Some medical conditions which we typically associate with human ailments may become an affliction of canines as well. Examples of this are cancer, arthritis, diabetes and obesity. Another, lesser known disease of the endocrine was first discovered in humans nearly a century ago by Thomas Addison.  Then in 1953 it was determined that dogs too struggle with what became called “Addison’s Disease”, and that for every single case of the disease in humans, roughly 100 canines are also afflicted. Addison’s disease is an adrenal disorder in the endocrine system, caused by an insufficient production of certain hormones (namely, mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and cortisol). This “hypoadrenocorticism” is an adrenal insufficiency, and a serious condition that if left untreated could prove fatal.

Causes

Currently, the causes for Addison’s disease are more speculative than factual as the reasons remain unknown. Some believe that it may be causes by genetics, as a result of autoimmune disorders, or other diseases,  but there is little concrete evidence of any specific cause.

Symptoms

The tell-tale signs of a dog with this disease may include several of the following symptoms:

  • lethargy/muscle weakness
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • shaking
  • low body temperature
  • disinclination to eat or exercise
  • evidence of joint discomfort/pain in movement
  • collapse (and other signs usually associated with seizures)

One of the tragic aspects of Addison’s disease is that itis considered one of the most underdiagnosed diseases because of how incredibly difficult it is to identify. Since the primary symptoms also occur with other diseases such as seizures, pancreatic tumors, spinal problems, arthritis, and even food poisoning, the condition has been referred to as the “great mimic.” For some dogs, there may seem to be no symptoms out of the ordinary until up to 90% of the adrenal cortex is damaged, at which point the case would be severe and nearly irreparable. When tested, some dogs appear to have low levels of sodium and chloride, with high levels of potassium. However, since not all dogs with Addison’s disease show signs of extreme electrolyte imbalance, the only certain diagnosis to the ACTH stimulation test.

Susceptible Breeds

These are some of the breeds most susceptible to suffer from Addison’s disease:

  • *Standard Poodles
  • *Bearded collies
  • West Highland Terriers
  • German Shepherds
  • German Shorthair Pointers
  • Bernards
  • Rottweilers
  • English and Welsh Springer Spaniels
  • Great Danes
  • Portuguese Water Dogs
    *Note: While female dogs are statistically more likely to develop this condition (70% of the canines cases are females), male dogs of the Poodle and Bearded collie breeds have equal level of susceptibility as the opposite sex. The most common age when dogs develop the disease is between 4-7 years.)

Treatments

Fortunately, when properly identified, an afflicted dog might be able to receive adequate medical care to sustain a relatively normal life.  Addison’s disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, may be treated with monthly injections of fludrocortisone. These drugs do require that the pet be sufficiently hydrated while receiving the treatments, as dehydration could be a potential risk, and kept as calm as possible to avoid stress that would induce inflammation of the adrenal glands. If you suspect your dog might be showing signs of Addison’s Diseases, take him to the vet for a diagnostics test so that he may begin the life-saving treatments as soon as possible.

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