Pet Illnesses

Addison’s disease

1. What are the symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs? How is it diagnosed? How important is early detection?

Addison's disease can present suddenly in young healthy pets, or in older pets that have been through major stress situations e.g. intensive care for road a traffic accident. Affected dogs are in severe shock with pale gums, slow heart rates, weak pulse, cool extremities and often have upset stomachs and weakness. The clinician would start to get alarm bells ringing when considering the age, history and findings at examination.

Bloods for electrolytes and biochemistries often show high potassium levels and elevation of the kidney enzymes. If the potassium is elevated, an EKG (ECG) would show a slow heart rate and depressed P waves (the part of the ECG showing the smaller heart chambers, atria, contracting).

Addison's disease is a life threatening condition that must be treated ASAP. Untreated dogs are usually dead within 24 hours from heart failure brought on by the increased potassium levels.

2. Is this disease treatable, curable, and how common is it?

If caught early enough, Addison's disease is treatable.

Addison's is an uncommon illness and seen more in pure bred small breeds of dogs. It happens when there is a lack of cortisone production by the adrenal glands located next to the kidneys. The body needs small amounts of cortisone every day to keep it "fine tuned". In stressful situations, cortisone production increases so the body can deal with the event e.g. an infection, long race, cold weather.

3. What causes Addison's disease?

The adrenal glands may stop working for a number of reasons including:

A genetic defect

Following a stressful situation

The adrenal glands have been working overtime making cortisone to deal with stress. Sometimes they work too hard e.g. a major illness, and basically run out of puff/cortisone production

Sudden removal of Cortisone therapy

Dogs on cortisone therapy for medical reasons must be weaned off very slowly. When a dog receives cortisone, the adrenal glands "go on holidays" and stop making their own supply. When its time to stop giving the dog its cortisone therapy, it should be done slowly so the adrenal gland has time to "kick start" and get production back into line. If a dog has its cortisone therapy stopped too suddenly, there is a delay of a few days before the adrenal glands "comes back from the break". These few days of no cortisone what-so-ever in the dog's body, can bring on Addison's disease.

4. If treatable, what kind of treatment method is most often used?  What is the Prognosis?

Treatment involves intensive care:

Severe cases have a guarded to poor prognosis and require more intensive care than less severe cases.

5. What are the long-term effects of the disease?

If properly treated, the vet will run tests on a regular basis to determine the status of the adrenal glands i.e. to see if they are working again. In the meantime, the dog is placed on cortisone therapy every day to keep it "fine tuned" and prevent a re-occurrence of Addison's.

Provided therapy is maintained, the dog can live a normal life. In periods of anticipated stressful events, e.g. kennelling, cold spell, the dose of cortisone is elevated to cope with the extra demands placed on the body.

6. Is Addison's disease preventable? Please explain.

Addison's is really only preventable in the scenario of dogs who are receiving cortisone therapy. As mentioned above, the dog must be taken off cortisone very slowly to prevent Addison's occurring.

7. Are certain breeds more susceptible to Addison's disease than others? If so, which ones? Is age a factor?

Any dog of any age can suffer from Addison's disease.

8. What would you most like dog owners to know about Addison's disease?

Probably the fact that if their dog is receiving cortisone therapy, it must not be stopped suddenly.

See also...
Addison's Disease case