great dane laying down on floor

Key takeaway

Addison’s disease is a hormonal disorder that occurs when dogs have too few glucocorticoids or mineralocorticoids in their body. This can be caused by damage to the adrenal tissue, which can occur as a result of immune-related disorders, trauma, cancer, and more. Treatment for Addison’s disease in dogs involves an injection that’s administered every 3-4 weeks.

Addison’s disease (hypoadrenocorticism) is a somewhat uncommon medical condition in dogs that affects the adrenal system. Dogs with Addison’s disease may experience a wide range of symptoms, including lethargy, increased urination, and alopecia. Left untreated, the symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs get worse with time and may eventually lead to major medical complications.

If you notice your dog is especially lethargic or seems sick, you should always take them to the vet to find out what’s going on. It could be that your dog simply ate something bad and will feel better in a day or two, but it’s important to catch things like Addison’s disease early on so you can start treating it. With regular treatment including injections every 3-4 weeks, Addison’s disease in dogs can be treated.

The first thing you should do is call a vet if you notice signs of Addison’s disease. Keep reading to learn more about Addison’s disease, how it’s treated, and what the symptoms are.

What Is Addison’s Disease In Dogs?

Addison’s disease in dogs is a medical condition that’s caused by a lack of glucocorticoids or mineralocorticoids in a dog’s body. Glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids are hormones that are secreted by the adrenal glands, and they play important roles in different parts of your body. Glucocorticoids affect the appetite and immune system, among other things, while mineralocorticoids affect sodium and potassium levels in the body.1

Because of all the different roles that these hormones play in a dog’s body, Addison’s disease can have lots of different effects. Always remember to visit a vet for a professional diagnosis if your dog isn’t feeling well.

Graphic listing symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs

Symptoms Of Addison’s Disease In Dogs

As a pet parent, it’s important to know about the different medical conditions and associated symptoms that may affect your pet. Noting the warning signs of Addison’s disease can help you identify issues early on and get your dog treatment as soon as possible.

Some of the symptoms of dogs with Addison’s disease include:

  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia (lack of appetite)
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Dehydration
  • Shaking
  • Weak pulse
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Low-temperature
  • Painful abdomen
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hyperpigmentation of the skin

Some of the broader symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can be difficult to attribute to Addison’s disease because there are so many other conditions that cause these symptoms. If you notice several of these symptoms in your dog, you should see a vet as soon as you can.

Causes

In cases of primary hypoadrenocorticism, Addison’s disease in dogs is caused by damage to the adrenal glands, which can occur in a few different ways. Most commonly, Addison’s disease is caused by your dog’s immune system attacking their adrenal glands, which damages adrenal tissue and affects hormone production. However, this can also be caused by certain medications, physical trauma, and cancer, although these causes aren’t as common.

Secondary hypoadrenocorticism is caused by a lack of hormone production in the pituitary gland in the brain, which can also be caused by a few different things. Some of the most common causes of secondary hypoadrenocorticism include cancer, inflammation, brain trauma, or a congenital condition.

Certain breeds seem to be more prone to Addison’s disease in dogs, including Great Danes, basset hounds, and poodles. Female dogs seem to be more susceptible to Addison’s disease than male dogs, and it’s also more common for dogs between 3-6 years to be affected.

Graphic with pictures of breeds that are predisposed to Addison’s

Diagnosis 

If you think your dog may have Addison’s disease, a trip to the vet is in order. Because the symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs can be similar to other medical conditions, you can’t diagnose it on your own. Here’s a quick breakdown of how vets diagnose Addison’s disease in dogs.

Typically, vets will start by looking at your dog’s medical history. Your vet may look at the results of urine and blood tests as well as any medications your dog has been taking. However, this is only one part of the process when it comes to diagnosing Addison’s disease in dogs.

Your vet may also run a series of tests to diagnose Addison’s disease, with the main test being an ACTH test. This test involves a blood draw, the administration of ACTH, then a second blood draw a little later to measure the response to ACTH. Vets may also use urine cortisol creatinine ratio (UCCR) testing as well as endogenous plasma ACTH testing.

Depending on the cause of Addison’s disease, your vet may need to use X-ray imaging, abdominal ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI scans to diagnose your dog.

Dog being examined by vet

Treating Addison’s Disease In Dogs

The good news is that there are several treatment options for Addison’s disease in dogs. If your dog has Addison’s disease, the important thing is getting a diagnosis early on so you can start treatment as soon as possible.

Treatment for Addison’s disease in dogs may involve an injection of desoxycorticosterone pivalate or DOCP. This injection is administered once every 3-4 weeks, and you can start administering the medication on your own at home once you learn how to do it properly.

Addison’s disease treatment may also involve other medications that are designed to replace the glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids that your dog may be missing. Ultimately, it’s up to your veterinarian to decide which medications to use to treat your dog’s Addison’s disease.1

If your dog is currently taking any medication, including medication that’s used to treat diarrhea, vomiting, and other minor medical conditions, make sure you mention that to your vet. Avoiding medications that may react with your dog’s Addison’s disease treatment is important, so don’t give them anything without talking to your vet first.

Addison’s Disease: Frequently Asked Questions

How long can a dog live with Addison’s disease?

Fortunately, dogs who are suffering from Addison’s disease often have a good prognosis. Addison’s disease can be treated with medication, and many dogs will get relief from the symptoms of Addison’s disease in as little as 2-4 weeks.2 You should take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice symptoms of Addison’s disease, that way they can start taking medication to get better right away. Your vet will provide more information about your dog’s prognosis when they give you their diagnosis.

Is Addison’s disease painful for dogs?

Addison’s disease can be very uncomfortable for dogs and may lead to pain in many cases. During what’s called an Addisonian crisis, your dog may experience severe pain in their lower back or abdomen. Vomiting and diarrhea are also common during these times, which can lead to pain in some cases. Plus, your dog may have low blood pressure and may even lose consciousness as a result of Addison’s disease, which isn’t a pleasant experience for your pooch. It’s important to treat Addison’s disease before it progresses to a point where it’s causing your dog severe pain or a lack of consciousness.3

How much does it cost to treat a dog with Addison’s disease?

Treating a dog with Addison’s disease does cost some money, varying depending on your pet’s condition, where you live, and the prescribed treatment from your vet. You’ll have to pay to have tests run and get a proper diagnosis, but the only thing you have to worry about paying for after that is your dog’s medication. Medication can be used to increase glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid levels in your dog’s body, so you don’t have to worry about any complicated surgeries or advanced procedures when it comes to treating Addison’s disease. However, it’s important to keep in mind that treating Addison’s disease is easier when you catch it early on.

Dog owner and dog

Final Notes

While Addison’s disease isn’t the most common medical condition in dogs, it’s a good idea to be aware of the signs. Like most medical conditions, early diagnosis makes treating Addison’s disease in dogs a lot easier, so you should take your dog to the vet if you think they might have Addison’s disease or another medical issue.

Taking your dog to the vet can be hard, but Dutch makes it easy. With Dutch, you can schedule an appointment for an online video chat with a vet who can give you advice and even prescribe medication if necessary. Dutch offers great pet care that’s also convenient for pet parents.

References

  1. Bruyette, David. “Addison Disease - Endocrine System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 10 Feb. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/endocrine-system/the-adrenal-glands/addison-disease?query=addison%27s

  2. Burke, Anna. “Addison's Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 8 Dec. 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/addisons-disease-in-dogs-symptoms-treatment-prevention/ 

  3. “Addison's Disease Can Be Fatal to Dogs, Expert Says.” Texas A&M Today, 4 June 2019, https://today.tamu.edu/2007/11/08/addisons-disease-can-be-fatal-to-dogs-expert-says/