Have You Heard of Addison’s Disease?

Back in February Suki was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency, more commonly known as Addison’s Disease. I’ve gone back and forth on saying anything. Ultimately I decided to make this post because of the stories I heard of dogs diagnosed too late. It’s an extremely uncommon disorder, partly because so many dogs go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed until they die.

It’s caused by the adrenal glands, two tiny organs located in the fat above the kidneys, failing. When the adrenal glands fail they can no longer produce cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol regulates a lot of things, from blood sugar, to blood pressure, to the immune system, and it plays a huge role in helping the body respond to stress. Aldosterone controls blood pressure via regulating sodium and potassium levels in the blood. The lack of aldosterone leads to a deficiency in sodium while blood potassium levels rise, placing stress on the heart and causing blood pressure to drop. You can see where this becomes a problem.

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Common symptoms listed for dogs are lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, shaking, increased frequency of urination, increased thirst, depression, dehydration, weak pulse, hair loss, painful abdomen, blood in feces, and collapse. Suki had none of these. Her coat had reddened and her hair was a bit brittle. That’s it. She had slowed down a little bit, but she was more energetic than most 10 year old dogs. We were hiking up until the day of her diagnoses and we walked for the hour between her blood draws. The only reason it was discovered was because we ran routine bloodwork prior to having a dental done. I actually initially put off the test because another vet that we got a second opinion from said there was no way Suki had Addison’s. Had we done the dental without bloodwork and without following through with the Addison’s test Suki likely would not have woken back up. Always do bloodwork before anything requiring anesthetic.

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Treatment involves lifelong corticosteroid treatment to replace the hormones the adrenal glands usually produce. I read an account from an amused cycling enthusiast with Addison’s that he now needed many of the steriods Lance Armstrong was busted for taking. So, I guess my dog dopes.

I’d like to write more at-length about the various medication options for treating Addison’s. I’m still learning about it myself. For now I just wanted to give a quick update.

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