VCA Desert Animal Hospital

Addison's Disease

By Dr. Gail Cuttler
Published: June 04, 2014

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My 5-year-old Standard Poodle has occasional bouts of vomiting, not eating, and low energy. It goes away by the time we want to take her to the vet. Any ideas?
By Dr. Gail Cutler
If you have not done so, it would be a good idea to discuss her history with your veterinarian. A blood panel, urinalysis, and fecal sample could help rule out a number of problems.
One potential problem is 'Addison's disease'. This is an often under-diagnosed disease because of the waxing and waning symptoms you describe. It also affects humans, including former President John F. Kennedy.
Addison's disease is a lack of adrenal hormones. The adrenal gland produces glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids to be ready for the 'fight or flight' situation. They also are responsible for balancing electrolytes.
This lack of adrenal hormones is due to destruction of layers of the adrenal gland. The cause of this destruction is unknown, but some breeds, including Standard Poodles, are more susceptible.
A basic blood panel of a dog with Addison's disease may indicate signs of kidney failure, as well as electrolyte imbalances and low blood glucose levels. A urinalysis may show dilute urine, and it is important to check for certain parasites.
The only definitive test for Addison's disease is called an ACTH stimulation test. This is a blood test that directly assesses adrenal system function.
If left untreated, Addison's disease can result in what is known as an 'Addisonian crisis'. The pet can collapse in shock and not survive. Many dogs with Addison's disease are not diagnosed until an Addisonian crisis.
In an Addisonian crisis, intravenous fluids are given to balance electrolytes, with an injection of glucocorticoids after an ACTH stimulation test is completed. If indicated, an injection of mineralocorticoids may also be given at that time.
Long-term treatment for Addison's disease is daily medication or a monthly injection to replace the missing adrenal hormones.
With a timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and careful monitoring, dogs with Addison's disease can go on to live a long and happy life.

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