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Pet Health

Addison’s Disease In Dogs

Val Cairney September 8, 2023 41


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Addison's Disease In Dogs

Hi everyone, and thank you for joining me on this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  On this episode, I am going to explore Addison’s disease in dogs, also known as hypoadrenocorticism. (hy-poa-d-reno-cor-ti-cism) Why?  Well, lately I have had an increase in pet parents coming in looking for answers to their pet’s diagnosis of Addison’s disease.  One person just the other day told me they were inheriting a dog that had been diagnosed with Addison’s disease.  We talked a bit and I asked her if she had done some research and she said no.  Well, I thought, that means this is an opportunity to have a look at Addison’s disease in dogs.

So what exactly is Addison’s disease?

Let’s look at a couple of explanations.  According to pdsa.org.uk, “Addison’s disease is a condition that causes dangerously low levels of steroid hormones in the body.  It is caused by a deficiency of hormones made by the adrenal glands, which are essential for life.  Dogs with Addison’s may experience recurrent bouts of gastroenteritis, a poor appetite, a slow loss of body condition, and an inability to respond appropriately to stress.  The symptoms may come and go.  The condition can be diagnosed by blood tests and treated with hormone replacement therapy.”

Looking at AKC.org, they point out that “the most important hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands are steroids, particularly aldosterone and cortisol.  These steroids play a large role in regulating your dog’s internal organs and body systems.  Without them, your dog’s body deteriorates, leading to serious complications and even death.”  I think we can see here why pet parents with a dog that has been diagnosed with Addison’s are very concerned about getting all the diet and medications correct.

A dog with Addison’s disease is often difficult to manage with regards to food.  I’ve seen some people who absolutely swear that feeding raw was the ticket to dealing with bouts of gastroenteritis.  Some stay on gastro food from the vet, and others look for other answers.  It is difficult to manage all the symptoms of a dog with Addison’s because, apart from the ones already mentioned, they can also demonstrate “depression, lethargy, anorexia or lack of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, hair loss, increased urination, increased thirst, dehydration, shaking, weak pulse, irregular heart rate, low temperature, painful abdomen, and hypoglycemia.”  That is a lot to manage.

According to AKC.org, “Veterinarians suspect that most cases result from an autoimmune process that can result in adrenal tissue being destroyed.”  However, in many cases, the cause is unknown.

In the beginning, Addison’s disease can be difficult to diagnose.  According to mspca.org, Dr. Doug Brum says that in the early stages, typically he will see, possibly, a young dog with clinical signs that “may include, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, lethargy, or weight loss.  The most typical history we see, [he says, is of a young dog with chronic, intermittent histories of gastrointestinal issues.  They commonly have episodes or signs that “wax and wane”.  Dr. Brum advises that “an excellent and cost efficient way to rule out atypical Addison’s disease is by running a basal cortisol level.  If (the) patient’s basal cortisol level is over 2 mcg/dl (micrograms per deciliter), the dog is unlikely to have Addison’s disease.”  Dr. Brum says that “the key to treating all atypical Addison’s dogs is to give them the smallest amount of prednisone or methylprednisolone to control their clinical signs and minimize any potential side effects of the corticosteroid.”

Which Dogs Are More Likely To Get It? And What Can We Do?

The next question is whether certain breeds of dogs have more of a propensity to develop Addison’s disease, because it can affect any dog, but some might be more vulnerable.  According to PDSA.org, dogs associated with a higher risk of Addison’s disease are, Bearded Collies, Portuguese Water Dogs, Standard Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, Leonbergers,”  Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers,  Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, Airedale Terriers, Basset Hounds, and Springer Spaniels.  That’s quite a list, really.  But, it is important to know this when choosing a breed, because it means you could very well be dealing with this issue.  

Dogs with Addison’s can have a big flare-up, and in this case, they will need hospitalization.  Once the crisis is past, the dog will need a program for the rest of its life.  A combination of hormone therapy and steroids seems to be the usual protocol.  The AKC states that, “there’s usually more than one medication prescribed – an injectable mineralocorticoid monthly and a daily steroid like prednisone.” Because of these medications, the vet will probably want to monitor medications and do blood work routinely. 

As for food, according to petguru.com, “Dogs with Addison’s disease should be fed a diet that is high in protein and low in fat and carbohydrates.”  As I said earlier, some people with dogs with Addison’s disease believe wholeheartedly that a raw diet is the ticket.  They probably have this mindset, as some of the recommended foods for a dog with Addison’s are “Muscle meat, often still on the bone, ground or whole bones, organ meats (liver and kidneys are the best). It’s also recommended that the diet be high in calcium and low in salt.  And a really good probiotic is a great addition, and this could be given in the form of raw goat’s milk.  

Now, what can we do holistically to support a dog with Addison’s?  According to allnaturalpetcare.com, there are some things you can do to help your dog with Addison’s that are from the holistic and complimentary area.  The thing to do however, is check with your vet to make sure none of the natural supplements do not interfere with the medication.  There are herbal and nutraceutical adrenal support such as, “dandelion leaf, borage leaf, parsley leaf, licorice, nettle, spirulina, and seaweed”, that can be helpful.  

Muffhouse.com explains how licorice prolongs the effects of corticosteroids.  A paper published in the New Zealand Veterinary Journal spoke of a case study using licorice that definitely showed that licorice is a “useful adjunct in the management of canine Addison’s.”  Dandelion also helps with adrenal gland function.  Seaweed, according to Facty.com, “prompts the release of enzymes that promote nutrient absorption.  The enzymes also promote fat metabolism.”  And it is great for the digestion.  Because Addison’s dogs often have gastro issues, seaweed and ginger are great additions for their stomach upset properties.  Ginger will also help promote natural steroid production. Milk thistle also supports the immune system and will help detoxify the liver.  

Other holistic techniques include using calming techniques to deal with any stress.  Stress can really affect Addison’s and bring on a crisis.  It has been mentioned that CBD oil could be used but again, I would check that with your vet.  Other holistic care that can be beneficial is to massage your dog and to use energy therapies such as Reiki.  Perhaps what Joan Ranquet was talking about in her new book on Tapping Therapy, could be a useful practice as well.  

So, a dog with Addison’s disease will, for the rest of its life, be medication dependent.  It’s possible that some very good holistic practitioners out there have found a way to balance the adrenal system without medication, and I sure would love to hear from you if you have.  

In the meantime, I don’t see anything wrong with combining holistic with traditional.  I would certainly say doing research and speaking with the vet is a must.  Plus, joining an online group of other pet parents dealing with a dog with Addison’s can prove to be very beneficial as people share their experiences and what they have learned.  

How Long Will An Infected Dog Survive?

A dog with Addison’s has a lifespan of about 5 or 8 years with proper treatment and monitoring. This is the normal lifespan for many dog breeds.  A dog with Addison’s may have some ups and downs, but they can live a very normal life as a loved companion.  Getting all the checks and balances can be tricky, but it will be worth it.  I would definitely do some research and speak to others with a dog with Addison’s, and be thorough with the vet, asking a lot of questions.

Addison’s is definitely on the rise with dogs, so look out for the signs and be proactive because, as I say, knowing is caring. 

Addison's Disease In Dogs

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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