Canine Addison's Disease FAQ

Q. The electrolytes are normal, can it still be Addison's?

A. Unfortunately many vets don't recognize that a normal sodium and potassium level don't rule out Addison's.

I assume your vet is planning to determine whether your dog has Atypical or Secondary Addison's at this point. The difference is where the problem originates. With Secondary AD, it is the failure of the pituitary to secrete ACTH (which tells the adrenals to work) that causes the problem. With Atypical Addison's, the pituitary is working fine - it's the adrenals that fail to work properly. They can tell which is which by measuring the levels of ACTH in the body.

It is rather an academic point, since the treatment is the same regardless - replace the glucocorticoids that the adrenals are failing to produce. However, if the adrenals are not working properly, then there is a greater chance that it will eventually turn into Primary Addison's. Primary AD means that another zone in the adrenals also fails and no longer secretes mineralocorticoids, which is what controls the sodium and potassium levels in the body.

However, we have dogs on the list who started out Atypical and quickly progressed to Primary and we also have dogs who are Atypical and have stayed that way for years. I am unaware of any certainty in predicting which cases will progress to full-blown AD. However, simply monitoring the serum sodium and potassium levels will warn you if he begins to progress to Primary and needs supplemental mineralocorticoids.

Anyway, you are right to be happy that it's Addison's and not something untreatable. Once you get the right level of medications, you should find your "old" dog is back. My Standard Poodle Cosette lived with Addison's for 8 of her 9 years and had a wonderful life including Obedience and Agility trials, tracking, Therapy dog visits and lots of retrieving those critters that she hunted down on her own.

(courtesy Mary Ann)

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