Addison’s disease in dogs is a condition in which the adrenal glands stop producing hormones necessary to control key bodily functions, such as electrolytes, blood pressure, hydration, and stress responses. These small organs lie near the kidneys and produce glucocorticoid (cortisol) and mineralocorticoid (aldosterone) hormones.

Hormones are essential to life. Without them, your dog’s body would struggle to maintain normal daily functions and activities.

Most often, Addison’s disease is diagnosed when a dog exhibits signs of an Addisonian crisis – an unexpected collapse or worsening illness that requires immediate medical intervention with intravenous fluids and steroids to stabilize them. If not addressed promptly, serious complications such as hyperkalemia (high potassium/low sodium levels) can develop.

Addison’s disease may present with vague symptoms such as lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, or increased thirst. Since these signs may change over time, regular veterinarian check-ups are necessary to monitor your dog’s well-being.

Your vet will need to check in on your pup periodically to assess their hormone levels and electrolytes, then prescribe the correct dose of replacement hormones. This process may take a few months, so be patient and let your veterinarian know that you’re willing to stick with the program until it works for treating their disease.

Once your pet’s hormone levels have been restored, your veterinarian can continue treating the condition with replacement hormones and steroid medications for as long as needed. These can be given orally in a daily pill form or via injection every 21 or 25 days, depending on what your pup requires.

Many pets respond well to the initial treatment plan and don’t require any further medications. However, some will need additional glucocorticoid supplementation.

Your veterinarian can make the earliest diagnosis of Addison’s disease through physical examination and blood work. They’ll look for signs such as abnormally high potassium and low sodium levels on your dog’s blood work.

If these signs are present, your vet will administer an ACTH challenge test to measure how much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is released by your dog’s pituitary gland in the brain.

Your vet can detect the symptoms of Addison’s disease by taking a urine sample from your dog and testing for sodium and potassium levels as well as cortisol and aldosterone concentrations. If these are all normal, then the disease has been ruled out.

Another symptom common to Addison’s disease is anemia. About 30% of dogs diagnosed with the illness have anemia at diagnosis; however, this usually improves after rehydration but may still occur even after successful rehydration.

Though there is a high death rate from this disease, most affected dogs recover successfully with proper treatment and hydration. Furthermore, dogs with the disease require ongoing glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement therapy for the remainder of their lives.