Health & Environment

Addison’s Disease Can Be Fatal To Dogs, Expert Says

If your dog seems depressed and weak, it may be showing signs of hypoadrenocorticism, more commonly known as Addison’s Disease.
November 8, 2007

If your dog seems depressed and weak, it may be showing signs of Addison’s Disease.

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If Sparky seems to have lost some spark, it might be more than just a case of the blahs.

If your dog seems depressed and weak, it may be showing signs of hypoadrenocorticism, more commonly known as Addison’s Disease, a degeneration of the adrenal glands that requires immediate veterinary medical attention.

“Hypoadrenocorticism, or Addison’s Disease, refers to the slow destruction and subsequent malfunction of the adrenal glands,” says Dr. John August, a veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University.

“It generally affects dogs aged four to seven years and is a slow, but life-threatening condition that requires lifelong treatment.”

Addison’s Disease has two causes, August says.  It can be an immune-mediated disease, which means that the body’s own immune system attacks the adrenal gland tissue, or the adrenal tissue cells stop functioning spontaneously and die off. In either case, August says that 70 percent of all hypoadrenocorticism cases occur in female dogs.

Addison’s Disease is not a common disease in pets, but it may occur in any dog breed with a higher incidence seen in the great danes, Portuguese water spaniels, rottweilers, standard poodles, West Highland white terriers, and wheaten terriers. The disease is rarely seen in cats, August adds.

“Clinical signs do not typically surface until the adrenal glands are about 90 percent destroyed,” said August.

“Early warning signs are often overlooked because they are mild and tend to come and go without treatment, but as a pattern of symptoms develops, your veterinarian will ask to do a blood count, a urinalysis, and will check hormone, sodium and potassium levels.”

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease are progressive and may include weight loss, depression, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, shivering, abdominal pain, and increased thirst and urination.

In the advanced stages of the disease, an animal may collapse completely, suffering from heart problems caused by elevated levels of potassium in the blood. The advanced stages of this disease should be considered an emergency and veterinary care should be given immediately.

Whatever the severity of the condition at the time of diagnosis, your veterinarian will need to immediately replace the dog’s deficient fluids and hormones. The dog will also need regular hormone replacements and visits to the veterinarian to have blood chemistry levels monitored.

At home, the dog needs a stress-reduced environment since its glands cannot produce the hormone that helps it handle stress. When stressful situations become necessary, such as traveling or veterinary visits, talk to your veterinarian to find out what medical arrangements should be made in advance.

“Stress can cause relapses of symptoms if not properly treated,” August believes.

“The bad news is that hypoadrenocorticism in pets cannot be prevented or cured. The good news is that it is not common and very manageable. In fact, with the right veterinary care, these pets live long, healthy lives. Knowing what to look for and providing consistent veterinary care will help your dog enjoy its middle years to the fullest,” August says.

Pet Talk is service of Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine& Biomedical Sciences.

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