Addison's Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Addison's Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is Canine Addison's Disease?

Addison's disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is a condition that affects dogs when their adrenal glands do not produce enough hormones. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones that regulate important bodily functions such as blood pressure, electrolyte balance, and the body's response to stress.

In dogs with Addison's disease, the adrenal glands are unable to produce enough hormones, which can lead to a range of symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, weight loss, and dehydration. The condition can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease

Dog Addison’s Disease symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the disease and the individual dog, but some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Lethargy and lack of energy
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Muscle weakness and/or stiffness
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Depression or changes in behavior
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Collapse or shock (in severe cases)

These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, like Canine Cushing's Disease, so it is important to consult with a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Causes of Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Addison's disease is more common in female dogs than male dogs and is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged dogs, although it can occur in dogs of any age. The exact cause of the condition is not fully understood, but it is believed that the cause of the condition is the result of insufficient production of certain hormones by the adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands are small glands located near the kidneys that produce several hormones, including cortisol and aldosterone, which are essential for maintaining normal bodily functions.

In most cases of Addison's disease in dogs, the condition is caused by an immune-mediated destruction of the adrenal glands, which occurs when the dog's immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the adrenal gland tissue. This can lead to a progressive loss of adrenal gland function and a decrease in the production of cortisol and aldosterone.

Less commonly, Addison's disease in dogs can be caused by other factors, such as infection, trauma, tumors, or certain medications. In some cases, the cause of the disease may be unknown.

Addison's disease is more commonly seen in young to middle-aged female dogs, but can occur in dogs of any age, breed, or gender. Certain breeds, such as Standard Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, and West Highland White Terriers, may be at an increased risk for developing the disease.

Diagnosing Addison’s Disease

Addison's disease in dogs is diagnosed through a combination of clinical signs, physical examination, and laboratory tests.

The most common signs of Addison's disease in dogs include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, weight loss, and dehydration. However, these signs are not specific to Addison's disease and can also be caused by other conditions, so a veterinarian will need to perform further tests to confirm the diagnosis.

During the physical examination, the veterinarian may look for signs of dehydration, such as dry gums and sunken eyes, and may also check the dog's heart rate and blood pressure.

The laboratory tests used to diagnose Addison's disease in dogs include a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistry profile, and an ACTH stimulation test. 

The CBC can help identify changes in red and white blood cells that are common in dogs with Addison's disease, while the serum chemistry profile can detect imbalances in electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and chloride.

The ACTH stimulation test is the most specific diagnostic test for Addison's disease in dogs. It involves measuring the dog's cortisol levels before and after receiving an injection of ACTH, a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. In dogs with Addison's disease, the adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol in response to the ACTH injection.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment for Addison's disease in dogs usually involves lifelong replacement therapy with oral glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. Regular monitoring and adjustment of medication dosages are necessary to ensure that the dog's hormone levels remain within a normal range.

How to Treat Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Addison's disease in dogs is a lifelong condition that requires ongoing treatment. The goal of treatment is to replace the deficient hormones, primarily cortisol and aldosterone, which are necessary for normal bodily functions.

Treatment typically involves the administration of oral medications, such as prednisone or hydrocortisone, to replace the cortisol, and a medication called fludrocortisone to replace the aldosterone. These medications must be given on a regular schedule, usually once or twice daily, for the rest of the dog's life.

Looking for a more holistic approach? See our guide on the top natural treatment’s for Addison’s disease in dogs

The dosage of these medications may need to be adjusted over time based on the dog's response to treatment and monitoring of their hormone levels. It is important to follow the veterinarian's instructions carefully regarding medication dosages and administration.

In some cases, dogs with Addison's disease may also require fluid therapy, either intravenously or subcutaneously, to help maintain proper hydration levels and electrolyte balance. This is especially important if the dog is experiencing a crisis, which can occur when their hormone levels drop too low and can be life-threatening.

Dogs with Addison's disease should also be monitored regularly by a veterinarian, including blood work to check hormone levels and electrolytes, to ensure that their condition is properly managed and to detect any complications or changes in their health.


With appropriate treatment and management, most dogs with Addison's disease can lead normal and happy lives. However, it is important to follow the veterinarian's instructions carefully and to be vigilant about monitoring the dog's health and responding to any changes or concerns.