Addison's disease occurs in dogs and humans. It occurs in dogs when their adrenal glands don't produce enough of the hormones that regulate sodium in the blood. A big problem is that the symptoms of Addison's disease tend to be vague and general. This makes them hard to distinguish for what they really are. There are three different types of Addison's disease to contend with.
Adrenal glands in the kidneys produce cortisol and aldestorone to keep sodium levels in the bloodstream high enough to maintain healthy nerves, muscles and fluid production in the body. Addison's disease causes sodium levels to drop, which in turn causes potassium levels to rise. Too much potassium keeps the heart from beating faster when it needs to, which can lead to a sharp drop in blood pressure and, eventually, shock. This can be fatal to dogs.
Because the symptoms of Addison's disease are so common to so many other ailments, it can take a long time to figure out what the problem actually is. These symptoms -- vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, lethargy, shaking and pain in the hind legs -- can require several trips and several medications while your vet eliminates one condition after another. The number of visits, and the cost for each visit and for medications, can vary greatly but can easily run into the hundreds of dollars.
Complicating matters is the fact that dogs can acquire three different types of Addison's disease in dogs. Primary and atypical Addison's typically stem from an immune system problem in the adrenal glands. Secondary Addison's means your dog's pituitary gland cannot stimulate his adrenal glands with adrenocorticotropic hormone. All types require medication to replace or boost hormones. Primary Addison's requires medicine that replaces mineralcorticoids. Atypical and secondary Addison's require medication that replaces glucocorticoids.
In the United States, brand name corticoid replacement medicines can cost a dollar or more per 0.1-milligram pill. A typical dosage is for 0.1 milligram per every 10 pounds your dog weighs, and the medicine is usually given once daily. This means that if you have a small, light dog, you may spend about $30 per month, but more if you have a 150-pound Great Dane. Many programs exist that cut the expense down to about the same amount of money per prescription-fill, regardless of the size of your dog.
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