Dog ownership brings great satisfaction to our lives. It’s only natural for you to conscientiously monitor the health of your furry friend. You may be familiar with most of the common health ailments that affect canines. Commonly recognized illnesses include urinary tract infections, canine arthritis, and parvovirus. Unfortunately, Addison’s disease is a fairly common disease that is relatively little known to the public.
If your dog has symptoms that come and go with little rhyme or reason, Addison’s disease might be the culprit. Though Addison’s is a fairly rare diagnosis, that doesn’t mean the disease itself is rare. Addison’s disease is common enough that you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of this illness.
Addison’s Disease: A Surprisingly Common Illness in Dogs
An illness that can seriously affect your dog’s health and well-being, Addison’s is caused by poor functioning of the adrenal glands. Addison’s disease occurs when your dog’s body is unable to produce an appropriate amount of corticosteroid hormones. Addison’s is the opposite of Cushing’s disease, a condition wherein the dog’s system produces too much cortisol. In mammals, corticosteroids are produced by the adrenal glands, two small organs found near the kidneys. Crucially, corticosteroids include stress hormones, which regulate your dog’s behavior during stressful or exciting situations. Though called stress hormones, these chemicals can be activated when your dog exhibits joyousness or extreme curiosity. For example, corticosteroid levels may be elevated when you return home and your dog gets excited. Without enough natural corticosteroids in their systems, dogs can react poorly to even moderate stressors. In rare cases, a minor stressor can even lead to sudden death.
Addison’s can be a secondary illness stemming from an autoimmune disorder. In a case like this, the dog’s disordered immune system starts destroying healthy adrenal gland tissue. After this happens, it might not take long for the dog to start exhibiting serious symptoms. However, some dogs can suffer from Addison’s for years before displaying significant symptoms.
Diagnosing “The Great Pretender”
Unfortunately, diagnosing Addison’s disease through symptoms alone can be tough. In medicine, pathognomonic symptoms are symptoms that are fairly specific to one particular health issue. For example, severe chest pain can be pathognomonic of a heart attack. Most symptoms of Addison’s are not pathognomonic. Because Addison’s shares symptoms with many other conditions, Addison’s is sometimes called “the Great Pretender.” Unhelpfully, Addison’s can mimic kidney disease or a tumor of the pancreas. One symptom of Addison’s is fresh blood in the dog’s stool, which is called hematochezia. When this symptom is present, Addison’s can be confused with chronic bowel inflammation or gastroenteritis. Further complicating matters, symptoms may wax or wane over time. In many cases, Addison’s is diagnosed by elimination after other diseases are ruled out. An electrolyte imbalance can point to Addison’s. In particular, this disease can cause abnormal potassium and sodium levels.
Identifying Addison’s Disease
It is quite common for vets to discover Addison’s during routine blood work. This is one more reason your dog should have an annual veterinary checkup. A regular checkup can provide early diagnosis for a wide variety of canine illnesses. An annual checkup can help ensure that your dog will live as long and as well as possible.
When one takes a seriously ill dog to the vet, aside from a physical examination, the main test used to check for Addison’s is called the ACTH stimulation test. Firstly, the vet will draw a blood sample and check the dog’s cortisol level. Then the vet will intravenously administer a dose of ACTH, a brain hormone that governs adrenal gland functioning. After an hour, the vet measures the dog’s cortisol level once more. If the second sample shows a minimal increase in cortisol from the ACTH stimulation testing, the vet can diagnose Addison with confidence. Blood testing is one of the most important ways of diagnosing illness in modern veterinary medicine.
A typical Addison’s disease may be a bit harder to diagnose. Though this type of Addison’s is tough to diagnose, it is less serious than the primary form of the disease. Because atypical Addison’s does not cause Addisonian crisis, fatalities are less common. Though it can take months or years, atypical Addison’s usually evolves into the common form of the illness. If your dog barks at everything and increases for unknown reasons, this could be a sign of incipient illness. By paying attention to behavioral changes in your dog, you can potentially identify serious health problems before they spiral out of control.
Breeds That Are More Susceptible To Addison’s Disease
Diagnosing Addison’s can be more difficult in certain breeds. Breeds that originate from the Pacific Rim can present diagnostic challenges. The most popular breeds in this category include the Akita, the Chow Chow, the Shiba Inu, and the Pekingese. Such dogs routinely have elevated potassium levels, a condition informally called Pacific Rimism. Generally speaking, Pacific Rimism is healthy and normal. However, Pacific Rimism can cause confusion for veterinarians not familiar with the condition. Thanks to Pacific Rimism, dogs with whipworm infection have been mistakenly diagnosed with Addison’s.
For reasons not entirely clear, female dogs are most at risk for Addison’s. Dogs with Addison’s are generally under seven years old. Breeds with elevated risk for Addison’s include Great Danes, Poodles, Basset Hounds, and Airedales. Leonbergers and Rottweilers also have a greater risk for contracting Addison’s. When looking to purchase a puppy from an at-risk breed, it’s a good idea to ask the breeder about any family history of Addison’s.
The Addisonian Crisis
Dogs of all ages and breeds can come down with Addison’s. Almost a third of dogs get diagnosed with Addison’s upon the onset of an Addisonian crisis. This illness is more formally known as acute adrenal insufficiency. The Addisonian crisis usually occurs well after the onset of Addison’s disease. The crisis only starts after the dog loses function in 90 percent of its adrenal cortex, which is the critical outer layer of the adrenal gland. The sooner the dog receives treatment, the higher it is chance of survival. The Addisonian crisis can occur due to a stressful event like boarding your dog at a kennel.
Whenever the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea are present, dehydration is a major risk. To quickly check for dehydration, simply lift the dog’s skin away above its neck or shoulders. If the dog is sufficiently hydrated, its skin will easily spring back to its starting position. If the dog is dehydrated, its skin will go down quite slowly. A dog with dehydration may have visibly sunken eyes.
Iatrogenic Addison’s disease is a rare but avoidable type of Addison’s. This variant is caused by removing a dog from steroid therapy too quickly. Particularly if the dog has been on steroids for a long time, tapering is important.
Treating Addison’s Disorder in Dogs
Fortunately, most dogs with Addison’s respond well to treatment. The mainstay of treating Addison’s is combining intravenous fluid intervention with steroid injection. Treatment might include an injection of DOCP every 25 to 30 days. Alternately, the dog might receive fludrocortisone orally twice per day. A number of experts believe that DOCP works better than fludrocortisone. Due to temperament or health status, however, some dogs don’t do well with intravenous shots. Naturally, it is up to the vet to determine the best therapy for each individual dog.
Hypoglycemia and Addison’s Disease
When hypoglycemia is present, glucose can be injected directly into the dog’s bloodstream. Puppies are most vulnerable to hypoglycemia. One way to treat mild hypoglycemia is to feed your dog more small meals throughout the day. Naturally, you should consult your veterinarian before treating hypoglycemia or any other ailment derivative of Addison’s disease. Most dogs experience rapid symptom relief after treatment, though if a dog has any comorbidities, recovery may be slower.
After treatment for Addison’s begins, the vet will generally continue to perform blood testing at regular intervals. A typical schedule might involve testing after 10 days, 30 days, and 90 days. Your Addisonian dog might require extra steroid doses to compensate during times of high stress. These might include veterinary visits, separation from owners, or car trips.
Veterinarians have developed effective means of treating Addison’s disease. Nevertheless, managing Addison’s is a lifelong endeavor. Addison’s disease never simply disappears on its own. Fortunately, researchers continue to work to develop better methods for treating Addison’s. Because Addison’s affects humans as well, there is an additional impetus to develop new therapies for this disorder.
Besides seeking veterinary treatment, there are other ways that you can help your Addisonian dog live a longer, happier life. Because this disease is exacerbated by stress, you should do what you can to reduce stress factors in your dog’s life. If possible, your dog should get plenty of exercise and time spent outdoors. Supposing you have the space and resources, you should consider putting together a full-blown dog play yard for Fido.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What Is the Life Expectancy of a Dog With Addison’s Disease?
Veterinarians have made great strides when it comes to the treatment of Addison’s. When diagnosed and treated appropriately, a dog with Addison’s can easily live a full lifespan. With treatment, an Addisonian dog can run, play, and enjoy life normally. Regrettably, diagnosing this disease can be challenging. Without treatment, an Addisonian crisis can lead to death. Early diagnosis is essential for increasing the life expectancy of an affected dog.
What Triggers Addison’s Disease in Dogs?
The causes of Addison’s are not always known. Generally speaking, Addison’s is viewed as a primary condition. This means that Addison’s usually presents on its own and not as part of a complex of diseases. However, it is not unknown for Addison’s to appear after physical trauma, infections, or glandular cancer. Addison’s can also occur as a side effect of certain medications. Whatever causes Addison’s, the condition is incurable.
What Are the Symptoms of Addison’s Disease in Dogs?
The three most common symptoms are loss of appetite, repeated vomiting, and lethargic episodes. The next most common symptoms are weight loss, physical weakness, and diarrhea. Though less common, trembling and abdominal sensitivity are not unknown. Unfortunately, many dogs with Addison’s don’t show any symptoms until they have an Addisonian crisis. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, collapse is the defining symptom of the Addisonian crisis. This is a sign that your dog has entered a state of physiological shock.
Is Addison Disease Painful for Dogs?
Addison’s often causes dogs to have abdominal sensitivity and pain. Affected dogs can also experience pain in their joints and muscles. Addison’s is a contributing to canine depression, which can worsen the ordinary pains of daily canine life. The sooner Addison’s is diagnosed and treated, the less pain your dog will experience.