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Ask a Vet: Dogs can have same disease as JFK

POSTED: August 3, 2014 1:00 a.m.

An eponymous disease is a disease named after someone. Names tend to be known better than the scientifically descriptive name and are usually the way physicians refer to the disease when talking with patients or clients. Thus, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In pets, hypoadrenocorticism is known as Addison’s disease and often referred to as the Great Pretender.

Recently, I saw a standard poodle who developed diarrhea every time she was boarded, and each subsequent bout seemed to be worse than the previous one.

On her third visit to the boarding facility, she came in and couldn’t stand on her own. Her body temperature was too low to register, and her pulse was half of what it should be. Bad news.

Blood work showed a massively elevated white blood cell count and kidney failure.

She was 2 years old. For a dog that age, you shouldn’t see degenerative diseases, even if the genetic predisposition is there. So we worried about exposure to a toxin or an infection damaging her kidneys.

After taking a detailed history, neither seemed to be likely as far as risks, given the dog’s fully vaccinated status and lifestyle. Her owners were out of state and I was talking to them via an online connection. They were understandably distraught.

Because she was young and a breed more disposed to the disease, we wanted to rule out Addison’s disease. Her electrolyte ratios were far out of balance, so we drew blood to confirm the disease. However, the test takes at least 24 hours to come back, so I was backed into a corner. I gave her an injection of a steroid — Addison’s is a lack of cortisol production — and began IV fluids while monitoring her.

She walked out with her owners the next day, jumping and playing.

Two weeks later, all her blood work was normal. She did have Addison’s disease. Not an infection, not kidney disease, not parasites, it was the Great Pretender.

But what most people remember is: “Your dog has the same disease JFK had.”

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at


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