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December 10, 2020

Addison’s Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Key Points

  • Addison’s disease in dogs is a hormone disorder where important hormones in the body are not being produced at adequate levels.
  • Addison’s in dogs is also known as hypoadrenocorticism.
  • The most common symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs include lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Addison’s disease is diagnosed by running a blood test called the ACTH stimulation test.
  • The treatment for Addison’s disease includes hormone replacement therapies through injections and oral medications prescribed by your veterinarian.

What is Addison’s disease in dogs?

Addison’s disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is a disease in which hormone production is decreased. Many hormones are produced by the adrenal glands which are two small organs that live inside your dog’s belly near the kidneys. These hormones are important for normal body functions and promote the overall health of your dog. With Addison’s disease in dogs, there are not enough hormones being produced by the adrenal glands.

What triggers Addison’s disease in dogs?

Addison’s in dogs occurs when the adrenal glands fail to produce the hormones that the body needs. This is usually an immune-mediated process meaning the body thinks that the adrenal glands are a foreign substance so the body will attack itself which will destroy the adrenal glands. Without enough hormones in your dog’s system, they can become very sick. Sometimes Addison’s disease can occur when treating Cushing’s disease in dogs as the medication for this disease can affect the production of hormones.

What are the symptoms of Addison disease in dogs?

The symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs are often vague, non-specific, and can wax and wane. As symptoms can often be non-specific, Addison’s in dogs can be frequently mistaken for other diseases such as kidney failure, cancer, and pancreatitis. Because of this, Addison’s disease is also known as the great pretender. Many symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs get worse during times of stress.

 

According to the AKC, the most common Addison’s disease in dogs symptoms include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Losing weight
  • Lethargy
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Shaking

Is Addison’s disease common in dogs?

Addison’s disease is an uncommon disease in dogs. Addison’s in dogs usually appears in middle-aged dogs at an average age of 3 to 7 years. This disease can affect almost any age of dog and has even been reported in dogs as young as 4 months of age and as old as 14 years of age. Female dogs are at a higher risk for developing Addison’s disease and certain dog breeds seem to be more prone to developing Addison’s disease.

What dog breeds are prone to Addison’s disease?

Addison’s disease in dogs may have some genetic components. Certain dog breeds have a higher risk of developing Addison’s disease. Researchers from Animal Medical Center found that the following dog breeds may be more prone to developing Addison’s disease:

  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Rottweiler
  • Standard Poodle
  • Great Dane
  • Wheaten Terrier
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • German Shorthair Pointer
  • Springer Spaniel
  • Basset Hound

What is atypical Addison’s disease in dogs?

Atypical Addison’s disease occurs when only certain layers of the adrenal glands are destroyed. This means that the dog is still able to produce certain hormones but not others. This can result in varying symptoms that may make Addison’s disease a little more difficult to diagnose. Dogs with atypical Addison’s disease usually have intermittent symptoms of diarrhea, decreased appetite, and vomiting.

How is Addison’s disease in dogs diagnosed?

If you suspect your dog has Addison’s disease, I recommend contacting your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian may recommend x-rays and blood work to rule out other more common conditions. The blood work may have some findings that suggest Addison’s disease. If your veterinarian suspects Addison’s, they will likely recommend an ACTH stimulation test to diagnose Addison’s disease. This test will show if your dog has low levels of the hormone cortisol which is suggestive of Addison’s disease. 

What is the treatment for Addison’s disease in dogs?

The treatment for Addison’s disease is supportive care and hormone replacement therapy. Some dogs with Addison’s disease present extremely ill. These dogs will often need hospitalization and IV fluid replacement to balance your dog’s electrolytes. Your veterinarian will administer injectable hormones called desoxycorticosterone pivalate (DOCP) every 3 to 4 weeks. In addition, you will have to give your dog oral steroid hormones for the rest of their life. When your dog gets home from the vet hospital, you will want to make sure they have a comfortable and quiet recovery area, so check out this machine-washable cozy calming bed for dogs.

How much does it cost to treat Addison’s disease in dogs?

The treatment cost for Addison’s in dogs varies depending on several factors. If your dog is extremely ill and needs to be hospitalized, the bill could easily run into the thousands. According to Embrace Pet Insurance, the average cost to manage a dog with Addison’s can range from $50 to $200 per month. This cost depends on your pet’s response to therapy and how often follow-up blood work needs to be performed. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a more accurate estimate of the cost of treatment for your dog.

What happens if you don’t treat Addison’s disease in dogs?

If you don’t treat Addison’s in dogs, it can be fatal. To function properly, the body needs hormones. Without hormone therapy, the electrolytes in your dog’s system cannot be balanced. If the electrolytes become imbalanced, this can result in severe dehydration, fatal heart arrhythmias, shock, collapse, and even death. 

How long can dogs live with Addison’s disease?

If caught early before your dog is extremely ill, the prognosis for Addison’s disease in dogs is generally very good. There are effective and safe medications that can be used to manage Addison’s disease. These medications will need to be given for the rest of your dog’s life. Often, dogs with Addison’s disease that are treated with lifelong hormone replacement therapy will die of some other cause.

Preventing Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Unfortunately, there are not effective options for preventing most cases of Addison’s disease in dogs. For the drug induced Addison’s cases, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions on administering medications. Always be monitoring for side-effects of medications in your dog and alert your veterinarian if you notice anything unusual.

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