Canine Addison’s Disease SymptomsPosted: July 22, 2009
Canine Addison’s disease symptoms can be so nonspecific that they are commonly misdiagnosed (even by veterinarians!) for other diseases. That’s why it’s so important to take your dog to the vet when they are ill–something as simple as an upset stomach could be something much more serious.
Dogs with canine Addison’s disease might at first appear to have a gastrointestinal disease–they might be vomiting, have diarrhea and a poor appetite. You might also notice that they drink more frequently and urinate more often. The signs may be so vague that you don’t notice any signs at all–that is until they have an Addisonian crisis and collapse. A dog can go from being fine to having an Addisonian crisis in just a few hours: this is a life-threatening emergency.
Unfortunately, these signs can also indicate a host of other disorders. When I took my dog, Shakti, to the vet with weakness and a refusal to eat, the vet thought it was viral. Two days later, Shakti went into a full-blown Addisonian crisis and nearly died. This is a common mistake for vets to make: in a small practice a vet might only see one or two cases of Canine Addison’s disease in a year and a hundred cases of gastrointestinal viruses.
The only way that your vet can test for Addison’s is to perform an ACTH test. At time of writing (7-2009), an ACTH test will cost upwards of $70–just for the vial to perform the test. But it could save your dogs life.
The vast majority of dogs with canine Addison’s disease who go to a veterinarian for treatment will be in serious condition, with severe symptoms like lethargy, depression, and poor or no appetite. Your dog will also likely be vomiting, weak, and might have lost weight. Many dogs will be dehydrated and have diarrhea. Some might have collapsed, have a weak pulse or a slow heart rate (bradycardia), or show a slow capillary refill time (to measure capillary refill time, press a thumb firmly on your dogs gum for about 5 seconds. Release the thumb and count: the amount of time it takes the gum to return to normal should be about 1 second).
I came to learn that a very important diagnostic clue is if your dog has a history of illness in the past where they get ill when stressed and get better with rest or a simple therapy like IV fluids. Before she came to live with us, Shakti was dumped at a vet by her previous owners (see Shakti, Our Addison’s Dog) and left for dead by her heartless owners. She responded well to IV therapy at the veterinarians and made a 100% recovery from what was presumed to be a poisoning. Looking back, this could have been the first sign of Addison’s, and I can only guess at what stressed her out before she was dumped.
A small percentage of dogs may also have black, tarry stools (melena) or they may be vomiting blood (hematemesis). Again, this can be easily mistaken for a gastrointestinal disorder or even anorexia. At first, it might seem that your dog has acute renal failure, liver disease, insulinoma, orÂ hypothyroidism. Rarely, some dogs will have seizures due to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
Is it any wonder that Addison’s disease has been called “The Great Pretender”?