living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part three (the diagnosis)

We're an active family, and we like to include our pets in the fun when we can. One of our favorite activities to do is a family is to hike in the local mountains. There are trails within walking distance from our house, and even more just minutes away by car. Our local hiking trails are totally dog-friendly. People are awesome about keeping their pets on leashes, and there is an unspoken poop pick-up policy that I love. You know how your dog will poop within five minutes of the start of a walk or hike, and then you have to carry the shit around for the duration? In our local mountains, dog owners pick up the poop, tie off the bag, then leave it on the side of the trail. Then we just pick it up after the hike on the way out. I always try to pick up a couple of extra, just to be nice. I also like the fact that there are trails for all skills of people and pooches. When we hike without the dogs, we head for the more challenging trails, but with our little pups, we head for the flatlands. Something for everyone!

The day we knew something was wrong with Kermit was a hiking day. We took him and N.A.S.H.A. on a flat hike, about two miles round-trip. It was something they had done many times before. Kermit loved the hike, as always, and did great. It was when we returned home that the trouble started. About ten minutes after we got home, he collapsed. 

He came-to fairly quickly, and we felt terribly guilty. Had we pushed him too hard?

We took him to the vet, and when his blood work came back, the vet had a diagnosis: Addison's Disease. I had never heard of it. The vet explained that it is pretty rare in dogs, and it is something humans can have, as well, though it's not contagious. In fact, JFK had Addison's Disease

So what is  Addison's Disease, and what did that mean for Kermit?

Addison's Disease means that your adrenal glands are not functioning properly. It is hard to diagnose because symptoms can point to other things. In Kermit's case, to put it in layman's terms (which I desperately needed), his body was not producing the hormones necessary to deal with physical or emotional stress. So when we took him on that hike, his body wasn't able to deal with the exertion. Symptoms can be sudden or gradual and can stop and start, another factor that makes diagnosis difficult. 

Common symptoms include: lethargy, depression, vomiting & diarrhea, decreased appetite, shaking, and muscle weakness. 

Kermit's collapse was an acute episode known as an "Adisonian crisis." This occurs when the blood pressure drops dangerously low. There is no cure for Addison's Disease, but it can be managed with medication so that additional crises can be prevented and the dog can live a relatively normal life. 

Kermit often had a far-away look.

Kermit often had a far-away look.

Kermit was prescribed a daily dose of fludrocortisone, a medication that had to be taken daily for the rest of his life and adjusted based on regular blood test results. Kermit was helped by the medication, and his Addison's seemed under control. We made sure he ate a healthy diet, gave him natural supplements, and made sure he got regular, moderate, exercise. 

And plenty of love. 

We were heartbroken. We knew he would eventually succumb to the disease, but it was our job to keep him as healthy and happy as possible. It was our responsibility to make sure his quality of life was maintained. Over the next few years, this became increasingly difficult. 

Further reading:

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part one (the adoption)

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part two (our lives before the disease)

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part four (the disease and the end)