Addison’s Disease in Dogs [A Comprehensive Guide]

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / October 23, 2017

addison's disease in dogs feverWhether your pet has already been diagnosed with Addison’s disease in dogs or they’re just showing symptoms, it’s safe to assume that you are in full-blown, fur-mom, freakout mode. While caring for a pet with any disease will always be an adjustment, we’re here to tell you that Addison’s disease is 100% manageable. In fact, your dog can live a long, happy life if it’s caught in time and properly treated. Keep reading to find out:

  • About Addison’s disease in dogs
  • Why it happens and the different types of Addison’s
  • What are the symptoms
  • What the vet will do about it
  • Prevention and treatment
  • High risk breeds

Addison’s Disease in Dogs – The Basics

Addison’s disease, also called Hypoadrenocorticism, is quite uncommon in dogs. However, when it does strike, it tends to affect young to middle-aged females with an average age of four years old. With this said, it’s good to be aware of the warning signs as Addison’s can affect any dog at any age.

While the disease is 100% manageable with medication, it can be fatal if left untreated. If you see any of the symptoms listed in this article, act now!

What is Addison’s Disease in Dogs?

addison's disease in dogs adrenal glandAddison’s disease is caused by damage to your dog’s adrenal glands. These glands produce hormones that keep essential hormones in balance. Two of the most important hormones that these glands make are called cortisol and aldosterone.

  • Cortisol handles sugar, fat, and protein metabolism. It’s also responsible for part of the dog’s response to stress.
  • Aldosterone balances the salt and potassium in your dog’s body. It plays a big part in balancing both of these substances, especially when the dog is stressed.

When these glands aren’t working correctly, neither of these hormones are made in the right amounts, and the hormone imbalances in your pet cause the symptoms and dangerous problems that come with Addison’s disease.

Possible Causes of Addison’s Disease

Not all the causes of Addison’s disease in dogs are known yet, but the most common ones are genetic; often it’s the result of an immune disorder that makes the dog’s body attack its own organs, also known as immune-mediated destruction.

Other cases of Addison’s may be the result of different disease side-effects, like issues in the adrenal glands from rare infections like histoplasmosis or blastomycosis.  Sometimes, it’s only a problem in the dog’s pituitary gland that stops it from producing the hormone that starts the production of cortisol in the body: ACTH.

Primary, Secondary, and Treatment-Induced Addison’s Disease

The most common type of Addison’s disease in dogs is called Primary adrenocortical insufficiency. In this kind of Addison’s disease, the root of the problem is the adrenal glands – every part of the adrenal glands stop working.

addison's disease in dogs pituitary glandNext, you have Secondary hypoadrenocorticism which instead of the adrenal glands, affects the pituitary glands. The pituitary gland produces ACTH which sends the signal to the adrenal glands, telling them to make their hormones.

If the pituitary isn’t able to make ACTH, the adrenal glands stop producing cortisol.

When your dog has secondary Addison’s disease, you won’t have to worry about an Addisonian crisis (symptoms of a bad salt/potassium balance), and will only need a prescription to replace the cortisol that’s not being made anymore.

Finally, we have iatrogenic Addison’s disease, which is a form of the disease that comes about due to prescription drugs.

Iatrogenic Addison’s disease usually happens if a dog takes steroid medication for a long duration – and then comes off the medication too fast. When dogs take steroids, hormones levels increase so the adrenal glands stop producing.

This is why it’s important to consult a veterinarian when stopping steroid use. They will customize a plan that will wean your dog off of steroids in a healthy way. When you stop steroid use right away, the adrenal glands may not be able to start up again.

Look Out for these Symptoms of Addison’s Disease

The typical symptoms of Addison’s can go from mild to serious:

Stomach problems

symptoms of addison's disease in dogs stomachYour dog could suffer painful stomach problems; from vomiting or diarrhea to losing appetite and even anorexia (weight loss). Often, dogs will get symptoms that go from mild to more intense and back again– giving the impression that the animal is getting better on their own, even though the disease is progressing.


Dehydration and hormone imbalance can manifest as exhaustion and muscular fatigue in dogs with Addison’s. A big tell-tale sign of Addison’s disease in dogs is increased thirst (polydipsia) and urination (polyuria.

Addisonian Crisis

Sadly, dogs aren’t usually diagnosed with Addison’s disease until they have suffered an Addisonian crisis; a medical emergency that can involve shock from a sodium and potassium imbalance and the collapse of your pet’s circulation system.

Often dogs in Addisonian crisis appear to the veterinarian as very sick animals; they are:

  • Extremely dehydrated
  • Tired (lethargic)
  • Physically weak
  • Shivering
  • Sometimes in heart failure

How is Addison’s Disease in Dogs Diagnosed?

Addison’s disease is commonly referred to as “the great imitator” due to its wide range of vague symptoms. Because of this, it’s very possible that your veterinarian will run a slew of tests to rule out other possible diagnoses. If and when you test for Addison’s, your veterinarian will confirm the diagnosis using an ACTH stimulation test.

diagnosing addison's disease in dogsThe veterinarian will usually order a chemistry profile and blood count to check for things like:

  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  • Elevated creatinine
  • Decreased blood sugar
  • Anemia

If the results of the blood work suggest that your dog has Addison’s, then an ACTH challenge test is ordered to make sure. As you might assume, an ACTH challenge test is done by injecting the animal with none other than ACTH. A healthy dog will respond by showing increased cortisol levels. If there isn’t an increase in cortisol the veterinarian knows that it’s Addison’s disease.

Of course, if your dog is in the middle of what seems to be an Addisonian crisis, the vet will just treat it as such to be safe, and then perform an ACTH stimulation test after the fact.

Preventing Addison’s Disease in Dogs

While there’s nothing we can do to avoid cases of Addison’s disease caused by the dog’s genes – there are ways to prevent adrenal gland damage from other things that can end up causing Addison’s:

  • Keep your pet from eating dangerous drugs or chemicals
  • Avoid any pressure or impact to the sensitive area around the kidneys
  • Follow your vet’s instructions carefully if your dog is prescribed steroid medications

In other words: anything that damages the dog’s adrenal glands can cause Addison’s disease. Beyond the three ways listed, there isn’t much else that can be done to prevent Addison’s disease in dogs other than monitoring your pup’s health and behavior. Remember, with Addison’s, time is of the essence so don’t wait to bring your furbaby to the vet.


If your dog is in Addisonian crisis, the vet will give intravenous fluids like dexamethasone (a hormone), and sometimes glucose (sugar) to get your dog back on track.

The standard, long-term treatment of Addison’s in dogs involves using the drugs Florinef (fludrocortisone) or a newer treatment option, Percorten-V (DOCP), to replace the essential hormones that aren’t being made by your dog’s body anymore.

Percorten-V (DOCP) is long-acting and only has to be administered once every twenty-five days. It’s been shown to offer much better results than Florinef. However, if your dog is prescribed Percorten-V (DOCP), they will probably also be prescribed a steroid called Prednisone that will be given on a daily basis.

Once the animal’s hormone levels have returned to normal, your pet will only need to be rechecked 2-3 times per year so your veterinarian can adjust the dose as necessary.

Managing Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Under the right medical care, Addison’s dogs have a good prognosis and won’t have any disease-related problems that could shorten their lifespan.

The hardest challengemanaging addison's disease in dogss are: staying on top of medications and always being on the look-out for signs of problems. Your pet’s blood will need to be checked with regular tests – weekly (in the beginning) but then just 2-4 times per year after hormone levels have returned to normal.

You know your pet better than anyone so if they seem a bit off, make an appointment.

High-Risk Breeds

Any dog can get Addison’s disease – it doesn’t matter which breed, age or sex, but some dog breeds seem to have a higher risk:

  • Bearded Collie
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Standard Poodle
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Basset Hound
  • Bearded Collie
  • Great Dane
  • Rottweiler
  • Springer Spaniels: English Springer Spaniel and Welsh Springer Spaniel
  • Saint Bernard
  • Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • West Highland white terrier

If you own any one of these breeds, you’re going to need to be extra careful regarding Addison’s disease symptoms.

It’s Going To Be Okay!

Thanks to modern medicine, having an Addison’s dog is no longer a death sentence. Your dog can continue to live a happy, healthy life filled with yummy treats and all the fun in the world. As a pet parent, the beginning will be an adjustment so do thorough research so you understand your little one’s diagnosis, join a support group where you can ask questions to other pet parents, set reminders for medications (with our busy lives, it’s easy to forget), and lastly, don’t forget to shower your dog with love. You got this!

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for