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Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands (located near the kidneys) fail to produce enough hormones. The adrenal glands normally produce several hormones that control body function. For example:

  • Cortisol: a hormone responsible for stress responses
  • Aldosterone: a hormone responsible for balancing electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium)

It is most common in young female dogs, and you can manage it with hormone supplements.

Humans and cattle can also have this disease.


The main cause of Addison’s Disease is immune-mediated–the immune system attacks the adrenal glands.

Other causes include:

  • Infection
  • Medications
  • Cancer
  • Diseases of the pituitary glands


Signs will be very mild at first, and may even disappear for a short period, but they return more aggressively:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Not reacting to stress appropriately
  • Muscle weakness (wobbling when walking)

If the signs become extreme (like sudden weakness or severe vomiting and diarrhea), it becomes an Addisonian crisis and is a life-threatening emergency. Your dog may collapse in shock because it is not able to deal with stress. Go to the veterinarian right away. Your pet will have to be hospitalized and treated immediately.


In order to properly diagnose your dog with addison’s disease, your veterinarian may perform the following:

  • Review: medical history and signs of the condition
  • Blood and Urine Test: Checks the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, metabolism and electrolyte balance
  • ACTH Stimulation Test:Tests the adrenal glands. It is the primary test used in diagnosing Addison’s, and it requires at least one day of hospitalization. Your veterinarianwill administer a dose of ACTH, the hormone responsible for releasing corticosteroids when a dog is under stress. A healthy animal will have elevated cortisol levels in response to ACTH, while a dog with Addison’s will have none.


Treatment depends on the stage of the illness:

  • If signs are severe and developed rapidly (an Addisonian crisis), your dog will require emergency treatment. This will usually include fluids through IV to fix electrolyte imbalances and balance the blood sugar levels.
  • If signs are mild, your dog can get oral medication or shots to replace missing hormones. These medications will have to be increased during times of stress (such as boarding, traveling or hospitalization).

Addison’s disease treatment needs ongoing veterinary management, including monitoring hormone levels and adjusting medication.


There is no proven way to prevent Addison’s disease. However, abruptly stopping steroid supplements may cause an Addisonian crisis. Therefore, if your dog is being treated for any condition with steroids, do not stop the medication abruptly.


Most dogs with Addison’s disease that receive proper veterinary treatment live normal lives, even after an Addisonian crisis.


Pyothorax is a bacterial infection that causes pus to build up in the chest cavity (the space between the lungs and the ribs). Normally, the chest cavity has the lungs and a small amount of liquid for lubrication. If fluid fills up the entire space, the lungs cannot expand, and your dog will have difficulty breathing. Left untreated, pyothorax is fatal.


  • Wounds to the chest
  • Wounds to the esophagus or trachea (usually after ingesting a foreign object)
  • A foreign object (for example: a grass seed) entering the body and traveling to the chest cavity
  • Infection of the lungs

After any one of these causes, bacteria will enter the chest cavity, resulting in inflammation. Soon the entire space fills with pus.


  • Open-mouthed, labored breathing
  • Use of the abdomen to expand the chest
  • Fever
  • Listlessness
  • Lack of appetite


To diagnose your dog with pyothorax, your veterinarian may perform the following:

  • Examination: listening to your dog’s chest with a stethoscope to check for fluid
  • Chest x-rays
  • Chest Tap: draining some fluid and studying samples to determine the cause of infection to correctly treat it


You must treat pyothorax aggressively. Other, inexpensive treatments will usually not be effective. Treatment consists of:

  • Drainage of the infected fluid: Your veterinarian will place tubes into the dog’s chest and pour fluid into its tubes a few times a day to drain out the pus. Your dog will have to stay in the hospital for monitoring of the tubes. Leaving your dog unattended can be very dangerous. If a tube opens, their chest is open and they won’t be able to breathe
  • Antibiotics through IV: Oral antibiotics, or antibiotics without chest drainage, are usually not effective
  • Surgery: If chest drainage and antibiotics fail, your veterinarian may suggest surgery to check the chest for foreign objects like sticks, plant seeds, etc.

When the pus has cleared and your dog’s appetite returns, your veterinarian will remove the tubes and send you home with antibiotics. It is very important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions about the medication. Relapse is possible if the infection is not completely cleared.


Although it is not necessarily practical, most veterinarians agree the best preventative measure is refraining from participating in activities that may result in one of the common causes.


Without proper treatment, pyothorax is fatal. Treatment may be expensive, but generally has a high success rate.

The prognosis depends on the severity of the cause. If the pyothorax is not caused by a serious disease, your dog will have a better chance of healing completely.