Addison’s Disease

by Dr. David Deresz

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Addison’s Disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is an endocrine disorder usually seen in younger dogs, typically under 2-3 years of age. The low production of the steroid cortisol, as well as low production of water retaining hormone aldosterone, are the driving forces of this disease. Clinical signs include intermittent vomiting, diarrhea, and inappetence. Increased water intake, urination, and lethargy can also be seen.

The usual presentation for this disease is a young dog who is having severe lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and inappetence with a history of more mild episodes in the past. This can be difficult to discern from other causes of GI signs, especially since young dogs very commonly get into things they shouldn’t. In house blood work will be ran. The characteristic change on the bloodwork is electrolyte abnormalities. Elevated kidney values, calcium, and liver values are also often noted. If these are seen, a test confirming the diagnosis will be performed. Hospitalization with IV fluids and medications are usually needed to prevent worsening of the disease. If untreated, it can be fatal.

If the confirmatory test is positive and the pet does well with hospitalization, medications can control the disease and keep the pet symptom free. Daily oral steroids, as well as a monthly injectable medication, are needed to compensate for the lack of cortisol and aldosterone production. Bloodwork will be performed intermittently to ensure that the medication dosing is appropriate.

Dogs can live long, healthy lives after diagnosis and management of Addison’s Disease. Without treatment, symptoms tend to worsen and will almost certainly lead to death.