FAQ: Addison's Disease in Dogs

Understanding symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs, treatment and more

There are some 100,000 cases of canine Addison’s disease in the U.S., yearly -- could your dog be among them? Refer to these FAQs about Addison’s disease in dogs, so you can sniff out the condition should symptoms prevail, nearly as impressively as your dog can sniff out a bone (or carton of your favorite takeout).

Continue reading for insights on symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and more.

What is Addison’s disease in dogs?

Known also as canine hypoadrenocorticism, canine Addison's disease is caused by an adrenal gland hormone deficiency. Dogs have two small adrenal glands near their kidneys that produce two hormones important to their well-being. These two hormones include Cortisol, which regulates their response to stress and Aldosterone, which regulates electrolytes, potassium and sodium, for proper body function.

Addison's disease in dogs can result when their adrenal glands are unable to produce high enough levels of cortisol and aldosterone.

Which dog breeds are most prone to canine Addison's disease?

While any dog experiencing the hormone deficiency noted above can be at risk, several dog breeds are more prone to Addison’s disease, including the No. 1 most popular dog in America, the Labrador Retriever. Others prone to the disease include Airedale Terriers, Basset Hounds, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Bearded Collies, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Leonbergers, Portuguese Water Dogs and Standard Poodles. The disease is most often seen in middle-aged female dogs.

What are symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs?

When impacted by Addison’s disease, dogs can show clinical signs such as:

  • Lethargy, depression, weakness
  • Weak pulse
  • Excessive panting
  • Appetite loss
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Weight loss/anorexia
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Intermittent shaking episodes
  • Addisonian crisis
  • What is an Addisonian crisis?

    Watch for severe vomiting and diarrhea, accompanied with weakness and sudden collapse in dogs -- this serious presentation could be what’s known as an Addisonian crisis. This is an emergency! Get your dog to the nearest veterinary hospital, immediately, for treatment.

    Having an established veterinarian is critical to your pet’s health at all times for yearly examinations, heartworm testing to prevent heartworm disease, and more. Should your pet have a health emergency outside of their normal business hours, it’s also best practice to know the location and hours of the nearest emergency veterinary hospital in your area.

    How is Addison’s disease diagnosed?

    Routine bloodwork may show electrolyte imbalances that initially point to a canine Addison’s disease diagnosis. The definitive test for diagnosis, though, is known as an ACTH stimulation test, which is used to diagnose canine Cushing’s disease and canine Addison’s disease. The brain releases a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates hormone-releasing adrenal glands under normal conditions. An ACTH stimulation test involves injecting a small amount of ACTH and then measuring the levels of cortisol produced over a period of a few hours to see whether levels are high (points to Cushing’s disease) or low (points to Addison’s disease).

    Dogs with Addison’s disease will result in the adrenal glands not effectively responding to the ACTH injection, therefor showing low levels of cortisol in the test results.

    How is an ACTH stimulation test performed?

    It often takes a few hours to perform an ACTH stimulation test; your veterinarian may recommend you do a drop-off appointment. First, your veterinarian will draw a small blood sample for use as a cortisol level baseline, then a small amount of ACTH is injected, followed by a repeat blood sample within two hours after the injection. This repeat sample will measure the cortisol level for appropriateness. Few risks are associated with ACTH stimulation testing; the injection is deemed very safe, and side effects are rare. Early diagnosis means earlier treatment and a better outcome for your pet!

    What does treatment for Addison's disease in dogs entail?

    Regular injections of desoxycorticosterone pivalate (DOCP) help replace the mineralocorticoid hormones not produced by dogs with Addison’s disease. A DOCP injection with Percorten-V increases the rate of sodium absorption and enhances potassium excretion. Percorten-V also increases extracellular fluid volume, which expands blood volume and improves the venous return to the heart and cardiac output. This effect prevents the life-threatening hypotensive shock and prerenal azotemia observed in animals with Addison’s disease.

    According to Elanco, the manufacturer of Percorten-V, “The initial starting dose of Percorten-V is 1 mg/lb. intramuscular injection every 25 days. For most dogs, a dose range of 0.75 mg/lb. to 1.0 mg/lb. given every 21 to 30 days is effective. Glucocorticoid replacement must be supplied by small daily doses of glucocorticoid hormones,” such as Prednisone. Your veterinarian will prescribe recommended amounts based upon your dog’s individual response to treatment.

    As the first FDA-approved treatment for canine Addison’s disease, Percorten-V has a proven history of delivering life-saving results for more than 70,000 dogs and counting! With careful monitoring and regular injections, Percorten-V can help your dog lead a normal life.

    Our Valley Vet Supply pharmacy is your trusted source for safe, affordable and accurate prescription medications. With a prescription from your veterinarian, you can order treatment for Addison's disease in dogs to help your furry friend live their best life.

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