Addison’s Part 2: My Dog has been diagnosed with Addison’s, what is the treatment?

Posted by MyDogDoc on

  • Treatment is based on hormone replacement medication in the form of a monthly injection at the vet and oral tablets to be given daily at home

  • Treatment is lifelong.

  • If you dog is in an “Addisonian Crisis”, they will likely need to be hospitalised for treatment initially.

  • Your dog will require a number of blood and urine tests and monitoring initially to ensure they are on the correct dose of medication.

  • Once stable, your dog will likely require a check-up and blood test every 6 months.

Addison’s or Hypoadrenocorticism is a hormonal disease which arises when the body, specifically the adrenal glands, stops producing normal amounts of the steroid hormones called cortisol and aldosterone. These hormones are needed by all the cells within the body in order to remain healthy. When a dog doesn’t produce enough of these hormones, they can become unwell and if these hormone levels become very low, it can be a life-threatening emergency.

In this article we will look at how dogs are treated with Addison’s and what we can expect from the treatment regimes.

  • Once your dog has received the diagnosis of Addison’s, treatment is usually very simple and effective, with most dogs responding really well to hormone replacement medication.

  • There is no cure for Addison’s but treatment is aimed at replacing the hormones cortisol and aldosterone, which will be low as a result of the disease. Once started, your dog will be on the treatment for life.

Treatment is usually in the form of:

  • Injections – these are usually given by your vet every 4 weeks. The injection contains'desoxycorticosterone pivalate, also known as DOCP. This replaces the missing hormone aldosterone. This is the hormone that helps your dog maintain normal concentrations of salts, maintain their blood pressure and hydration levels.

  • Steroid Tablets – these are given daily to replace the low concentrations of cortisol in your dog’s body. This hormone is responsible for helping your dog respond to stress and regulating the body’s immune system to fight infections.

Addisonian Crisis – Emergency Treatment

Quite commonly, your dog may have been diagnosed with Addison’s whilst it was having an Addisonian Crisis where they develop ‘shock-like’ symptoms and collapse. These signs come on suddenly and can become an emergency. They may have very sudden onset, very severe vomiting or diarrhoea. They will often have dangerously low levels of potassium, which can make them very weak and lead to changes in the rate and rhythm of the heart. They can become very dehydrated and have low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia)

In this case, they will have to be hospitalised first in order to stabilise them, before starting on the lifelong hormone replacement medication.

Your dog will need to be given intravenous fluids (a drip) to correct any salt imbalances and dehydration which they may have. Steroids are given directly into their bloodstream so they can act quickly. They may also require intravenous sugar if they have low blood sugar levels and medications to correct any arrhythmias (alterations in the heart’s rhythm).

Once they are stable, lifelong treatment to control Addison’s can begin.


Initially, your dog will require a number of blood and urine tests and monitoring to ensure they are on the correct dose of medication. A blood test 10 days and 28 days after starting their injections will check their hormone and salt levels.

Your vet will then schedule further check ups and blood tests depending on how your dog is responding to the treatment, and the results of the initial monitoring blood tests. Once stabilised, dogs on long-term medication usually require a blood test every 6 months. Your vet will be able to advise on best time for this based on how well your dog is doing.

Stressful Situations

During stressful situations (eg. boarding kennels, fireworks, moving house etc), or periods of injury or illness, many dogs suffering from Addison’s will require extra cortisol (steroids) to help them cope. If you know that a stressful period is likely in the near future, it is worth mentioning this to your vet, who can make the decision about increasing your dog’s dose of medication. It is important that you talk to your vet before making any changes to your dog’s medication, to avoid harming your dog.

As always, if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your dog’s diagnosis of Addison’s, the vets at MyDogDoc are happy to help.

Up Next: Addison’s Part 3: Addisons Management and Prognosis

Adrenal Adrenal Gland Adrenal tissue Aldosterone Dog Endocrine Glucocorticoid Health Hypoadrenocorticism Injection Mineralocorticoid Pituitary Pituitary gland Senior Tablets

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