Addison's Disease –
November 17, 2003 – Last week
I raised the issue of Addison's disease (see
the story) and there
was a tremendous response. Many people posted comments about
their experiences with the disease. I also received
many private notes about Addison's Danes. Some people
talked about the shock and pain of losing a Dane to AD. Others talked
about living happily with an AD-affected Dane because the disease
can be managed after diagnosis. One note really caught
my attention, though. The person wrote:
just visited DaDane and read all the enetation comments. I am mortified!
Almost all of the symptoms that are described in the various messages
are symptoms that my Dane has been experiencing, including the
strange pattern of fur he has in several places. There is also the
waning symptoms, including GI symptoms, thirst, appetite, and signs
of renal failure. Someone mentioned their dog's potassium and liver
enzyme levels. I don't remember the exact numbers, but I do recall
that those numbers have been off in my dog for quite awhile. Our
has had no answers, but I am
taking my Dane back to him tomorrow for
If you have an Addison's Dane, you
and your dog may be able to help our breed!
contact JP Yousha, chair of the Great Dane Club of America's
Health & Welfare Committee
via email, or by phone
at (432) 684-8940.
Confidentiality is assured, as all
dogs will be assigned numbers for the study.
What is Addison's Disease?
Addison's disease, simply put, is a failure of the adrenal glands.
It is thought to be largely hereditary, and efforts are underway
project to explore the genetics and heritability of the disease
in the Great Dane breed. It's been reported
that Great Danes are among the top 5 breeds associated with
this too often under diagnosed adrenal gland disorder. The good
news is that when Addison's is discovered in time, the disease is
manageable. With proper treatment, AD-affected dogs can expect
to live a normal life. The bad news is that if left
disease can kill. Unfortunately it can be a very tricky disease
to recognize because the signs of Addison's mimic those of many
There are two basic types of Addison's disease: Primary
(Typical) Addison's and Atypical Addison's. With Primary
Addison's, the patient can slip
into an Addisonian crisis with little warning.
Below is the story of Tank, a Great Dane with Primary Addison's
disease who experienced an acute Addisonian Crisis:
Special Dog, A "Typical" Story
Tank was always special. There was something different about him
from the very first day I saw him. It was one of the things
that attracted us to him. I remember the first time he tried
to get me out of a bad mood. He'd always been a very
talkative dog, but that day he was just relentless. He wouldn't
stop growling and talking at me until I cheered up and got
over my funk. He even started playing the clown and doing
silly things to cheer me up. And the joy in his eyes, when
he saw he'd succeeded, was almost magical. From then
on it became his personal mission in life to cheer us up.
We bought Tank from a breeder in California on a show contract.
We didn't really care about showing him but the breeder
had high hopes for him. As he grew up, he developed into a magnificent
looking dog. However he never did make it to the show ring.
Not that it mattered to us. We had our wonderful boy. He was
so well behaved, trained so easily, was such a happy dog, had
such a zest for life, and was so handsome. We really could not
have asked for anything more.
had always been a rock solid eater. He was one of those eaters
you had to slow down for fear of bloat. He never left
anything in his bowl. We joked about him licking the shine
off the bowl. One day he left a little bit of food in his
breakfast. That was odd enough that I called the vet and took
the first available appointment, which was for 9:00 AM the
My wife, Carole, felt like I was over reacting a bit. But leaving
behind food was just not normal for him. We kept a close eye
on Tank that day, and when he completely refused his dinner
that night, we were both very worried. Over the course of that
day and night, Tank became more and more lethargic and weak.
Neither of us slept very much that night. Carole was up,
off and on, most of the night with Tank. And each time she
awoke, he was a little bit worse. Finally, at about 6:00 AM,
concerned enough to bring him downstairs to let him out and
give him a drink. He was so disoriented and weak that he fell
on the stairs. With help he managed to stumble out to the back
patio. But that was it. He collapsed on the cement patio, right
in front of the back door.
Tank was ice cold to the touch. Something very serious was
wrong. While we took turns getting dressed, Tank deteriorated
our eyes. He soiled himself and didn't even seem to know
it. All he could do was lie there, he couldn't even hold
his eyes open. We weren't sure he even knew we were there.
I had to pick Tank up and carry him to the car. We drove directly
to our vets, knowing they would be opening their doors just
as we got there.
At the vets, they could not find a pulse, nor
hear his heartbeat. When they tried to take blood, a thick blackish
oozed out. The mood turned very somber. It was pretty clear
Tank was not just at death's doorstep, he was halfway
through it. Carole and I were preparing ourselves for the loss
of another Dane. As veteran Dane owners we are used to their
passing "too soon," but Tank wasn't even
2 yet. It just wasn't fair; he had such a joy for life.
However, the evidence lying in front of us was hard to deny.
Tank was clearly almost dead.
It was so hard to accept. Barely 24 hours before, he had been
playful and seemingly healthy. We had had no clue there was
anything wrong. Images of him healthy and happy just a few
days before, kept flooding our minds. Images of him being goofy
acting the clown, of him talking a blue streak at us, of him
in training classes, so happy to show off his newly learned
skills. It was so difficult to see our boy, the dog with the
indomitable love of life, losing a battle we didn't even
Survival and Beyond
I know it sounds strange to say at this point, but despite the
emotional roller coaster we were on, we really were one of
the lucky ones. Our vet was familiar with Addison's and immediately
knew what was wrong with Tank. Rather than worrying about not
being able to get vitals, and spending lots of very precious
time trying to track down just what might be wrong, they started
treatment. While they got started the first of what would ultimately
be 7 units of IV fluids that day, and gave him an injection
of the steroid dexamethosone, I drove his blood sample over
to the lab. Not that what was in the vials looked anything
did survive that awful day in April. In fact Tank went home
with us that same day. And he is still with us today nearly
7 months later, and he's going strong. There are several reasons
why he lived. First, we fed our dogs on a strict schedule and
we watched them eat,
so we knew his eating habits and we immediately recognized
a change. Second, we went with our gut when it was telling
something was wrong. We kept a close eye on him and caught
on early as to how serious this was getting. Had we simply
to sleep and gotten up at the usual time, we almost certainly
would have wakened to find him dead. Third, we had a vet who
knew the disease, who recognized it right away and started
treatment immediately. And lastly, God was watching over Tank
and knew we weren't ready to let him go yet.
The events I have just described are common of the type of
Addison's Disease Tank has, which is known as Typical Addison's
What he went through is known as an Addisonian Crisis. Most
dogs that suffer a Crisis can go on to lead full happy lives,
if they can survive the crisis. The key is getting them the
immediate emergency treatment they need to get them through
the crisis. After that, they will need to be on medication
the rest of their lives. But they generally respond very well
Crisis is an emotional roller coaster. Anyone who goes through
one will have a story similar to ours, though the ending may vary,
and some of the minor details may be a bit different. If, like
us, they are lucky and their dog makes it through the crisis, they
will have a whole new set of issues and emotional hurdles to face.
It can be very difficult not to become overwhelmed by it all, or
to give up hope. It is important to pace yourself and not let the
emotions overrun you. Your dog will be depending on you and will
need your strength. Remember dogs are very sensitive to their
owner's emotional state. The more upbeat and life affirming you
can be for your dog, the better they will do. And the bottom line
is you can make it through to the other side to lead a happy and
full life with your AD Dane.
Over the next two weeks we'll take a closer
look at Addison's. We'll talk about the clinical symptoms, definitive
testing for the disorder (ACTH stimulation test), and current methods
of treatment. We'll also hear from some other people who have had,
or currently have, an Addison's Dane in their household. (See next
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