Canine Addison’s Disease — An Overview

Several dogs are susceptible to canine Addison’s disease including the Bearded collie, German short-haired pointer, Great Dane, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Portuguese water dog, Rottweiler, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, Springer Spaniel, Standard Poodle or West Highland White Terrier. Chances are if you own one of these breeds, you’ve heard of Addison’s disease. It is about a hundred times more common in canines than in man.

Canine Addison’s disease is also called hypoadrenocorticism. The disease occurs when the adrenal glands don’t produce enough aldosterone and cortisol. These two hormones control many vital bodily functions like electrolyte balance and proper heart function. If a dog doesn’t have enough aldosterone and cortisol, they may appear lethargic and depressed. However, what is actually happening is that your dog’s body is going into shock: organs are failing (including the heart). If your dog doesn’t receive hormones and fluids to rebalance their systems, they will die.

Two forms of Canine Addison’s disease

Primary canine Addison’s disease happens when the adrenal gland malfunctions. The adrenal cortices don’t produce enough aldosterone or cortisol. This may happen because of a faulty gene, a vaccination reaction, or a misguided immune response. In a type of canine Addison’s disease called Atypical Addison’s, just a little part of the adrenal cortex fails to make cortisol. However, aldosterone is still produced, maintaining electrolyte levels.

Secondary canine Addison’s disease happens when the pituitary gland fails. This gland signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol by producing ACTH. A lack of ACTH results in a drop in cortisol levels.

An ACTH test can distinguish between the two types of canine Addison’s disease.

Symptoms of canine Addison’s disease include:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • poor appetite
  • drinking/ urinating too much
  • weakness
  • collapse
  • cold to the touch
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  • low heart rate

If you think your dog might have canine Addison’s disease, seek immediate veterinary help. Addison’s disease can become severe, quickly, often resulting in death within days — sometimes hours.