Addison's Disease Can Affect Dogs
Our Dog Sarah Suffered From Addison’s Disease
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, however, ended up with 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 food to eat and she was locked up in the garage most of the time because the 12-year-old dog the owners had didn’t like to have a puppy around.
After 11 months, the owners called the breeder and told them that they wanted to get rid of the pup. The breeder called us to ask if we might know someone who would want this dog. Knowing that her sister Tsjip was a marvelous dog, we decided to take on Sarah too. We’ve always had two dogs at the same time so they could enjoy each other’s company.
However, after two years, Sarah began to show all kinds of ailments and it took a very long time before the vets could nail it down to Addison's Disease.
What Is Addison's Disease?
Humans as Well as Dogs and Cats Can Get Addison's Disease
Addison’s Disease happens when the Adrenal Cortex isn’t working properly or isn’t working at all. Scientifically it’s called hypoadrenocorticism. The Adrenal Cortex provides two corticosteroids:
In other words it comes down to this: the balance between sodium and potassium is severely disturbed. There’s a shortage of sodium which causes water loss and lowering blood pressure and there’s too much potassium which causes the heart beat to slow down dramatically. When not treated properly this disease is fatal.
It's yet unknown what exactly triggers Addisons Disease and because the symptoms can be so various, it's very difficult in some cases to establish the right diagnose. They do know however that the disease happens more frequently in dogs than in humans. The human form was first described by Dr. Thomas Addison back in 1849, the first canine form was described as late as 1953.
I found this video where Dr. Karen Becker, a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian discusses Addison's Disease in a far more professional way than I ever could, because I'm not a vetenarian, I'm just an owner who had a dog with this disease and I can and will tell you what we experienced with our dog Sarah.
Explanation of What Exactly Addison's Disease Is
How Addison's Disease Started With Our Dog Sarah
It all started with different fall outs
I already mentioned above, that our dog Sarah had been physically and mentally abused by the people who bought her from the breeder. It took a long time before she even dared to act like a normal dog again.
When Sarah was in her second year and actually doing really fine, considering the bad treatment she got from her former owner in the past 7 months, she started to have these small, but seemingly harmless fall outs, like vomiting after she had eaten. 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 guess work for the vet too. Our vets had never seen a dog with the symptomes of Addison’s Disease and therefor they didn’t make the connection between Addison and all those ‘harmless’ fall outs.
During a few months it was obvious that Sarah wasn’t feeling all too well, but there were all kind of different things she seemed to be suffering from. We all thought that the fact that she had been abused for so many months had been causing all this. In between her little inconveniences, Sarah was a happy dog who had learned to play with her sister and who could stand a whole evening next to you, resting her head on your knee, enjoying the attention she got.
Did you know that dogs could get Addison's Disease?
Then Sarah took a turn for the worse
Then, one Sunday night, when I returned home from being away two days, she jumped from her sofa to greet me and she collapsed through her behind legs, like she was paralized. We immediately called the vet and he discovered that Sarah had a heart beat of 60, while she should have had about 80 or 90. The Vet still didn’t know what was wrong with Sarah, but he gave her some medication of which he thought would help her through the night and the next morning we had to take her to the closest animal hospital, which happens to be the Department of Small Pets at the University in Gant, Belgium, which is only 45 minutes by car from where we live.
At arrival, hearing our story, the specialist immediately recognized Addison’s Disease and Sarah was put in a glass cage on a drip. 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 were allowed to take her home again. They told us she had to be on heavy medication for the rest of her life.
Addison’s Disease can be treated rather well with fludrocortisone and prednisolone when the right balance has been found. Both meds are known for their heavy side effects and therefor vets don’t like to give them, but in this case it’s necessary and you won’t see the side effects because the meds are not an addition on top of the normal production of these hormones. They make the normal balance between sodium and potassium right again.
It takes some time to get the balance right and during that time we had to rush over to the hospital on a regular base, sometimes even in the middle of the night, when things weren’t going as they should. It took a few weeks and then we had found the right balance, though we always had to be on the alert for signs that would set her back. Luckily we had 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
As the administration of the meds is so strict and so vital (one morning or evening missing out could cause death for the dog), it really changed our daily routine. First we had to make sure we always had enough supply in the house. We also had a ‘survival package’, holding a heavy shot in case it was needed. Whenever we took the dogs out for the day or a weekend, we had to make sure to take enough meds with us, just in case something happened that prevented us to be home in time for the next dose. 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 something unknown caused the sodium and potassium balance to unbalance again and then it was a matter of time to get to a vet as soon as possible where ever you were, because waiting to see your own vet might have caused the dog to die if the heart beat should drop too much.
Despite all good care, it sometimes wasn't enough
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 and then we rushed over to the vet, who then checked her sodium and potassium balance and if needed 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 eventually and I must say, with the proper dose of meds, Sarah was living a normal dog’s life. We knew though that she wouldn’t reach a real old age, because she would either pass away from her disease or from the heavy medication.
After 6 years, Sarah lost her battle against Addison's Disease
At the University they told us that it was rather important to avoid stressful situations for dogs suffering from this disease because too much stress can cause the unbalancing again.
Our dogs had the unfortunate habit of sneaking out once in a while when they got the chance (Tsjip could open doors from the inside and outside) and being hunting dogs, they would roam the farmlands around us. They could stay away for many hours sometimes and when it happened at night, it was useless to go look for them in this open country we live in. We just had to wait till they decided to come home again, which they always did.
They never caused any harm on other animals during those long hikes, but the bad thing was that Sarah would skip her medication.
Those trips however stressed them out and at the age of 8 years old, one of those trips got fatal for Sarah. They had been away for about 16 hours causing her to miss her evening and morning medication. When she came home she really was exhausted and slept all day.
She wouldn’t eat at night, so we knew things were wrong. We took her to the vet and she got her extra shot, but alas, it was too late. She didn’t recover like she normally would and she died the following afternoon.
It was very sad, but I was glad that at least we had been able go give her a happy full life for another 6 years.
Addison’s Disease can be inhereditary, but 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 an inhereditary form or not.
In Sarah’s case it was inhereditary. It appeared that her mother and two siblings came down with Addison too.
Because of the diversity in ailments, Addison's Disease is one of the most underdiagnosed illnesses. If a vet doesn’t make the connection between the different fall outs, it’s easily overlooked and then they see no reason to search for it through blood tests. So if your dog suffers from one or more of the following symptomes, make sure to mention Addison to your vet.
* Refusing to eat
* Lack of appetite
* Tremors or shaking
* Muscle weakness
* Pain in hind quarters
Keep an eye on your dog after stressful events, the dog’s behaviour might indicate that something is wrong.
Have you ever come across a dog who had/has Addison's Disease?
Links to pages where you can get 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
Another Sad Part of the Story
The sad part of this story is that not only we lost a beautiful sweet dog, but a few 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
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!
© 2017 Titia Geertman