Addison's Disease in Dogs

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets

‘Blossom’ was a beautiful, placid, friendly Rottweiler. Due to her early training she was a gentle dog and easy to handle... She was always a happy girl, she bounced into the consult room and sat patiently as she had her regular check-ups.

Today though was different, ‘Blossom’ was brought in urgently as an emergency case as she had been very unwell. She had been lethargic over the past few days, she was off her food which was very unlike her, she had no energy and seemed to be very weak on her back legs. She had been sick and had dreadful diarrhoea that morning.  Her owner was very worried. "I think she has eaten something that has upset her", he relayed, "and she has been drinking a lot and wet the kitchen floor".

‘Blossom’ was very weak so I advised her owner that she should be admitted into the clinic for some blood tests and fluid therapy.

‘Blossom’s’ blood tests did reveal some abnormalities. Further blood tests quickly revealed that she was suffering from a condition called Addison's disease.

Dogs with suspected Addison’s disease often have a severe lack of body fluids, low sodium, high potassium, low blood sugar and high calcium levels. Diagnostic tests on kidneys may also show up as abnormal. A final diagnosis is usually made when very low levels of steroids in the blood are found by performing an ACTH stimulation test.

Addison’s disease or hypoadrenocorticism is an uncommon disease of dogs involving the adrenal glands and can be life threatening if not treated.

Glucocorticoids (primarily cortisol) and mineralocorticoids are two important types of hormones produced by the body’s adrenal glands. Under normal conditions, the brain releases a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) that stimulates the adrenal glands to release their hormones.

Addison’s disease occurs when the brain doesn’t release adequate amounts of ACTH or the adrenal glands fail to release their hormones in response to ACTH.

‘Blossom’ needed to stay in hospital to stabilise her condition. She would require fluid therapy and medications to balance out her abnormal blood parameters. High levels of potassium and low levels of sodium can cause heart arrhythmias and dehydration. Addison’s disease also causes low levels of glucose and high calcium levels and an anaemia, causing weakness and an abnormal thirst. Injectable medications are given in the early stages of treatment in hospital as the patient is stabilised. Then the patient is usually changed onto on-going medication once they have their appetite back. Daily medication for Addison’s disease is needed for the rest of the patient's life and generally they do very well once they are stabilised. Fortunately, dogs that receive proper treatment for Addison’s disease can have normal life spans and enjoy a good quality of life.

Once ‘Blossom’ was settled onto her treatment she was discharged home, happy and bouncy again as she had always been. Down the line she would require regular check-ups and monitor blood tests to make sure that she was kept as stable as possible on her medication.

If your dog has any of the symptoms described, or you are concerned about their general health please arrange for a thorough check up at your vet clinic. The earlier that the disease processes are diagnosed the better for vets to be able to offer your pet appropriate treatments.