Canine Addison's Disease: 5 Things to Know

Canine Addison's Disease: 5 Things to Know

Addisonโ€™s disease diminishes the cortisol levels in dogs, and it can spell serious consequences for your dog's health. These 5 facts will help you understand the disease.

Addisonโ€™s disease is an illness that depletes the cortisol level in dogs. While Addisonโ€™s disease is relatively rare in humans (President Kennedy is one of the most famous known cases), this illness occurs more frequently in animals, especially female dogs. Here are five key facts you should know about Addisonian dogs.

1. Addisonโ€™s diseasecauses a severe deficiency of the hormone cortisol

The adrenal glands produce hormones that are essential to hundreds of actions within the body. Cortisol is one of these hormones. Most people associated cortisol with stress and the โ€œfight or flightโ€ reaction, but this hormone also performs functions throughout the body, including helping maintain blood pressure and stimulating appetite. Addisonโ€™s disease occurs when the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands is prohibited, depriving your pet of this essential hormone.

2. Symptoms of Addisonโ€™s disease are frequently misdiagnosed

Signs of  Addisonโ€™s disease include loss of appetite, increased thirst, weakness, gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and vomiting, and lethargy. Unfortunately, these symptoms are also common signs of other ailments, which earns this disease the nickname โ€œthe great imitator.โ€ Vets may mistake these symptoms for illnesses such as kidney failure, liver disease, and gastrointestinal diseases.

3. Addisonian Crisis may be the first sign of illness

Dogs may not show consistent or regular symptoms of Addisonโ€™s disease until they undergo Addisonian Crisis. This is a medical emergency in which your dog may collapse or go into shock. Symptoms of Addisonโ€™s disease are more pronounced and severe during Addisonian Crisis, and include weakness, shakiness, and vomiting. Pets in Addisonian Crisis must be treated immediately.

4. Ongoing treatment is key

Once your pet has been diagnosed with Addisonโ€™s disease, consistent treatment is necessary to maintain your dogโ€™s health. While there is no cure for Addisonโ€™s disease, your pet can live a normal life with the proper medication. Once your vet prescribes medicine to balance adrenal deficiencies, your pet will have to check in periodically in case hormonal levels change. Addisonโ€™s disease is fatal when left untreated.

5. Dogโ€™s need increased treatment in times of stress

Cortisol is responsible for regulating stress. Your dog will need an increased dosage of medicine when stress occurs since your petโ€™s adrenal glands will not be able to produce the supplemental cortisol needed. Stressors will vary from dog to dog, but they include injuries, illnesses, loud noises, changes to routine, visits to the vet, and a move to a new home.

All You Need To Know About Addison's Disease in Dogs

Addison's disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is a disease caused by the lack of corticosteroid secretion from adrenalin glands located near the kidneys in dogs. Glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids are two important hormones released by the adrenal glands that maintain healthy functioning of the body. Both hormones have an important role to play in fat, protein and sugar metabolism, influencing sodium and potassium levels, and triggering fight or flight response in dogs. Any imbalance in these hormonal levels create complications and symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs. Hypoadrenocorticism is rare in dogs, but when it occurs, it affects mostly middle-aged and female dogs.

Symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs

The symptoms of the disease vary greatly depending on its duration. Fatal symptoms are observed when the disease reaches an acute stage. However, the common symptoms observed are as follows:

  • Lack of appetite or anorexia
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Frequent urination (polyuria)
  • Excessive drinking (polydipsia)
  • Low body temperature
  • Faint pulse rate
  • Blood discharge in feces
  • Pain in abdomen


In order to diagnose Addison's disease, a veterinarian performs a thorough examination of the dog's physical symptoms with the help of laboratory tests, complete blood count testing, biochemistry profile testing, and urinalysis. The blood count test reveals signs of anemia, which is characterized by abnormal levels of eosinophils and lymphocytes.The biochemistry profile testing reveals higher potassium levels and an accumulation of urea in the blood. The test also reveals lower blood sugar, sodium and chlorine levels and higher calcium levels and liver enzymes. The urinalysis shows low urine concentration.However, detecting the cortisol levels in the body is a definitive test for diagnosing Addison's disease in dogs. Generally, the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) produced by the pituitary gland stimulates the release of cortisol by the adrenal glands. In ACTH test, the dog is injected with ACTH; if it does not show increased cortisol levels, then the diagnosis of Addison's disease is confirmed.


An acute episode of hypoadrenocorticism requires immediate hospitalization and treatment. The treatment for Addison's disease in dogs is largely dependent on the severity and type of symptoms. The common treatment for the disease involves the replacement of glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids in the body using fludrocortisone. The drug is administered twice a day after monitoring the potassium and sodium levels in the blood. After the dog's electrolyte imbalances are regulated, it is brought down to two to three times a year.DOCP is a relatively newer treatment option where the injection is given once every 25 days. This options is seen to provide better regulation of electrolytes than fludrocortisone. However, some dogs on DOCP treatment may require a low dose of prednisone.

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

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Addison's Disease

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