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What is it? Addison’s disease is the slowdown or absence of activity of the tiny adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. The adrenals are responsible for the production of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol is commonly called the “stress hormone,” but it is also essential to many major actions throughout the body. Aldosterone regulates the body’s sodium, potassium, and chloride levels, as well as blood volume. These hormones are necessary to maintain homeostasis (metabolic equilibrium) within the body to survive.


Although research has shown there is some genetic link, the cause of Addison’s is unknown. It is considered to be an autoimmune disease, and there is some indication that it is on the rise. Fortunately it is a rare occurrence in the Australian Terrier, but all dogs are at risk, including mixed-breeds.  


What are the symptoms?

  • listlessness
  • trembling
  • refusal to eat
  • vomiting & diarrhea

The problem is these signs can be misdiagnosed and treated as other ailments. Also, they often present sporadically.

The real danger is that without diagnosis and treatment, the dog will have an “Addisonian crisis.” As the hormone levels decrease, potassium level rises, sodium level drops, and there is not enough cortisol to help cope with stresses—even small, normal ones. Major cellular functions are disturbed throughout the body. This can quickly lead to shock and complete collapse. If a crisis occurs, the dog must receive immediate treatment for electrolyte rebalancing and replacement of deficient glucocorticoids.

Not all veterinarians actively monitor for Addison’s, therefore it is crucial that we as dog owners be diligent in our observation and knowledge of possible diseases. Addison’s is easily confirmed by the “ACTH stimulation” blood test. 

The good news: After diagnosis and replacement treatment, it is possible for your Addison’s dog to live a full and healthy life. It takes a shot to replace aldosterone approximately once a month, which can be given at home subcutaneously (just under the skin), as well as a daily maintenance oral dose of prednisone and periodic monitoring of electrolytes. It is amazing to see them bounce back to their old selves shortly after beginning treatment, assuming the disease has been caught in time. While the monthly shot can be expensive, especially if you have a large dog, there has been great success in giving a lower dose amount.

Take the time to read the literature, and inform yourself regarding the work being done with Addison’s dogs. It will help you manage the treatment for your dog, and may save you some money too. See the website listed below for more information. 

Support: is a website created by a wonderful group of people with dogs affected with Addison’s disease. A nonprofit organization, it provides an invaluable amount of information and support. The group also maintains a Facebook page and a Yahoo group where questions are answered and support provided. This is an indispensable source for learning more about the disease and how to care for your Addison’s dogs. While browsing the site, be sure to read this article, along with the many stories about dogs with Addison’s who have survived.

Every “body” is different—you need to learn to manage your dog’s Addison’s in order for you both to enjoy a worry-free future together. —Caren Holtby and Sherrill Yates,  Australian Terrier Club of America, February 2015 AKC Gazette

Note: While Addison’s disease is rare in the Australian Terrier, it is important for the Australian Terrier Club of America to monitor all diseases occurring within our breed.  If you have an Aussie with any diagnosed disease or condition, please report it to our Health Committee using the Health Incident Report form.
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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($12.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.
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