Baxter was rushed to the ER vet in a state that I can only describe as the nearest to death I've ever seen an animal. He had gotten deathly thin over the span of a few days, his gums were pale, he could not lift his head, and he would not give kisses. I cried and cried. I've never been more devastated in my life. I thought I was going to lose him. The vets did not know what was wrong with him.
By some stroke of luck, a new vet who'd just graduated thought that it looked like an Addisonian crisis, and so he sent off tests. They came back positive and as soon as we knew what it was, Baxter was treated for an Addison's disease crisis. But it was touch and go because Baxter's electrolyte levels were so off that they could have damaged his organs. His body looked like it wanted to give up. He survived the night and when I visited him the next day, despite being unable to move his hind legs I took him outside to sit in the sun, he smiled and ate some chicken from my hand. It was the first thing he'd kept down in about a week. That's when I knew he was going to make it.
Almost 2 years since diagnosis and Baxter is doing okay. He is on 1.25mg of prednisone every day and 1.7ml zycortil every 28 days. These are hormones he needs to replace cortisone and aldosterone which his body no longer creates.
We had no idea Baxter was sick. He was diagnosed at 3 years old and had most likely suffered from it his whole life.
The only indications we had were the following:
- 3-4 ER vet trips a year for vommitting, diarreaha, and lethargy - told he had eaten something dodgy, sent home with anti-biotics
- Diagnosed with very faint heart murmur at 9 weeks old (never since been diagnosed by any vet - Addison's can make the heart beat irregular).
So what is Addison's Disease?
Addison's Disease is an endocrine disorder. It is a disease which affects the adrenal and/or pituitary glands. In dogs Addison's disease often onsets because of autoimmune issue where the body's immune system attacks it's own cells in the adrenal glands as if they are a foreign body. In some dogs the pituitary gland may be affected by other causes such as a brain tumour.
Addison's causes a deficiency in cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol plays a role in dealing with stress and aldosterone regulates electrolytes and water in the body.
When in an Addisonian crisis a dog's potassium level is elevated (because aldosterone usually manages the amount of potassium that leaves the body through urine) and their sodium levels are very low. The difference between this level and normal levels is so drastic that death can occur very quickly if not diagnosed early enough.
Many dogs are only diagnosed with Addison's on crisis, the following are symptoms to look out for:
inability to move
hind leg lameness
Addison's can be genetically inherited and so it is more common in the following breeds:
Portuguese Water Dogs
West Highland White Terriers
German Shorthaired Pointers
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
English Cocker Spaniels
For more information on Canine Addison's disease go here: canineaddisons.org/about-addisons/