Addison’s disease in dogs

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    Cavapoos are a crossbreed and are susceptible to suffering from genetic health conditions passed on from either their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or Poodle parent. Although many breeders and owners believe in hybrid vigor, studies have show that purebred dogs are no more susceptible to health issues than a mixed breed. Therefore it is really important that we understand the main diseases that could potentially affect our Cavapoos – one of which is known as Addison’s disease.

    Addison’s disease in dogs or hypoadrenocorticism as it is also known, occurs when the adrenal glands of a dog fail to function efficiently. Rather than making the correct levels of natural steroid, the body produces too little, causing levels to drop too low.

    Here we explain more about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for the potentially fatal Addison’s disease.

    What is Addison’s disease in dogs?

    This medical condition known as Addison’s disease, was first diagnosed in 1953. Although fairly rare, it is thought to affect more female dogs than male and develops when there is damage to the adrenal glands, which are situated close to the kidneys.

    Image credit: Addison’s Disease in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital

    The adrenal glands may only be small, but they have a big part to play in your dogs wellbeing, as they are responsible for producing two main types of steroid (Glucocorticoids & Mineralocorticoids) from the adrenal cortex. These steroids are crucial for sustaining a balanced life.

    Glucocorticoids

    Are made up of two hormones (cortisol and corticosteroids). These assist our dog’s bodies in responding and coping with stress by increasing blood glucose levels and decreasing the inflammatory reaction to reduce swelling and inflammation. A dog with Addison’s disease will produce lower than average levels of glucocorticoids.

    Mineralocorticoids

    The most important mineralocorticoids is aldosterone, which helps to control your dogs blood pressure. It does this by acting on organs such as the kidneys and the colon to increase the amount of sodium being absorbed into the bloodstream and to increase the amount of potassium excreted in urine. If your Cavapoo suffers with Addison’s disease then its body produces too little sodium and too much potassium which can, in a worst case scenario, lead to kidney failure, heart arrhythmias and electrolyte imbalances.

    Different Types of Addison’s disease

    Addison’s disease is generally classed as either primary or secondary.

    1. Primary – this occurs when there is a problem with the adrenal glands and is the most commonly diagnosed form of Addison’s disease. All layers of the adrenal glands stop functioning, resulting in a deficiency in both glucocortcoid and mineralocorticoid hormones caused by the body’s own immune system attacking itself (immune mediated destruction), infection or sometimes trauma.
    2. Secondary – this occurs when there is a problem with the anterior pituitary gland, which is responsible for ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) regulation. When this hormone can not be produced, the adrenal gland will stop producing glucocorticoids. However, the superficial layer of the adrenal cortex is not controlled or affected by ACTH, so it will continue to produce a normal amount of the mineralocorticoids.

    What are the symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs?

    There are many signs of Addison’s disease that you should be aware of, although they are relatively generalized and can often be mistaken for a number of other health issues.

    Addison’s disease is difficult to diagnose but you should watch out for the following signs in your Cavapoo:

    • lethargy
    • loss of appetite
    • increased thirst
    • weakness
    • vomiting
    • diarrhoea
    • weight loss
    • shivering, tremors and/or muscle stiffness
    • depression and lack of life
    • dehydration

    How does a vet diagnose Addison’s disease?

    If your Cavapoo starts to display a number of these symptoms then you should take them to your vet immediately where they can perform a physical examination and run tests to determine whether or not your dog has Addison’s disease.

    Your vet will make a diagnosis based on your pets medical history and will perform a number of medical tests including blood and urine. These results will be closely analyzed to see whether there is a rise in the kidney enzymes, to look for signs of anaemia and to see if the blood sugar levels are low.

    Your vet may also want to carry out an ACTH stimulation test to measure your dog’s cortisol levels before and after an injection of synthetic ACTH to check their response.

    As Addison’s disease can effect the rhythm of the heart, an ECG may also be required. X-Rays or an ultrasound scan of the abdomen may also be done to rule out other medical conditions.

    What dogs are prone to Addison’s disease?

    Although Addison’s disease can affect any dog, there are some breeds that appear to be predisposed to it. These include:

    • Standard Poodles
    • West Highland White Terriers
    • Great Danes
    • Bearded Collies
    • Boxers
    • Portuguese Water Dogs
    • Labrador Retrievers
    • Leonbergers
    Standard Poodles are one of the breeds that are vulnerable to Addison’s disease

    There have been many studies (including this one by the Canine Medicine and Genetics) into why certain breeds, such as the Standard Poodle are susceptible to Addison’s disease. Although it is believed that a lot of it is due to inbreeding, the results are still ongoing.

    As a Cavapoo is a crossbreed between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Poodle, you should be aware that there is always a chance (albeit slim) that this disease could be passed down from the Poodle parent.

    This is the same for all Poodle cross breeds such as a Cockapoo, Maltpoo, Labradoodle, Goldendoodle, Schnoodle, Yorkipoo, Pomapoo, Shihpoo – the list goes on…

    What treatment is available for Addison’s disease in dogs?

    If your dogs adrenal glands have stoped working, clinical signs and a ACTH stimulation test shows that Addison’s disease is the diagnosis, then in order to stop this life threatening illness, immediate treatment is required.

    There are two stages of treatment for Addison’s disease depending on the severity of the situation. Most dogs will require in-hospital treatment for dehydration and salt imbalances using fluid therapy and intravenous medication. Once stabilised, your dog will require lifelong treatment with hormone replacement medication.

    When hypoadrenocorticism in dogs is severe, the only way to treat Addison’s disease is with cortisol-like drugs and drugs to neutralize the effects of potassium on the heart. 

    Addison’s disease and life-long medication

    This involves the administration of hormones and can be given to your dog in two forms;

    1. Via Zycortal injections. These are given approximately once a month and are injected under your dogs skin. This medication replaces the mineralocorticoid deficiency and helps your dog to maintain their salt and fluid levels. Your vet will closely monitor the amount of medication they are given, as this may change depending on your dogs health and age.
    2. Via Prednisolone tablets. These pills can be given to your dog on a daily basis. This medication replaces the glucocorticoid deficiency and enables your dog to respond to stress and infections efficiently. During a period of stress, such as a change in circumstance or illness, your dog may need an increased dose of Prednisolone to help them cope with this. 

    Please remember that just because your dog has been diagnosed with Addison’s disease does not mean that it can not lead a happy, healthy life. Some owners find the prospect of looking after a dog with Addison’s disease overwhelming, but providing they are under veterinary care, most dogs continue with their daily routines, albeit at a slower and more stress free pace.

    What diet is best for a dog with Addison’s disease?

    As responsible Cavapoo owners, we want to do all that we can to prevent our dogs from falling ill. And whilst there are some excellent medical treatments available to help dogs live with Addison’s disease, there are some natural solutions that can aid the scientific ones further.

    Some people recommend serving your dog up home cooked meals or placing them on a raw food diet. This way you are only feeding your dog whole foods that are not filled with additives or preservatives. If this is something that you are interested in trying, then you should make sure that you consult with your veterinarian first for advice.

    For more information including advice on the different types of wet and dry options, please see our blog on what is the best food for a Cavapoo.

    What is the cost of treating a dog with Addison’s disease?

    The cost of diagnosing Addison’s disease varies, depending on the degree to which the dog’s symptoms confound the diagnostic process. After all labwork, X-Rays, ECGs and ACTH stimulation testing does not comes cheap. Dogs with a requirement for intensive care during the diagnostic process will invariably amass higher veterinary bills.

    In order for your dog to live a healthy life with Addison’s disease, it will require life-long treatment. This again can be costly, especially if you have a big breed, as most medicines are calculated based on the weight of the dog.

    Frequent ongoing examinations are often required to ensure your dog is responding well to treatment and then there are the costs of medication, plus the veterinarian’s consultation bill to factor in too!

    On average it costs around $2,400 per year (for the life of your dog) for the ongoing treatment of Addison’s disease, which should cover your dogs injections, steroids and blood tests.

    Although some insurers will cover you for Addison’s disease (see below) another option to help with treatment is to ask your veterinarian if there are lower-priced medications that can work the same as their more expensive counterparts. In addition, to help alleviate the cost of your veterinarian’s treatment, it might help to ask if they do any pet payment plans that might make paying for it seem less overwhelming.

    Many veterinarians are willing to help their patient’s find affordable treatment solutions for their dogs and there are also a number of great online Addison’s disease forums, where groups share information about the disease as well as suggestions for reducing costs.

    Is Addison’s disease covered by pet insurance?

    Pet health insurance is one option to help control the costs for Addison’s disease. However, in order to qualify you would need to have obtained your health insurance before your dog became ill, as most insurers will not cover you for existing conditions. Therefore we recommend purchasing insurance for your dog the minute you take ownership.

    To find out more please see our guide to Cavapoo puppy insurance.

    Addison’s disease – FAQs

    How common is Addison’s disease in dogs?

    Thankfully, this condition is rare, and the majority of dogs with Addison’s disease go on to have a good to excellent prognosis once the diagnosis is made.

    What is an Addisonian crisis?

    Sometimes this condition suddenly becomes much more serious, with your dog suddenly becoming very weak, experiencing severe vomiting and diarrhoea, an increased thirst and sometimes collapse. This is called an Addisonian crisis and is considered to be a medical emergency. Immediate hospitalization and supportive treatment will be needed to ensure that your dog is back up on their paws. It is important to note, that dogs that are diagnosed with secondary Addison’s disease, are less likely to have an Addisonian crisis.

    At what age do dogs get Addison’s disease?

    Addison’s disease is usually diagnosed in young to middle-aged female dogs, from around the age of four to six years. For secondary Addison’s disease, diagnosis of hypoadrenocorticism generally occurs amongst middle aged dogs. With the appropriate treatment for Addison’s disease administered, your dog can go on to live a long and happy life.

    Is Addison’s disease in dogs fatal?

    Addison’s disease is easily treated with medication, providing it is diagnosed quickly. As your dog relies on their steroids to regulate their internal organs and body systems, without them, your dog’s body will quickly deteriorate and become life threatening. This can lead to serious complications, an addisonian crisis and in the worst case scenario, even death.

    How long do dogs live with Addison’s disease?

    Providing you understand the implications of the disease ‘hypoadrenocorticism’, and seek the correct diagnosis and treatment, most dogs with Addison’s go on to live to full life expectancy.

    Conclusion

    Whilst we have done our best to explain all there is to know about Addison’s disease, it is important to note that it is still relatively uncommon in dogs, typically affecting young to middle-aged female dogs.

    If you have been given the diagnosis of Addison’s disease for your dog then this condition can often seem overwhelming at first, both financially and emotionally. But please remember that if properly treated, your dog can live for just as long and be just as happy as any other cute and cuddly Cavapoo .

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