This description of Addison's Disease was found at: www.vetinfo.com

Addison's disease (Hypoadrenocorticism)
Addison's disease is also known as hypoadrenocorticism. It is an insufficient production of adrenal hormones by the adrenal gland. Since these hormones are essential for life, this is an extremely serious disease and it must be treated as such.
Adrenal insufficiency can be primary or secondary. Primary adrenocorticism affects salt/potassium balance in the body and glucorticoid as well. Secondary adrenocorticism usually only affects the glucocorticoids. It is not known why primary adrenocorticism occurs but it may be an immune mediated process. Secondary adrenocorticism probably occurs most often when prednisone or other cortisone being administered for medical reasons are suddenly withdrawn. It can occur as a result of pituitary cancer or some other process that interferes with production of hormones that stimulate the adrenal glands.
Most dogs with Addison's disease initially have gastrointestinal disturbances like vomiting. Lethargy it also a common early sign. Poor appetite can occur as well. These are pretty vague signs and it is extremely easy to miss this disease. More severe signs occur when a dog with hypoadrenocorticism is stressed or when potassium levels get high enough to interfere with heart function. Dogs with this problem will sometimes suffer severe shock symptoms when stressed, which can lead to a rapid death. When potassium levels get high heart arrythmias occur or even heart stoppage which also is fatal. In some cases, especially secondary Addison's disease, there are no detectable electrolyte changes.
This disease can be picked up by changes in the ratio between sodium or potassium by accident at times. When this happens it is still extremely important to treat for it. It is confirmed by an ACTH response test -- administration of this hormone should stimulate production of adrenal hormones. If this does not occur then hypoadrenocorticism is present. In cases in which the electrolyte levels are normal this is the only test for the problem and it will be missed unless it is looked for specifically. At times this disease can be hard to differentiate from renal failure because the symptoms and even the bloodwork can be similar ---- so the ACTH reponse test may be necessary to differentiate them.
Treatment for this disease is usually done by oral administration of fludrocortisone acetate (Flurinaf), salting the food, and administration of corticosteroids like prednisone. In a crisis situation this disorder must be treated more aggressively with intravenous fluids, IV glucocorticoids and correction of acid/base balances.
You have to pay close attention to a dog with this problem. Don't ignore any changes in appetite, GI disturbances or anything else that makes you think your dog is ill. If you work with your vet and are careful about following his or her directions this disease has a good prognosis when it is discovered before a crisis occurs.
Mike Richards, DVM

It took a few months of adjusting Nika's dosage of the DOCP (Desoxycorticosterone Pivalate) because the dosage is based on the weight of the animal. Nika was down to 58 lbs at the time of the onset of this disease, however she quickly gained her weight back once we began her treatment. In fact she did a little "too" good as we ended up with an 89 lb Malamute! The treatment can be quite expensive and you do really have to keep the animal from getting too stressed, however the results of her treatment were so dramatic, that cost was never an issue. We just had to adjust our budget a bit. Her quality of life was tremendous and I would like those of you whose pet has been diagnosed with Addison's disease, to be assured that the diagnosis is not a death sentence, and this disease is 100% treatable.

Our Experience with Addison's disease in our older Malamute

By: Carol Januszewski
November 2000


Nika owned us for 13 1/2 years. She became a member of our household on March 4th 1985. She was born on December 25th 1984.

My husband was in the Air Force so Nika was a very well traveled Malamute. She and her cat, Tasha, spent a lot of time in hotels and in their crates moving all over the country and over seas. In the fall of 1992 we left the Air Force life and became "civilians" in West Michigan. My husband would soon take a job as a long haul truck driver, and I would once again be home alone with the "kids".

In early January 1993 Nika began refusing her dinners from time to time. She had recently turned 9 years old so I thought perhaps this was just a sign of aging. She would still eat her favorite treat of cheese, so I was not too concerned. In early February my husband had come home from a long road trip and mentioned that he thought Nika had lost some weight. With her heavy coat it was not so visible to me but he noticed right away since he hadn't seen her in so long. I decided to make an appointment to get her a check-up at the vet, but since it was the weekend I would need to wait until Monday. That particular weekend was Valentine's weekend, and my husband had to head out on the road once again. Nika became very depressed and had no interest in anything. I was getting concerned. On Monday I asked my neighbor to let Nika out in the early evening since I had to work late that night. I made a vet appointment for her for later in the week. When I got home that evening my neighbor had mentioned she found bird feathers in Nika's mouth. Nika was not a "hunter" so I figured she just found a couple that had fallen off of a bird. Boy was I wrong, because she vomited up parts of a bird later that evening. Turns out what I had seen on the lawn earlier that morning was a dead bird, and not a clump of leaves.

The next morning Nika could not even stand up on her own. I was in a state of panic, and called her vet to tell them she's having an emergency of some type and please be ready for us. When I got her there she was able to walk in on her own but then she lay down on the floor and didn't move or woo woo like usual. I was afraid the bird she had eaten had been poisoned. Nika was put on IV fluids and had blood drawn for extensive testing. I had to leave her there and go to work. When I called the clinic that afternoon, I was told she was no better, but that her vet had a strong suspicion of what was going on but that Nika's blood had to go to Michigan State University for confirmation and it would be at least 2 days for the results. I was a basket case and I had no way to get in touch with my husband.

Friday the test results came back and confirmed our vet's diagnosis, Nika had Addison's disease and she was very near death. She was in Addison's shock and I didn't even know it. Her sodium and potassium levels were way off the board and her kidneys nearly failed. Fortunately her vet was already treating several other dogs with this disease and she was his 5th new case. This disease is very rare in dogs, but for some reason several dogs in our area turned up with it within the past year. Nika was finally stabilized with Prednisone, then was started on in injection regimen of a steroid type hormone called DCOP (Desoxycorticosterone Pivilate) it was a very expensive injection, but the results were astounding. Within 2 days Nika was back to herself 100%! She had lost a considerable amount of weight during this ordeal (went from 75 lbs to 58 lbs). By the time she was stable, I finally got a call from my husband and I told him what had happened. He would have been devastated if he had come home and found out Nika had died. Fortunately I got to tell him the worst was over but we had a long road to go.

The dosage of this drug is based on the weight of the dog and how the body metabolizes it over a period of time. Normally the shots are given between 20 and 30 days apart, but Nika began to gain back her weight, so it took a few months to get everything stabilized. Her shot cycle leveled out at every 28 days.

Nika was a high-strung Malamute to begin with (we found out a couple of years after we bought her from a pet shop, that she came from a puppy mill. Hard lesson learned there.), and this disease and her advancing age made her more so. She became deathly afraid of thunderstorms and lightening (this is the dog raised on a military base with B-52s flying overhead day and night). She also developed a severe allergy to flea bites and wound up with a hot spot that turned into a yeast infection and she lost all the hair on her back end. This set off an Addison's event that had to be brought under control with a short series of Prednisone. After that mess, we decided to shave her coat down for the summer, and keep it about 2" long in the winter. I was able to keep her skin in top condition, and she looked pretty cute too. As long as I had Prednisone on hand and she got her shots on time, she had an excellent quality of life. Eventually my husband found a job that got him home every day, so he was able to help out with the care regimen we had developed. I never left Nika alone for more than a half day since she could possibly have an Addison's event and getting Predisone in her quickly was very important. Nika was our "child" so all of this extra care and expense was definitely worth the time and money. She lived until 4 months shy of her 14th birthday, and it was simple old age that sent her to the Rainbow Bridge. Addison's Disease did not seem to shorten her life as long as she was being treated.

A lot more is known about Addison's disease in dogs now than when Nika was first diagnosed. It is not a death sentence when caught early, and it is 100% treatable. Listed below are some symptoms to watch for, that I should have paid more attention to, following that is a short list of things I would do differently given what I know now about the disease. Just a note, Cushing's disease has many of the same symptoms, but the treatment is very different.


Symptoms to watch for:

1. Sudden loss of appetite
2. Acting lethargic or depressed
3. Unexplained weight loss
4. Dull coat, hair breakage
5. Unexplained vomiting of liquid matter or phlegm


Things I wish I had done differently:

1. Paid closer attention to the weight loss
2. Paid closer attention to her personality change. Not everything can be "old age"
3. Gotten her in to the vet sooner, prior to the bird eating incident
4. Not assuming she would just "bounce back" like she had when younger

Addison's Disease: A technical description, then our experience with the disease

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