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Addison's Disease and Your Dog

Addison's Disease and Your Dog

When your dog is feeling under the weather, how do you know if it’s just a mild case of tummy trouble or something more serious? Lethal diseases such as Canine Addison's Disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, often go undiagnosed and ignored since the symptoms overlap with other less threatening conditions. You’ll need to know the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of Addison’s Disease to catch it early and start immediate treatment. After all, we love our dogs like family and we want them around for a long time. So what exactly is Addison's Disease, and should you be worried?

Canine Addison’s Disease 101

Canine Addison’s Disease is a malfunction of the adrenal glands in your pup. The adrenal glands are located near your dog’s kidneys and produce hormones responsible for handling stress and regulating salt, water, and sugar levels in his body. When your dog’s adrenal glands stop producing enough of these hormones, he could be in big trouble. How does this happen? Sometimes Addison’s behaves like an autoimmune disease and attacks the body incorrectly, which causes the adrenal glands to stop working right. Other times it’s a result of metastatic or growing tumors, hemorrhage, infarction (loss of blood flow to the heart), or total destruction of the adrenal gland. There are 2 types of Addison’s that are caused by malfunction of either the adrenal gland or the pituitary gland:
  1. Primary Adrenocortical Failure happens when the adrenal gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormone aldosterone. This causes your pup’s sodium, potassium, and chloride levels to decrease.
  1. Secondary hypoadrenocorticism happens when the pituitary gland fails to stimulate the adrenal gland to produce the correct amount of cortisol and aldosterone hormones your dog needs.

Who Does Addison’s Disease Affect?

Standard Poodles are at risk for Addison's Disease  full attention  by tim wilson  from blaine  mn usa  licensed under cc via commons While Addison’s generally affects dogs who are young to middle-aged, it can occur at any age. It’s also more common in young female dogs than in males. Certain breeds are more susceptible to Addison's Disease than others, but it can develop in any breed. The most common breeds at risk include:

  • Standard Poodles are at risk for Addison's Disease"Full attention" by Tim Wilson from Blaine, MN, USA Rottweilers
  • Bearded Collies
  • Great Danes
  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Standard Poodles
  • Portuguese Water Dogs


Great Danes are another large breed susceptible to Addison's We’ve all had to deal with our dog throwing up or having diarrhea, and we’ve seen our pups overheat and pant until they’re at ease. All too often we don’t realize that something more serious may be going on. Addison’s mimics ailments such as kidney disease, poisoning, viruses, and allergic reactions. And therein lies the problem. Since Addison’s Disease looks like a myriad of other disorders, it’s often hard to distinguish non-threatening symptoms with more worrisome ones. Because Addison's causes your dog’s body fluid levels to be off, you may notice these symptoms after intense exercising or hot weather, but they may also come on suddenly without warning. Great Danes are another large breed susceptible to Addison's Symptoms of Addison’s include:
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle weakness
  • Collapse
  • Shock
You can’t see the more terrifying and threatening symptoms such as changes in fluid levels, strained kidney function, and abnormal heart rate or blood volume. Your dog may suffer a critical electrolyte imbalance for which immediate treatment carries life or death urgency.

Diagnosing Addison’s

If you suspect your best friend may be at risk for Addison’s, it’s wise to take him to your vet ASAP. Baseline lab work will bring to light abnormal findings in his blood, urine, or feces to rule out non-Addison’s issues such as parasites, cancer, or toxic ingestion. From there, an ACTH Stimulation Test may be needed based on the findings.


As we’ve seen, Addison’s is a life threatening disease, but if caught in a timely manner, it can be easily managed. Immediate use of intravenous fluids should be started to replace what’s missing in your pup as determined by the lab results. A short-acting cortisol may simultaneously be administered. Once your dog is out of danger, your vet will start long-term maintenance therapy and discuss the medications your pet will need to take for the rest of his life. Your pup’s blood work must also be regularly monitored to make sure the medication and results are where they need to be.
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