Addison’s Disease in dogs

Addison’s disease is a rare, potentially life-threatening condition of dog’s adrenal glands. It affects around 1 in 1000 dogs in the UK. Although dogs of any age, sex or breed can get Addison’s, it’s more likely in adult females and in certain breeds.

Addison’s disease, also called hypoadrenocorticism, happens when your dog’s adrenal glands are damaged and don’t produce enough steroid hormone. Steroid hormones play essential roles in all animals’ bodies. In the early stages of Addison’s disease, the condition is very hard to recognise. The symptoms are vague, intermittent and can be mistaken for other illnesses. Addison’s disease can’t be cured, but it can be treated successfully for life. If the condition isn’t identified and effectively controlled, it can lead to an emergency called an ‘Addisonian crisis’. This can be fatal.



What is Addison’s disease in dogs?

Addison’s is a disease of the adrenal glands. These are two small structures in your dog’s tummy, near their kidneys. The adrenal glands produce two steroid hormones: cortisol and aldosterone. Your dog depends on these hormones for many essential functions in their body. The symptoms of Addison’s develop when levels of these hormones in your dog’s bloodstream fall to abnormally low levels.

In Addison’s:

  • Your dog’s adrenal glands get damaged
  • Cortisol and Aldosterone levels fall to dangerously low levels
  • Many of your dog’s cells and body systems stop working properly
  • Vague signs of illness develop
  • Vital organs such as heart and kidneys may fail if the condition is not recognised and treated

Your dog’s adrenal glands may be damaged by their body’s own defence cells. Sometimes the body stops recognising its own tissues and attacks them. This is called an ‘autoimmune disease’ and it’s the most common cause of Addison’s in dogs. We don’t know for certain why this happens. But it’s more common in some breeds than others, so it may be caused by a faulty gene.

Cushings syndrome dog 2 min
Anatomical location of the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands in dogs.



Symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs

Symptoms of Addison’s in dogs are vague in the early stages. They may happen on and off over many months. Symptoms include:

  • Eating less or intermittently
  • Vomiting
  • Developing weakness and low energy (lethargy)
  • Losing weight
  • Drinking more and urinating (peeing) more
  • Being “Just not right”

Symptoms of an Addisonian Crisis include:

  • Collapse
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale gums
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Slow breathing
  • Cold feet and ears
  • Loss of consciousness

Call your nearest vet if your dog has collapsed or is showing other symptoms of an Addisonian crisis.



Are some dogs more at risk of Addison’s disease than others?

Although dogs of any age, sex or breed can get Addison’s disease, it’s most common in the following:

  • Female dogs (70% of cases)
  • Young adults, 4-6 years old
  • Certain breeds :
    • Standard Poodles
    • Westies
    • Great Danes
    • Bearded Collies
    • Labrador Retrievers
    • Leonbergers
    • Portuguese Water Dogs

Addison’s disease is not dangerous to human family members or to other pets in the house. It is not an infectious illness and cannot spread between animals.



How do vets diagnose Addison’s disease in dogs?

Addison’s disease is difficult to diagnose in its early stages because the symptoms come and go and can be mistaken for much more common illnesses.

Vets diagnose Addison’s disease through:

  • Symptoms
  • Urine Tests
  • Blood tests
    • general blood tests: checking liver, kidneys, electrolytes (sodium and potassium) and inflammation
    • specific blood tests: checking your dog’s steroid hormone production
  • An ECG (electrocardiogram) to check your dog’s heart  rate and rhythm
  • An ultrasound scan of your dog’s tummy to examine the adrenal glands in more detail

30% of cases of Addison’s disease are only identified when the dog is admitted to a vet practice suffering severe dehydration or collapse.


Vet treatment

Vet treatment for Addison’s disease in dogs

There’s no cure for Addison’s disease. Once your dog has been diagnosed, they’ll need treatment for the rest of their lives.

Emergency treatment for acute (sudden) Addison’s disease includes:

  • Giving fluids directly into your dog’s veins to treat dehydration
  • Correcting sodium and potassium (salt) levels in the blood. This is essential for nerve, heart and muscle function
  • Giving emergency steroid injections to replace essential cortisol

The good news is that most dogs respond well to treatment and go on to live full and happy lives.

Some dogs who have other illnesses at the same time as Addison’s disease respond poorly to treatment.

If their Addison’s disease can’t be controlled, your dog’s quality of life will be poor and outlook more uncertain.


Home treatment

Are there any home remedies for Addison’s disease in dogs?

Addison’s disease can’t be treated with home remedies.

It’s a serious and complicated disease. If your dog has Addison’s disease, they need prescription medicine from a vet and regular check-ups at a vet clinic.


Tips on how to live with a dog who has Addison’s disease

Dogs with Addison’s disease can’t produce enough cortisol. Cortisol is known as ‘the stress hormone’ as it helps the body cope with stress. Healthy dogs can produce more cortisol whenever it’s needed. Dogs with Addison’s disease depend on their daily cortisol medicine. Their body can’t produce more to cope with sudden stressful events.

Stressful events may include:

  • Visiting the vet clinic
  • Going on holiday
  • Going into kennels
  • Having visitors in the house

Stressful events can also include less ‘obvious’ things, such as:

  • Changes in diet
  • Changes in routines, such as the times and places for walks
  • Losing familiar toys
  • Having another illness

So some of these potential stressors can be controlled or avoided altogether, for example by:

  • Keeping to a suitable diet
  • Being consistent with times for walks, meals and bed
  • Avoiding swapping out favourite toys (and keeping a supply of identical ones, just in case…)
  • Keeping a close eye on your dog’s health and responding promptly to any changes

The most stressful events can’t always be predicted or prevented. This could be unexpected travel or getting another illness. In those cases, your dog needs a slightly bigger dose of their daily steroid tablet.

For your dog’s safety, any changes to their regular medication should only be carried out under the supervision and guidance of a vet.



Can Addison’s disease in dogs be prevented?

Addison’s disease is a rare condition. There is no way to prevent your dog from developing Addison’s.

Dogs with any of the symptoms listed in this article are far more likely to have something more common, which can be treated by owners at home or by a vet.


Tips on how to prevent an Addisonian crisis

If your dog has been diagnosed with Addison’s disease, the priority is preventing an Addisonian crisis.

This includes:

  • Minimising stress and change in your dog’s lifestyle, surroundings and routines
  • Giving your dog their medication at the correct dose and at the right time every day
  • Seeing a vet regularly for checkups and advice on medication
  • Ensuring your dog has regular preventive care, including vaccinations, worming and flea treatments
  • Contacting a vet as soon as possible if you notice any changes in your dog’s habits or behaviour

Following your vet’s advice will help to ensure your pet remains stable at home and reduce the likelihood of expensive vet bills for hospital stays.


When to worry

When should you be worried about your dog with Addison’s disease?

If Addison’s is not effectively controlled, your dog is at risk of a life-threatening Addisonian crisis.

Seek help from your nearest vet practice if your dog is showing the following symptoms:

  • weakness
  • collapse
  • abdominal pain
  • pale gums
  • slow heartbeat
  • slow breathing
  • cold feet and ears
  • loss of consciousness

Call your nearest vet as soon as possible if you think your dog is having an Addisonian crisis

Call us and speak to one our Joii Vets if :

  • you are worried your dog may have Addison’s disease
  • you are worried about a change or event which may stress your dog with Addison’s disease.
  • you want to know more about recognising health signs in your dog
  • for peace of mind and professional advice
  • choosing and sticking to the right diet for your dog
  • successfully managing the routines in your dog’s life
  • advising on holidays and alternative care for dogs
  • preparing your dog for trips to the vets
  • giving medication to your dog
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