When you first decide to get a dog from a breeder, you know going in that you are going to have to pay a hefty price for that dog. I have told the story about getting my dog Finn who is a Labradoodle 10 years ago from a breeder in Alberta.
It was one of the best days of my life, what I didn’t tell you was, that when Finn was 8 mos old he got very sick and almost died.
Luckily we live in a city that has one of the best Vet Colleges in Canada. We rushed him to the hospital and 5 days later got a diagnosis of Addison’s Disease. I had heard of Addison’s before in humans, so the next question out of my mouth was what is Addison’s Disease in dogs? Our biggest concern was, what does it mean for our boy Finn.
We went away for 5 days on a quick vacation and left our 2 boys (Finn & Boo) with this lovely lady, that cares for dogs and lets them stay in her house with her. She came highly recommended to us.
After we got back from our trip, Finn at first seemed fine, but within 2 days he clearly wasn’t. His head was shaking he was lethargic, wouldn’t eat or drink and appeared to be very sick. It was really scary.
We rushed him to the U of S Animal Hospital and waited. They came back to us and had all these startling test results. His temperature was super high, his red and blood cell count was extremely low. The Vet started saying that they thought maybe he had leukemia and that he was very sick boy. He of course had to stay in the hospital.
We came the next day to visit him and it was just heartbreaking. This little baby of ours looked so sick.
They told us that at midnight the night before, they had to put him in an ice bath to bring his very high fever down or he would have died.
At this point they are still thinking that he has cancer. They took bone marrow from his hip so they could test him for Leukemia. Once that test was done we got the results back, that it was negative for cancer. I guess that was a bit of a relief for us, but the worry was they still really had no idea what was wrong with him.
The really tough thing is we have this fabulous puppy that is 8 mos old and every test that they do was just cha ching. For a brief moment, you wonder how much money can we spend, but the reality is, it really didn’t matter how much it cost. We were not going to give up trying to find out what was really wrong with him.
Every time they wanted to run another test, they first needed to ensure that we approve the cost of the tests. Of course our answer was always yes, keep looking for answers.
There was no way that our beautiful 8 mos old chocolate Labradoodle was going to die just because of money.
4 days in and they finally figured out that FINN was in an Addisonian crisis. Phew an answer. But what is that?
Now that we had a diagnosis, we needed to know what that even meant. A dog that has Addison’s, generally this disease isn’t discovered until they have an Addisonian crisis event.
This event is a life-threatening condition, that is caused by an insufficient amount of adrenal hormones. What that really means is that the adrenal glands stop working properly and they aren’t producing enough cortisol in his body. These hormones are responsible for helping control salt, water and the sugar balance in their body.
Stress causes the body to produce more cortisol to help deal with this stress. Unfortunately a dog that has Addison’s, their body doesn’t produce enough cortisol to counteract that stress level. This can cause many symptoms like dehydration, depression, weakness, and a slow irregular heartbeat.
When dogs get this sick, it can be common for blood tests to show changes in their white blood cell count (WBC), this is caused by the cortisol. This change is called stress leukogram. The change in WBC can be an indication or clue that it is Addison’s.
What happened to FINN
Once they told us that Finn did in fact have Addison’s, they started a treatment regiment. He was given steroids and antibiotics over a period of a few days. Each day he steadily started to improve.
The poor guy had shaved spots on his hind body from where they took the bone marrow, and shaved legs from the multiple IV’s. The great thing was as least, we were able to visit him every day in the hospital in the visitors lounge. They would put us in the lounge and then bring him in to see us.
I’ll be honest, we pretty much just hugged and kissed him to death. He looked so small and frail. All he really wanted was for me to rub his head and cuddle him.
Each day we went to see him, he started looking better and better. Finally, the day came and they said he was good enough to go home. He was released from the hospital and we were able to finally take him home.
Living with Addison’s
Once Finn came home, it was a slow and steady road back to being a healthy happy dog again. We were just so happy that he bounced back without any long term effects, from his crisis. He has been able to live a relatively normal dog life.
We wanted to know what had caused Finn to get so sick, so fast. After doing some of our own research, we realized that leaving the boys for 5 days with a dog sitter, had stressed Finn out so much, that it was the cause of his Addisonian crisis.
You never want to find out that something you have done caused your dog to get so sick. Unfortunately, you cannot predict or even imagine, that your 8 mos old puppy, could have a disease like this. Even though leaving him caused the crisis, there was just no way we could have known that this would happen.
For this reason, I thought it was important to tell Finn’s story.
Finn was at least lucky enough, not to have to go on life long medication for his Addison’s, which is not the norm for dogs with Addison’s. Most dogs that have a life-threatening crisis, end up having to take an injectable mineralocorticoid (usually DOCP) for the rest of their lives.
The Dr’s still don’t understand, how Finn once released from the hospital, showed no signs of Addison’s and why he didn’t need to stay on life long medication. We just look at it as a gift, that is completely unexplainable.
Knowing that stress was the main cause of why Finn got so sick, to this day we have never left him alone at any type of kennel situation. We always use an in home dog sitter if we need to go somewhere that we can’t take the dogs. Keeping him in his own home and in the same routine really does work for him.
Even though we were able to limit him from getting stressed, we have had 2 other small bouts of Addisonian like symptoms. Nothing that was even close to the life-threatening situation that he had when he was a puppy. These little bouts, were managed quickly with a pill form of steroids like Prednisone.
After years of trying to understand Addison’s I also did find that some dog breeds have a predisposition for Addison’s Disease.
Many of these dog breeds are very popular breeds like: Standard Poodles, West highland Terriers, Great Danes, Bearded Collies, Portuguese Water Dogs, and soft coated Wheaten Terriers, just to name a few.
Of course Finn is the mix of a Standard Poodle and a Labrador, so his predisposition comes from the Standard Poodle side.
Finn is now 10 years old and in the past year, unfortunately has had to go on permanent medication, to control the onset of his Addisonian bouts. His symptoms came on and we were able to treat him quickly, before it led to a crisis.
These symptoms that started over a year ago, made it impossible for him to keep his food down and he started to lose weight. The cause of this type of Addison’s issue leads him to have inflammation inside his body and the only way to control that is to put him on a pill form of Prednisone (2 x 5 mg), that he gets pills every second day.
For him, there is only a few side effects of the medication that we have noticed and they are excessive thirst and hunger. These are not life changing side effects, we just make sure that he gets all the water he needs and is kept away from any stressful situation.
To this day, Finn is the most cuddly, and loving dog a person could ask for. I truly believe that he is the type of dog that feels things so deeply, that over his lifetime, has warranted his nickname of “A Delicate Flower.” That is our boy, the million dollar doodle, who just wants to be cuddled.
I hope this post helps answer that tough question of What is Addison’s Disease in Dogs and hopefully I have given you some very important information, that will allow you to have a better understanding of what this disease in our dogs really is.