure
- Protein-losing enteropathy
Most dogs get diagnosed with Addison’s when they have an Addisonian Crisis – when they pass out because of a slow pulse combined with dehydration, sodium deficiency and all the other things that cause circulatory collapse due to untreated Addison’s Disease. They are rushed to the hospital, get put on intravenous fluids and steroids – a miracle cure! – and then have to stay under observation for a few days before they are then put on maintenance care.
Usually, with appropriate treatment, dogs with Addison’s disease have an excellent prognosis. They usually feel better within days of initial treatment and symptoms are usually gone within 4 weeks. They just need their daily meds, regular check-ups (especially for electrolyte levels) and a pet-parent who keeps an eye on them and their health. This, usually, has no anticipated disease-related problems on their life expectancy.
- Addison’s Disease in Dogs: Detection and Treatment
- Addison Disease
- Addison’s Disease in Dogs – Overview
- Addison’s Disease in Dogs
- Addison’s Disease
- How Addison’s Disease Affects Your Dog
After Emmett’s death, Tony started getting ill in various ways. He got diarrhoea, his fur changed from black to light brown to white in places, he regularly vomited (usually because he swallowed a foreign object that had to come out), he became depressed and didn’t want to play as much as usual, he lost weight despite eating (so I changed his diet), he got loads of ear infections, and he started coughing.
I took him to the vet each time. The diarrhoea was stress-induced – the fur colour change, too. The vomiting was, just as I thought, because he decided to swallow the hooves I gave them when they became a certain size and it had to come out. The depression was because he lost his best friend – he and Cal weren’t as close as he and Emmett were and Cal doesn’t like to play (until he met Caitlin, but that’s a post for another day). The weight loss was a dietary thing. The ear infections due to allergies. The coughing… It wasn’t disease-related (he didn’t have Spiro and it wasn’t because of allergies). But the coughing was barely-there. And a symptom of another disease (see DCM link below).
Each time something happened, I took him to the vet and the problem was solved. At least, we thought so. Until one day he was lethargic to the point of not existing. He also lost control of his bladder that night. And his stool was red (not for the first time, either).
He stayed at the vet for a couple of days for various tests. According to those tests, he had Addison’s Disease – and a rare type, too. He came home, drank his meds, and seemed okay. And he was – until DCM took him. You can read about that here:
I knew something was wrong with Tony, I wasn’t sure what. He was listless, he didn’t jump on everything anymore (especially the bed – I had to help him up) and all the other vague symptoms above that we treated in a vacuum. The symptoms improved and then returned. And it could have been anything. But it was Addison’s Disease. Something I didn’t even know to look out for.
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**Legal waiver: I’m not a veterinarian, just an overprotective Rottweiler mum and pack leader. It’s always best to contact your vet if something in your dog’s behaviour is out of character.