Addison’s disease in dogs why it’s so hard to identify dog health care

Addison's Disease in Dogs – Why It's So Hard to IdentifyAlthough it's relatively rare, Addison's disease in dogs is a condition with symptoms common to many different conditions. Therefore, it is often difficult to recognize them. Sometimes the diagnosis is made only through a process of elimination for other diseases.

'There is no single symptom that defines Addison's disease, and when it is taught in veterinary school, it is often referred to as the' Great Masquerade Vein 'because it can look like almost any other disease,' explains Dr. Gary Richter, veterinarian and author ofThe Ultimate Guide to Animal Health.

What is Addison's Disease in Dogs?

Addison's disease in dogs why it's so hard to identify dog health care

Holding hands with a sick or injured dog. Photography sanjagrujic | Getty Images.

Addison's disease, the common name for hypoadrenocorticism or adrenal insufficiency, is caused by below-average production of hormones like cortisol by the adrenal glands, which are small glands near the kidneys. Adrenal hormones are critical for controlling the balance of salt, sugar and water throughout the body. "Cortisol is a very important hormone that is produced by the body. Without cortisol, you would immediately pass out when you woke up in the morning, get out of bed and stand up because your blood wouldn't reach your brain and gravity would just take over, " explains Dr. Stephen Katz, veterinarian and founder of Bronx Veterinary Center in New York. The opposite condition of Addison's disease is Cushing's disease, which occurs when a dog's body overproduces cortisol. Cushing's disease is much more common.

There are also three different types of Addison's disease: primary, secondary and atypical. Both primary and atypical Addison's are usually caused by immune-mediated damage to the glands, while secondary Addison's occurs when the pituitary gland fails to stimulate the adrenal glands with adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The disease is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms mimic many other conditions and the dog may otherwise appear perfectly healthy.

Addison's disease in dogs – which dogs are at risk?

While it can affect any dog, Addison's disease in dogs occurs most often in breeds such as Standard Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, Great Danes, Bearded Collies, Portuguese Water Dogs and Doberman Pinschers, notes Dr. Cat. It also tends to affect younger to middle-aged dogs as opposed to older or senior dogs.

It is also commonly known that the disease cannot be prevented. 'As I understand it, it's a genetic roll of the dice'. It's the kind of disease that's predetermined the moment fertilization occurs, " explains dr. Judge. However, he notes that in some cases it is inadvertently caused when trying to treat Cushing's disease – although this is rare.

Symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs

According to Dr. Richter, a pet owner may notice that their dog becomes lethargic, has gastrointestinal problems such as severe diarrhea, or may even collapse. There is also a condition called Addison's crisis, which occurs when a dog suddenly goes into shock due to circulatory collapse and can be life-threatening. Of course, any of these symptoms requires an immediate visit to your dog's veterinarian.

'Essentially, Addison's disease is a condition in which the dog's adrenal glands don't produce enough cortisone . and a certain amount of cortisone is required for these different biological processes,' he adds. 'When a dog underproduces cortisone or other hormones produced by the adrenal gland, it can cause a whole host of physiological problems – and some of them can be life-threatening'.'

Diagnosis and treatment of Addison's disease in dogs

Since it is not easily detected by symptoms alone, Addison's disease in dogs is usually diagnosed by a specific blood test. Dr. However, Katz notes that one of the most notable indicators your pet's veterinarian may be able to detect via X-ray is a small heart, which is considered one of the hallmarks of the disease.

A dog's treatment depends on which form of Addison's disease is diagnosed. For most dogs, this means taking medications such as corticosteroids, with prednisone among the most commonly prescribed, says Dr. Katz. Depending on the type and severity of the condition, some dogs may need monthly injectable medications, while others may need oral medications. The good news is that the disease is treatable and easy to manage once properly diagnosed. 'The prognosis is very good once Addison's is diagnosed,' he confirms. 'However, it's a lifelong problem that requires lifelong treatment'.'

Preview image: monica click | iStock / Getty Images Plus

About the author

Jennifer Lesser is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. A marathon runner, triathlete and Taekwondo Black Belt, she specializes in health and wellness – for people and dogs – and has written for magazines and websites including Whole Dog Journal, Health, The Spruce Pets, Weight Watchers and Animal Sheltering. She is the proud mom of a rescued Cocker Spaniel / Shih Tzu mix named Miles, who has become her favorite running partner. Visit it online at

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