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 Created: 11/17/03


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– Canine 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:

"I 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 waxing and 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 vet has had no answers, but I am taking my Dane back to him tomorrow for testing."

If you have an Addison's Dane, you and your dog may be able to help our breed!

Please 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 to launch a research 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 undiagnosed, Addison's disease can kill. Unfortunately it can be a very tricky disease to recognize because the signs of Addison's mimic those of many other diseases.

Addisonian Crisis
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:

A Special Dog, A "Typical" Story
By Marc Sayer

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.

Something's Wrong
Tank 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 bowl at breakfast. That was odd enough that I called the vet and took the first available appointment, which was for 9:00 AM the next day.

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, she became 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.

Addisonian Crisis
Tank was ice cold to the touch. Something very serious was wrong. While we took turns getting dressed, Tank deteriorated before 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 sludge barely 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 and 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 see coming.

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 like blood.

Tank 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 us something was wrong. We kept a close eye on him and caught on early as to how serious this was getting. Had we simply gone 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 us, 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 Disease. 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 to the medication.

An Addisonian 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.
Marc Sayer

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 installment.)

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