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Addisons Disease

Time to say thank you...

It seems there are too few opportunities in life to celebrate and thank people so one should make the most of them.  Subsequently, Lesley Harpley felt this would be the right time to mark Star’s recent passage into Senior with an acknowledgement of this amazing dog and those who have helped them along the way.

Some people know that, at the age of 15 months, Star collided with a fence and broke her second vertebrae! According to the veterinary specialist, she should have been paraplegic. 

It was a very difficult period, with hard decisions to give her a chance to live, but after five months of cage rest, she was back doing agility.  Before long she knocked up a good handful of second and third places in Novice.

Then, inexplicably, around three years old, she began to slow down and become quite lethargic, often with tummy upsets and her coat became woolly. I kept going back to the vet, but repeated tests were inconclusive.

Diagnosis
After winter ‘rest’ in March 2003, I went back to the vet and specifically requested a test for Addisons disease, having searched the Internet.

Star's weight had dropped to just 12.5kgs, a loss of 21% of her normal body weight.  If you think about this as a loss of muscle tissue, it must have been nearer 50% of her muscle weight. The test results were conclusive, and Star started her permanent medication with almost immediate results.

About Addisons Disease
Having come across numerous dogs in agility with Addisons, personally I am convinced it is significantly more common than vets generally realise. I believe that most vets generally only come across it in a state of ‘crisis’ because the ordinary pet owner would not generally notice the symptoms or put them down to normal aging. By this stage, it is often too late for the dog to make a total recovery.

In agility however, we have a uniquely measurable gauge of how fit our dogs are and we should definitely ‘listen’ to what they are telling us. If treated early, dogs can make a full recovery and have a great quality of life. So early diagnosis becomes the key.

In the simplest terms, Addisons is a condition whereby the cortex of the kidney fails to work and so the dog is unable to balance the hormones related to the body’s management of stress. Left untreated, this can throw out other hormonal balances in the body and the dog will gradually decline. The good news is that with medication, dogs can make a full recovery and lead a full and active life.

The most common symptoms are: lethargy and depression; weight loss; and diarrhoea and/or sickness. A symptom which is not acknowledged, but I have found repeatedly in talking with Agility people, is an unusually coarse, woolly or bushy coat. Blood and urine tests will usually show ‘odd’ results, but these may be at the margins of ‘normal’ readings. In Star’s case, she was actually cleared by the Royal Veterinary College in September, six months prior to me requesting the definitive Addisons test.

I believe Addisons is often over-looked because vets normally only see the extreme ‘pet-dog’ cases that have reached crisis and because the symptoms are often intermittent. Addisons has been called the ‘great pretender’ because of similarities with more ‘common’ conditions.

If in doubt about your dog’s health, don’t be put off. Keep going back to your vet and ask for any tests you feel may help. 

These notes are my personal opinion, I am not qualified in veterinary practise and this perspective is purely as a lay person.

Back to Agility
In September 2003, she achieved a second place in Novice Jumping at Daventry and was back to her usual self, barking with excitement around the course. For me, the results are simply a measure how well Star is feeling.

I was amazed and thrilled when she gained a first place in Novice Jumping at Supadogs last year and even more surprised when she won into Senior at Dashin’ Dogs at Easter by winning both Novice Agility and Jumping on the same day, followed by Novice Jumping at Shuttleworth.

Thank you
We have been helped by several great clubs and instructors over the years, to whom we are indebted, but three people in particular deserve a special mention.

  1. Kathryn Tasker who first trained Star as a youngster and who knocked me into shape to win out of Starters

  2. My former husband and fellow instructor at our small club, Colin Harpley, for years of practical support

  3. Jonathon Watts for re-gaining our confidence this year and (almost) convincing me that a 44 year old can still run like a 20 year old.

Thank you very much!

Star is seven this year. I can hardly expect her to achieve places in Senior or even Intermediate, but I can make sure she enjoys her agility.

So, we’ll be the ones making lots of noise around the course and bouncing about with a toy (in the way only Star can) at the end of the run, whatever happens.

I love being in the ring with her, but I love seeing her run on a beach even more. I feel privileged to live with and love this fantastic dog, I learn from her every year, the main one being ‘Agility is a celebration of life, but it isn’t life itself’. 

Thank you Star!

About the author...
Lesley Harpley has enjoyed agility for over ten years, initially with her two rescued crossbreeds. Star was her first puppy and first WSD.  

She now lives in the USA.