Addison's Disease in Dogs: What to Expect

Addison's Disease in Dogs: What to Expect

  • Kirsten Thornhill - 26.05.2020

It’s hard not to enter freak out mode when something is going wrong with your fur baby. Trust us, we get it. Having your four-legged friend diagnosed with any disease can be extremely emotional for any pet parent. With that being said, if your pup was diagnosed with Addison’s disease try and remain calm. Of course, there is an adjustment period, but the disease is manageable. 

For today’s article, we hope to inform you about the disease as well as the symptoms to look out for and how to manage it. Take a deep inhale and exhale. We got this.


The Basics of Addison's Disease

In dogs, Addison’s disease is also commonly referred to as canine hypoadrenocorticism. It is a fairly uncommon disease, typically seen in middle-aged female canines. With that being said, it is possible, at any age, to affect both male and female dogs.



While this disease is relatively uncommon, it is still important to know the signs and causes for its development. Do note, it is completely manageable with the appropriate plan and treatment medication. However, if left untreated, Addison’s disease can be fatal. Therefore, if you suspect that your dog may have the disease, a timely diagnosis is imperative.

How Does it Effect Dogs

Addison’s disease is concerned with corticosteroid hormones, which are produced in the cortex. Addison’s disease develops as a result of damage to the dog's adrenal glands. The adrenal gland is a small organ located just in front of the kidney. It consists of the medulla, in the center and outer area, aka the cortex. The function of the adrenal gland is to produce hormones. Two of the most important hormones are cortisol and aldosterone that the glands produce. 


This is the hormone that manages fat, sugar, and protein metabolism. It’s also responsible for the dog’s response to stress.


This hormone is responsible for balancing the potassium and sodium in the dog’s body. It plays a large role in balancing the sodium and potassium levels in stressful situations. 

Causes of Addison's Disease


Despite the substantial research that has been done, not all causes of Addison’s are known. Most commonly, the underlying cause of Addison’s diease are still unknown. In many of these cases, an autoimmune disorder causes the vody to wrongfully see its own organs as a potential threat and attacks them. 

Expert researchers believe that other cases of Addison’s disease are the result of diseases affecting the adrenal glands or different conditions. Different conditions such as infections of the adrenal glands, have been linked to the Addison’s disease in dogs. 

Other instance of Addison’s disease are believed to originate from the dog’s pituitary gland. The issue results in the gland not producing the hormone ACTH, which plays an important role in the production of cortisol.


The 3 Types of Addison's 

There are three types of Addison’s disease: primary, secondary, and treatment-induced. 

1. Primary Addison’s Disease


Also known as primary adrenocortical insufficiency, it’s the most common type of Addison’s in dogs. This type occurs when the dog’s immune system destroys parts of the adrenal glands and they stop functioning properly.

2. Secondary Addison’s Disease


Secondary hypoadrenocorticism affects the pituitary glands. The pituitary gland produces ACTH (the hormone responsible for sending signals to the adrenal glands). These signals alert the adrenals to make their own specific-driven hormone. 

If the pituitary gland stops producing ACTH, the adrenal glands will stop producing cortisol.

If your pup is diagnosed with secondary Addison’s disease, the treatment plan will involve medication that helps produce cortisol. 

3. Treatment-Induced Addison’s Disease


Also known as iatrogenic Addison’s disease. It’s as a result of prescription drugs. Luckily, there are ways to prevent this form of Addison’s. This typically develops when a dog is taken steroid medication for a long period of time and stops the medication too quickly. This is due to the fact that their hormone levels have increased due to the steroids, thus, the adrenal glands stop producing them.


The Disease Symptoms

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. It is important for pet parents to not ignore the mild symptoms, as they can rapidly worsen and become much more difficult to manage. Addison’s symptoms may appear intermittently and vary with each occurrence. 



Symtoms of Addison’s:

  • Weakness
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst or fluid intake
  • Lethargy 
  • Cool to touch
  • Excessive shaking
  • Slowing heart rate

Addison's and Stress

When a dog is stressed, their adrenal glands naturally produce increased levels of cortisol. However, a dog with Addison’s is unable to produce enough cortisol and is unable to properly deal with whatever stressful situation they are experiencing. Therefore, the symptoms of Addison’s disease may often be much worse during a stressful situation. 


An Addisonian Crisis

Unfortunately, with early symptoms only being mild, many dogs aren’t diagnosed with Addison’s disease until they experience a crisis. By crisis I mean a medical emergency that results in your pup going into shock from a potassium and sodium imbalance, leading to a collapse of their circulation system. 

Oftentimes, a dog experiencing an Addisonian crisis will appear to be ill, extremely ill. Symptoms include extreme dehydration, lethargy, physical weakness, excessive shivering, and possible heart failure. 


An Addison's Diagnosis

Your vet will likely have to run a series of tests on your pup to accurately diagnose the disorder. When other diagnoses have been ruled out, your vet will confirm that your pup has an adrenal insufficiency by using an ACTH stimulation test (signifying that they’ve got Addison’s disease).



So what ‘tests’? Initial diagnostics commonly include standard blood tests such as a chemistry profile and a complete blood count. 


How to Manage Addison's Disease in Canines

 And here’s the good news! With proper treatment and guidance on how to manage the disease, Addison’s disease in dogs has a great prognosis. With proper care, the majority of Addison’s dogs won’t have any disease-related issues that could lead to their lifespan shortening. 

We can’t stress enough the importance of knowing your dog’s normal behavior. We wish our dogs could talk and tell us exactly how they feel. However, this isn’t the case. Dogs are notorious for hiding pain and acting like nothing is wrong. Therefore, if anything does seem off, chances are, something is probably off. It is crucial to be able to quickly recognize these changes and act accordingly. 


What Breeds Are at Risk

Studies have found that certain breeds tend to be at higher risk to develop Addison’s disease. 

  • Portuguese water dogs
  • Standard poodles
  • Airedale terrier
  • Bearded collies
  • Basset hound
  • Rottweiler
  • Great dane
  • Saint Bernard
  • Soft-coated wheaten terrier

If you pup is one of these breeds, it’s important to be on high alert when it comes to recognize symptoms of Addison’s disease.


Addison's Disease: Final Thoughts

When all is said and done, we know that your fur baby means everything to you. Trust us, we totally understand. 

We are here to let you know that modern medicine is here to help manage your dog’s Addison’s disease. Furthermore, if your dog has been diagnosed with Addison’s disease they can live just as long as dogs without the condition (thank you modern medicine). 

By knowing the signs of the disease and what to do if symptoms occur, you can ensure that you, as a paw parent, that you are doing the best you can to keep your pup happy and healthy. Again, Addison’s disease is manageable. If you have reason to believe that your dog may have Addison’s, don’t hesitate to call your vet.

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