A Primer On Addison's Disease

In dogs, the main cause of Addison’s disease is an immune process.  

Addison’s disease can sometimes develop as a side effect of overtreatment for Cushing’s disease, or it can be seen after suddenly stopping long-term steroid treatment without a gradual withdrawal period.

A Primer On Addison's Disease


The adrenal glands are small glands that are located next to the kidneys and produce certain hormones that regulate normal body functions.  These hormones include cortisol and aldosterone, which are both essential to health.

In Addison’s disease, which is also called hypoadrenocorticism, the adrenal glands don’t produce enough of these hormones.

What does it look like

Dogs can show a variety of different signs and symptoms of Addison’s disease, including lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, lack of appetite, shaking, and weakness.  

Bouts of illness typically “wax and wane.”  

Addison’s disease is sometimes called the “Great Imitator” because its signs are usually vague and can mirror a variety of medical disorders. Dogs can intermittently improve with supportive treatments, but the signs will return once treatment is stopped.

Dogs that suddenly start vomiting and having diarrhea and become weak, faint and collapse may be in what is called an Addisonian crisis.  

This is an emergency, and you should seek veterinary attention for your pet immediately.

How is it diagnosed

Diagnosis is based on your pet’s history, results of a physical examination, and blood and urine tests.  Additional, more specialized blood tests are used to confirm the diagnosis.  X-rays or ultrasound are sometimes done if needed to rule out other causes of your pet’s clinical signs.

How is it treated

Addison’s disease in your dog can be treated with oral or injectable medications.  

Your vet will monitor your dog’s progress very carefully, especially at the beginning of treatment.  Follow-up blood testing is necessary to adjust medication dosages.  Medication is needed for life and may need to be increased during periods of stress, such as traveling or boarding.

Related articles:
Addison’s Disease in a Chihuahua: Kermit’s Story
Canine Addison’s Disease Awareness: Valentino’s Story

Further reading:
Addison’s Disease in Dogs – Overview

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