Addison's disease

Autoimmune conditions like Addison’s disease are becoming more common, but awareness, proper healthcare and regular checkups can help protect your pooch.

Your pet’s immune system plays an essential role in maintaining his health and resistance to disease. However, just like your own immune system, it isn’t immune to problems. Both genetic and environmental factors can cause or “trigger” immune dysfunction, leading to either immune deficiency – or immune stimulation, also called autoimmune disease. Addison’s disease is among these, and is one of the most common autoimmune disease in dogs.

Addison’s disease, also called hypoadrenocorticism, results in both animals and humans when their adrenal glands are underactive and do not produce enough adrenal cortical hormones. The primary form of Addison’s disease is a self-directed immune reaction within the adrenal glands (i.e. an autoimmune or immune-mediated disease), in which the affected individual’s lymphocytes progressively destroy the glands.


Addison’s disease can cause many serious health issues, and is often misdiagnosed as another disorder. The symptoms are non-specific and mimic other general conditions. They include muscle weakness and general lethargy (listlessness), in which affected dogs will be unable to jump up on the couch or bed, will have trouble climbing stairs, lie down a lot or show a lack of enthusiasm for activities involving physical exertion. There may also be vomiting and diarrhea, hyperpigmentation (small patches or spots of darker skin around the armpits, mucous membranes or inside the cheek), joint pain, poor appetite and shivering or muscle tremors.


When combined with autoimmune thyroid disease, the condition is called Schmidt’s syndrome. Once diagnosed, the treatment options for Addison’s disease are very effective, but require the dog to take medication for the rest of his life. There are at least a dozen predisposed breeds, and inheritance has been defined in several, such as the Portuguese water dog, standard poodle and Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. Again females are more commonly affected than males. Novel approaches for management and treatment Standard conventional treatments for immunologic disorders can be augmented or replaced with holistic alternatives. Rather than suppress the immune system with corticosteroids, alternative means of down-regulating the cytokines (cellular enzymes) that trigger cell-mediated immunity can be used.

  • Some clinicians use biologically active glandulars such as multiple glandular supplements or thymic extract protein.
  • Other treatments that balance and modulate the immune system and offer immune support include plant sterols and sterolins (from fruits and vegetables), bioactive botanicals (plants and herbs), and medicinal mushrooms.
  • Treatments should also be aimed at assisting the liver’s detoxifying pathways – e.g. with milk thistle and SAMe – and increasing the amount of protective amino acids by supplementing with glutathiones, cysteine and taurine.
  • Antioxidants including vitamins A, C, D and E, selenium, bioflavinoids from vegetables (e.g. red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach), fruits (e.g. blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate) and herbs (e.g. oregano, garlic, turmeric) can be used as bio-support to strengthen the patient’s metabolism and immune system.

You can also help prevent the development of Addison’s disease and other autoimmune diseases in your dog by ensuring he receives good nutrition and reducing his exposure to toxins. Though conditions like Addison’s disease are becoming more common, awareness, proper healthcare and regular checkups will do a lot to protect your pooch.


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.