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Addison’s Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

A dog laying in the grass

Addison’s disease in dogs, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is a rare endocrine disorder characterised by insufficient production of steroid hormones, particularly cortisol and aldosterone, by the adrenal glands. 

The adrenal glands are two bean sized organs that sit just above the kidneys in mammals. They are responsible for producing natural steroid hormones. Addisons disease is a rare disorder characterised by insufficient production of these hormones.

These hormones are crucial for maintaining various bodily functions, including metabolism, immune response, and electrolyte balance. Addison’s disease primarily affects middle-aged female dogs, with certain breeds like Standard Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, and Great Danes being more predisposed.

This article aims to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of Addison’s disease in dogs.


What is Addison’s Disease?

What Causes Addison’s Disease in Dogs?

Addison's disease in dogs is primarily caused by an autoimmune response that damages the adrenal glands, which produce vital hormones like cortisol and aldosterone. This autoimmune response occurs when the dog's immune system mistakenly attacks its own adrenal glands. 

The exact cause of the autoimmune response in Addison's disease in dogs is not fully understood, however, it results in the dog's immune system mistakenly attacking its own adrenal glands, treating them as foreign invaders. This damage reduces the glands' ability to produce essential hormones like cortisol and aldosterone.

These hormones help regulate metabolism, immune response, and electrolyte balance. When the adrenal glands are damaged, they can't produce enough hormones, leading to a variety of symptoms. 

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Early signs of Addison’s disease in dogs can be subtle and may include:

  • Lethargy

  • Reduced appetite

  • Weight loss 

As the disease progresses, dogs might exhibit more severe symptoms such as

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Muscle weakness

In some cases, an Addisonian crisis can occur, characterised by sudden collapse, severe dehydration, and shock. This crisis is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. The symptoms often wax and wane, making the disease challenging to diagnose early.

What Breeds Are Most at Risk?

A poodle at risk of Addison's disease

  • Standard Poodles

  • West Highland White Terriers

  • Great Danes

  • Bearded Collies

  • Portuguese Water Dogs

  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

  • Rottweilers

  • Wheaten Terriers

  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers

  • Leonbergers

These breeds have shown a higher predisposition to Addison's disease due to genetic factors. Regular veterinary check-ups and awareness of symptoms can help in early detection and management.

Treatment Options for Addison’s Disease

Treatment for Addison’s disease in dogs is lifelong and typically involves hormone replacement therapy. Dogs may require monthly injections of a synthetic hormone like desoxycorticosterone pivalate (DOCP) and daily oral steroids like prednisolone to replace the deficient hormones. 

In the event of an Addisonian crisis, immediate treatment with intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and glucocorticoids is critical. Adherence to medication schedules and regular veterinary check-ups are essential to manage the disease effectively.

Monitoring and Managing Addison’s Disease

A dog being treated for Addison's disease

Regular monitoring is crucial for dogs with Addison’s disease. This includes frequent blood tests to check electrolyte levels and adjust medication dosages as needed. Managing stress is also important, as stressful events can exacerbate symptoms.

Pet owners should maintain open communication with their veterinarian to ensure any changes in the dog’s condition are promptly addressed, and adjustments to treatment plans are made as necessary.

Prognosis and Long-term Outlook

The prognosis for dogs with Addison’s disease is generally good with proper management and treatment. Many dogs can live a normal, healthy life with appropriate hormone replacement therapy. Factors affecting the prognosis include the dog’s response to treatment and the presence of any other underlying conditions. While Addison’s disease requires ongoing care, most dogs can enjoy a good quality of life.

Cost Considerations

The cost of treating Addison’s disease in dogs can vary, but it typically includes the expenses for lifelong medication and regular veterinary visits for monitoring. Pet owners should consider pet insurance to help manage these costs and ensure their dog receives the necessary care without financial strain.

Ensuring a Healthy Life for Dogs with Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease in dogs, though serious, is manageable with proper diagnosis and treatment. Early detection and ongoing care are key to ensuring a good quality of life for affected dogs. 

Regular communication with your veterinarian and adherence to treatment plans are essential for successful management of the disease. If you suspect your dog may have Addison’s disease, consult your veterinarian promptly.

If you feel your dog's quality of life is significantly impaired and are based in our service area, contact our team via 0800 049 5944 or request an appointment.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the first signs of Addison’s disease in dogs?

Early signs include lethargy, reduced appetite, and weight loss.

How is Addison’s disease in dogs diagnosed?

Through blood tests, ACTH stimulation test, and additional diagnostic tools like ultrasound scans.

What is an Addisonian crisis in dogs?

A severe, life-threatening condition requiring immediate treatment, characterised by collapse, dehydration, and shock.

Can Addison’s disease in dogs be cured?

No, but it can be effectively managed with lifelong medication and regular veterinary care.


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