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What Is Addison's Disease?
Addison’s Disease happens when the Adrenal Cortex isn’t working in a proper way or isn’t working at all. In science, it’s called hypoadrenocorticism. The Adrenal Cortex provides two corticosteroids:
Addison's Disease comes down to this: There is a disturbed balance between sodium and potassium. A shortage of sodium causes water loss and lowers blood pressure. At the same time, there's too much potassium which causes the heartbeat to slow down in a dramatic way. When not treated in a proper way, this disease is fatal.
What Triggers Addison's Disease?
It is still unknown what exactly triggers Addison's disease. The symptoms can be so various that it can be very difficult to establish the right diagnose.
They do know that the disease happens more in dogs than in humans. The human form was first described by Dr. Thomas Addison back in 1849. The first canine form as late as 1953.
Short History of Our Dog Sarah
Our dog Sarah was a Wirehaired Pointed Griffon, a hunting dog breed also known as the Korthals Griffon. She came to live with us at the age of 11 months in January 1996.
We already had her litter sister Tsjip from the time she was 7 weeks old. Sarah went to a dog owner who didn’t deserve to have dogs at all. Sarah was mentally and physically abused for about 7 months of her life. She didn’t get enough to eat and they locked her in the garage most of the time because their 12-year-old dog didn’t like to have a puppy around.
After 11 months, the owners called the breeder and told them they wanted to get rid of the pup. The breeder asked us if we knew someone who would want this dog. We had her sister Tsjip and she was a marvelous dog. So we decided to take Sarah too. We’ve always had two dogs at the same time. I spare you to describe the exact condition she was in when I got her. It was bad, very bad. It took us weeks to clean her up.
Addison's Started With Different Fallouts
It took months before Sarah even dared to act like a normal dog again. At the age of 2 years, she was a rather happy dog. Then she started to have these small fallouts, like vomiting after dinner. I took her to the vet and she got some meds and seemed ok for a short time, but then she got diarrhoea. We never were able to put the finger on a direct cause, so it was guesswork for the vet too.
A few months along, it was obvious that Sarah wasn't feeling too well. All kinds of trivial things seemed to bother her. One after the other. thought it might be a reaction to the abuse, so we overloaded her with care and love.
When Addison's Disease Reaches a Critial Point
Then, one Sunday night when I came home, Sarah jumped off the sofa to greet me. That moment she collapsed through her back legs. She seemed paralyzed. We called the vet and it seemed that Sarah had a heartbeat of 60 (it should be 80 or 90). The vet still didn't know what was wrong, but he gave her some meds for the night. The next day he made an appointment for us at the Department of Small Pets at the University in Gant, Belgium. That's only 40 minutes by car from our home.
They couldn’t tell us if she would make it to the next day, but she did. She stayed in the University hospital for about a week and then we took her home again. They told us Sarah had to be on heavy medication for the rest of her life.
Our vet was not to blame. They never had a dog with Addison's disease in their clinic before. They didn't make the connection between Addison and all the 'harmless' fallouts.
They can treat Addison's disease rather well with fludrocortisone and prednisolone, but they need to find the right balance. Both meds can have heavy side effects and therefore vets don't like to give them. Yet in the case of Addison's disease, it's a must and there will not be side effects. The meds will not be an addition on top of the normal production of these hormones. They regulate the balance between sodium and potassium and make it right again.
It takes time to experience with the meds to get the balance right again. During that time, we had to rush over to the University when things were not going as they should. Sometimes in the middle of the night. When they finally found the right balance, things turned for the better. Sarah became a happy dog again. Yet we always had to be on the alert for signs that would set her back. In Sarah's case, it was the vomiting after dinner. When that happened we knew she needed an extra shot at the vet.
Luckily we found a Pharmacist in Belgium, not too far from our home, who was willing to make the meds for us.
Having a Dog With Addison's Disease Changes Your Daily Routine
One Skip of Giving Meds Could Be Fatal
The administration of the meds is very strict and so vital. One missed medication in the morning or evening can mean death for the dog. Addison changes your daily routine. Medication time was a set time twice a day. We always had to make sure there was enough supply of meds in the house. We had a 'survival package', holding a heavy shot in case of an emergency.
When we took the dogs with us for a day or a weekend, we took enough meds along in case we were not able to get home in time. We also made sure to take along a vet’s declaration of what the dog was suffering from in case we had to visit another vet. That happened a few times.
Once in a while, the balance got unbalanced again. Then we had to get to a vet as soon as possible where ever we were. Waiting to see your own vet might cause the dog to die if the heartbeat should drop too low.
Addison's Disease Is Treacherous
Despite all the good care, things can get wrong anyway. With Sarah, the alert signal was always not eating or throwing up. When that happened, we knew something was wrong. Then we rushed over to the vet, who then checked her sodium and potassium balance. If it was out of balance he would give her an extra shot. That happened several times.
This all may sound very stressful and time-consuming to you, but actually, it wasn’t that bad. You get used to the routine and I must say, with the proper dose of meds, Sarah was living a normal dog’s life.
We knew that she wouldn’t reach a real old age. She would either die from her disease or from the heavy medication.
After 6 Years, Sarah Lost Her Battle Against Addison's Disease
The specialist told us that it was rather important to avoid stressful situations. Too much stress can trigger the unbalancing. That was not an easy task. Our dogs had the habit of sneaking out when they saw a chance. Tsjip could open doors from the inside and outside. Being hunting dogs, they would roam the agricultural farmlands around us.
When that happened, they would stay away for as many as 12–16 hours. When that happened in the evening or night, it was useless to go look for them. We had to wait until they decided to come home again. They always came home together and they never harmed any farm animals around us. The bad thing was that Sarah then skipped one medication. That we could solve. We could not solve that those trips were tiresome and stressful. At the age of 8 years old, one of those trips became fatal for Sarah.
They were gone for 16 hours, so she missed her meds twice. When they came home, I immediately took her to the vet. He gave her an extra shot, but it was too late. She didn't recover like she normally would. She died the following day.
It was very sad. Yet I was glad that we had been able go give her a happy, full life in her 6 years of Addison's disease.
Addison’s Disease Can Be Hereditary, but It Doesn’t Have to Be
Quite often it happens that the illness occurs to more members in your dog’s family. Of course, if her family is unknown, there’s no way to tell if it’s a hereditary form or not. In Sarah’s case, it was hereditary. It appeared that her mother and two siblings came down with Addison too.
Addison's Disease is one of the most underdiagnosed illnesses, due to the diversity in related ailments and symptoms. When a vet has never seen the symptoms before, they might not make the connection to Addison. So if your dog suffers frequently from one of the following symptoms, make sure to mention Addison to your vet.
- Refusing to eat
- Lack of appetite
- Tremors or shaking
- Muscle weakness
- Pain in hindquarters
Keep an eye on your dog after stressful events. Any repeated aberrant behaviour could be a sign that something is wrong.
More Information About Addison's Disease
- Addisons Disease
Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is one of the nation’s top veterinary schools. It has one of the best-equipped veterinary teaching hospital in the world and top faculty who are respected worldwide.
- Addisons Disease In Your Dog - Treating Hypoadrenocorticism
- AddisonDogs | What Is Addison's Disease
What Is Addison's Disease | Diagnosis & Treatment of Addison's Disease in Dogs
A Sad Follow-Up to This Story
Two weeks after Sarah died, her litter sister Tsjip got diagnosed with Canine degenerative myelopathy. Tsjip died 6 months later.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a Jack Russel Terrier with Addisons. Did you ever find Sarah was always extremely hungry? We aren’t sure if the medication is causing it. We need to be very careful and calculated with his food, even hand preparing and weighing his meals that he gets two servings a day with medication but he is always hungry!
Answer: My dog Sarah wasn't extremely hungry while she suffered from Addisons disease. My dogs just ate what was given to them. In the morning a slice of bread with either a bit of peanut butter or liver paste on it and in the evening their main dinner. We treated her the same as before other than that she got here meds twice a day. They hardly ever got something in between meals.
I think you have to be firm with your dog because so often dogs are given too much food which makes them grow too fat. If he's begging just send him to his place or completely ignore him. But...as I'm no doctor and your dog seems extremely hungry my advice would be to consult your vet.
© 2017 Titia Geertman
Titia Geertman (author) from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on July 13, 2018:
#Lori A Jenkins: Addison's can influence a dog's behaviour in many ways. It's been too long ago to exactly remember all the signs my dog showed, but I do know that with my dog it was mainly throwing up her food and a low heart beat. Even when she already was on full medication the throwing up was a signal to rush over to the vet.
It took some time in the beginning to get the medication straightened out.
Lori A Jenkins on July 13, 2018:
My Roman has been diagnosed with Addison's. Did your baby ever become really hyper with a lot of panting?
Titia Geertman (author) from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on February 15, 2017:
#Ellen: I'm sorry to hear of your illness and thank you for your comment to Anselmo. Every country has its own medicine prices. Very interesting to know if dogs are treated with the same medications as humans. I'll ask my vet about that.
Ellen on February 15, 2017:
Very nice article about your dog. She was gorgeous, and I'm glad she got away from her sad beginning and had some good years with you.
To Anselmo: I don't know if they treat dogs with the exact same medications as humans, but I'm a person with Addison's and my steroid tablets only cost about $30 usd a month without insurance, or $10 with insurance. My emergency injection is another $10 without insurance, but I have not yet needed to use it, and so far have just replaced it every two years when it expires. I think it would be a shame for pets not to get treatment if the cost is too high for animals or in other countries. Best wishes to you if you have a sick pet!
Titia Geertman (author) from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on January 26, 2017:
#Anselmo Santos: I don't know what Addison medication costs in other countries. They weren't exceptional costly in my case as I recall.
Anselmo Santos on January 25, 2017:
As in most cases Addison's disease is autoimmune, caused by autoantibodies, and the remaining are also others diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS, metastatic cancer and others such as meningitis and hyperplasiat.
For the very rich owners there will be no problem, but for ordinary people as me, we need to create associations to be able to respond to this problem ....