The Great Imitator

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The Great Imitator
Mill Road Vet

The Great Imitator

Joey can't cope with stress! Find out why in this article written by our vet Caris Teo





Addison’s disease is a common name for “hypoadrenocorticism”. This is caused by a decrease in the production of hormones from the adrenal glands in dogs. These hormones are essential to help dogs cope with stress, regulate their metabolism and also regulate the body’s mineral levels.

Addison’s disease can be caused by the body’s own immune system destroying at least 80% of the areas in the adrenal gland responsible for producing the hormones. Dogs may also experience Addison’s disease if there are complications from treatment of Cushing’s disease, which is the opposite of Addison’s disease – an over production of stress hormones.

Dogs of any age, breed or sex can be affected, but Addison’s disease is most commonly seen in female dogs that are young to middle aged.

Addison’s disease is often called “the great imitator” because its symptoms mimic other diseases; making it a challenging diagnosis. Affected dogs can initially be tired, weak, not interested in food, and some may be vomiting and have diarrhea. However, they can also seem fairly normal some of the time as the symptoms can wax and wane with stress.  

Eventually, some dogs will present in an Addisonian crisis. They are collapsed and are very sick because the body has been depleted of the hormones that are usually produced from the adrenal glands; They cannot adapt to the requirements needed for their body to cope with stress, and they can have severe mineral imbalances which can also cause disruption to the rate and rhythm of their heart.

This was the unfortunate case for Joe, a lovely 6 year old Cocker Spaniel (pictured above with his feline brother). Over the course of several weeks he just wasn’t right and became very sick. Joe had abnormalities in his physical exam and blood results that made us suspect Addison’s disease.  Additional tests can include an abdominal ultrasound and chest radiographs to rule out other causes for these clinical signs. Addison’s disease can be diagnosed by a special blood test called the ACTH stimulation test. This was run for Joe and the results confirmed the diagnosis of Addison’s disease.

The good news for Joe is that Addison’s disease is treatable. Treatment involves giving Joe daily tablets to replace the hormones that are depleted in Addison’s disease. At the initial stages, blood work will be done weekly to monitor the response to the treatment, but once stabilised, these tests can be repeated every 3-6 months. Some dogs may need an increase in the medication to cope with times of stress.

In Joe’s case, his mum will do all she can to make sure that Joe’s life is as stress-free as possible -  even slow cooking chicken breast for his dinner every night!

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