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 Created: 12/01/03


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– Gorgeous George, an Atypical AD Dane –

December 1, 2003 – For the past two weeks we've been discussing Addison's Disease (hypoadrenocorticism) in dogs. Canine Addison's is a potentially fatal adrenal disorder that occurs in certain predisposed breeds such as Great Danes. Other breeds affected are Portuguese Water Dogs, Standard Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, Bearded Collies, Basset Hounds and Rottweilers. Addison's is often misdiagnosed by veterinarians because symptoms frequently mimic those of other diseases. Fortunately Addison's Disease – if caught in time – is a condition that can be effectively managed, enabling affected dogs to lead normal, happy lives.

Types of Addison's Disease

Primary AD Symptoms:

Dogs with Primary Addison's often exhibit gastrointestinal problems, such as loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea.

They can appear weak, easily fatigued, and depressed.

They may also exhibit a generalized weakness in their hind quarters and/or they may limp.

Their fur can be affected in a variety of ways, too. Some dogs may develop a thicker coat, while others may lose fur. Some dogs might even develop a curly coat – or lose the curl they've always had.

(Note: All these symptoms can "wax and wane," further confusing both owner and clinician.)

Addisonian Crisis
If left untreated, an affected dog could experience an Addisonian Crisis:

The dog may collapse, go into shock, have a slow or irregular heart rate, low blood pressure. He may be dehydrated and show signs of what appears to be (but is not) acute renal failure. If inappropriately treated, it is likely the dog will die.

There are two basic types of AD: Primary (Typical) Addison's and Atypical Addison's. We spent most of last week talking about Primary Addison's Disease, which is by far the easiest to diagnose and most common form of the disease.

Primary/Typical AD
In dogs, Primary Addison's Disease is thought to be a consequence of immune dysfunction. The body's immune system inappropriately attacks the dog's adrenal glands. The damaged adrenals are then unable to produce adequate amounts of two important types of hormones, mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids, which are essential to good health. See last week.

Atypical AD
Atypical Addison's Disease also results from adrenal failure (again, probably immune-mediated), but Atypical AD involves underproduction of the glucocorticoids only. The dog's mineralocorticoid levels remain normal. Atypical AD is often just an early form of Primary Addison's, meaning the adrenal glands are beginning to fail. They may eventually lose the ability to produce mineralocorticoids as well, leading the patient right into Primary AD.

Detection of Atypical AD
Detection and diagnosis of Atypical Addison's can be even trickier than Primary AD. This is because most affected dogs experience intermittent and varying or vague problems that seem to respond to a simple course of antibiotics or Prednisone, only to resurface again later on. Such symptoms may include (but are not limited to) lack of appetite, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy/depression, and joint pain.

Kelli Artinian's "Gorgeous George" (pictured above) is a six-year-old Great Dane with Atypical AD. Kelli writes:

You can add George's story to the others. He was diagnosed with the "Atypical" or Glucocorticoid form of Addison's Disease during a routine blood test. Our vet noted that his Eosinophil count (a type of white blood cell) was off the charts. After she ruled out the most common causes (allergy and/or parasitic infection) she gave George the ACTH Stimulation Test and his result was ZERO, meaning George could not produce any hormones in response to stress.

His condition is well-managed now with small doses of maintenance Prednisone. It is my job to determine when he needs more Pred to help him cope with a possible stressful situation, which is not always easy to determine. I am happy to report that George has been living with Atypical AD for several years now without any signs or symptoms of the disease. I am grateful to my vet for being so persistent in her effort to identify his problem.

Because George showed no obvious symptoms that anything was wrong, he was lucky to get such an early diagnosis. Congratulations to his inquisitive and well-schooled vet for her great detective work!

Is Addison's Disease Inherited?
Unfortunately – as you've seen – Addison's Disease is present in our beloved Great Dane breed. Until more studies are done, we won't really know for sure how big a role it plays and how it may be passed from generation to generation, but it does appear to be an inherited disorder.

JP Yousha, chair of the Great Dane Club of America's Health & Welfare Committee tells us,

"In dogs, the disease is thought to be immune-mediated, meaning immune dysfunction results in the atrophy of the adrenal glands. There is strong evidence for familial tendencies in several breeds. Dr. Anita Oberbauer of the University of California (UC Davis) has studied the inheritance of the disorder in several breeds, and it appears that two normal carrier parents contribute to Addison's Disease in the affected offspring."

She goes on to say,

"The GDCA is seeking Great Dane families where at least one member has been diagnosed by a veterinarian with Addison's for a potential research project into the genetics and heritability of the disease in this breed. A minimal population of 50 affected dogs (i.e. Danes with Addison's) is necessary. A population of related dogs with known health status will be required to complete the study, so each volunteer needs to be able to offer some close relatives into the study. Ideally each Addison's Dane should be able to also provide the health status of approximately 5 close family members (i.e. parents, siblings, offspring).

If you have or know of some Danes who could help us explore this disease in our breed, please contact me. All that is needed from the dogs will be a simple DNA sample the owner can take with a cheek brush that will be supplied – that, and to fill out some paperwork for the researcher. There is no further obligation, no blood or examinations are required, and anonymity is assured, as the dogs will be numbered for the study. So the family relationship needs to be accurate, but pedigrees and official names are not necessary." 

If you have an affected Dane that might qualify for this research project, please contact JP Yousha, GDCA Health and Welfare Committee chair, at or (432) 684-8940. All inquiries will be strictly confidential. I urge you to support any and all research into Canine Addison's Disease.

Helpful Links
The following resources provide additional information about Canine Addison's Disease:

All finished!
This ends our discussion on Canine Addison's Disease. It is a topic that I've wanted to cover for a long time, but it took a big push from JP Yousha to get the ball rolling. Addison's is a deadly disease that is often missed by the average veterinarian because it is uncommon in most breeds and the symptoms are deceiving. I hope this series raises awareness and saves a few dogs.

Special thanks to JP Yousha, Bobbie Palsa and Marc Sayer for all their help, because this was not an easy subject. Thanks also to all the people who contributed comments and stories about their experiences with Canine Addison's Disease. I feel fortunate to be part of such an active online community!

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