What is an Addisonian Crisis in Addison dogs?

An Addisonian crisis in Addison dogs is a medical emergency. Symptoms can be vague and mimic gastrointestinal disorders, acute renal failure, liver disease, insulinoma, hypothyroidism or hypoglycemia. Here are the symptoms that generally indicate Addison’s crisis in most cases:

Symptoms of an Addison’s crisis in Addison dogs:

  • severe weakness
  • lethargy
  • slow heart rate (bradycardia)
  • not eating
  • drinking and urinating frequently
  • rarely, vomiting blood and/or blood in the stool
  • rarely, seizures due to hypoglycemia

sick puppy by thruhike98@flickr

A dog in an Addisonian crisis needs specialized care by a veterinarian who will look at several factors before treating your pet. If your pet arrives at the vets with cardiovascular collapse  and atrial standstill, aggressive therapy will be needed to correct low blood volume (hypovolemia), electrolyte disturbances (hyponatremia), low levels of cortisol, and a variety of other life-threatening conditions that may be present. Depending on the condition your pet is in at the time, treatment may include:

  1. IV saline solution to help replace lost electrolyte and other minerals. IV saline can also dilute the high levels of potassium in the blood
  2. IV prednisolone sodium succinate or dexamethasone sodium phosphate to replace glucocorticoids
  3. DOCP or Florinef to replace mineralcorticoids.
  4. IV Calcium gluconate to treat life-threatening heart arrythmias.

Our dog, Shakti, survived an Addisonian crisis in October, 2009. After at first appearing like the had a virus (she was depressed and off her food), the crisis emerged within hours: her legs wobbled, she couldn’t walk more than a few feet, she was severely depressed and lethargic, barely responding to her name. Her heart rate was slow and the rhythm was off. Luckily, an emergency vet administered IV fluids–which temporarily restored electrolyte imbalances–and saved her life.

Addison dogs may only have some of the above symptoms–or it may have different symptoms. Addison’s is a common disorder in dogs (some estimates say it’s 100 times more frequent in dogs than in humans!). If in doubt, see your vet and get a simple blood test to check for Addison’s disease.


Reference:  Tilley L, Goodwin J. Manual of Canine and Feline Cardiology. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Saunders. 3 edition (January 15, 2001)

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