Two-year-old Copper has recovered and is now receiving regular medication to control the symptoms of Addison's disease. Submitted photo.

Copper shines after life-threatening health crisis

During his young life, Copper has gained a reputation for being a friendly and energetic dog. But in early 2021 the young male goldendoodle dog wasn’t acting like himself — and that caused his family to worry.

By Nykole King
Lonnie Robinson: "We just felt really comforted knowing that Copper was going to be able to get well." Submitted photo.

“At the time, he was two and a half [years old], and I really noticed that just in his energy levels, his personality and his appetite that he was going through whatever sickness,” says Lonnie Robinson of Saskatoon, Sask.

“It just was very unusual for his personality and that's when my wife (Kasia) and I got pretty nervous that there was something seriously wrong with him." 

In February 2021 the Robinsons took Copper to their family veterinarian, who referred them to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Medical Centre (VMC). It was during the night when the hospital’s emergency clinical team first examined Copper. After conducting more diagnostic tests, they sent Copper home to be with his family while they waited for test results.

Back at home, Copper’s breathing became laboured and the Robinsons became concerned. They returned to the VMC a few hours later, and as the clinical team took Copper into the hospital’s emergency room, the Robinsons weren’t sure if they would see their dog alive again.

Part of Copper’s clinical team was Dr. Mathieu Paulin, an internal medicine specialty intern in the WCVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the time. Paulin quickly recognized Copper was in hypovolemic shock — an emergency condition in which severe fluid loss makes the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body — and intensive care was immediately provided.

Once the results from diagnostic tests came back, Paulin confirmed what he suspected: Copper has Addison’s disease and was suffering from what’s called an “Addisonian crisis.”

Addison’s disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, is a deficiency in adrenocortical hormones, where the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the mineralocorticoids or glucocorticoids hormones. Clinical signs of this chronic but treatable condition can range from mild to severe. However, if Addison’s disease is left untreated, it may become acute and lead to a life-threatening crisis.

“When the dog comes to the emergency with a crisis, this is life threatening and if we don't do anything, the dog can die in a couple of hours,” says Paulin.

“[During the crisis], Copper was lying down with very low blood pressure, low sugar, not able to stand up, so this was actually very severe.”

Treating an acute crisis typically involves restoring the blood volume and electrolytes to stabilize the patient. For Copper, he stayed in the VMC’s intensive care unit (ICU) for three days where he received continuous care and monitoring.

Dr. Mathieu Paulin. Photo: Christina Weese.

Paulin recalls seeing the young dog non-responsive in the morning. But 24 hours later, Copper was happy and eating.

“The dog was dying, and three days later, the dog was discharged and he was almost back to normal,” says Paulin, who likes to celebrate any of his patients that make a nearly full recovery. “That's why I like this disease because as soon as we find the diagnosis, we treat it, and the outcome is great.”

Paulin says Copper is almost a textbook case for Addison’s disease. The breeds predisposed to Addison’s disease include poodles, labradors and golden retrievers, but the disease is also found in many other breeds. The disease is typically diagnosed in dogs between the ages of two to four years but can be diagnosed at almost any age, and females may be more often affected by the disease.

The disease’s clinical signs are more complicated since they tend to be non-specific and not all symptoms need to be present. Paulin says the typical chronic signs include a gradual loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea and some level of tiredness, fatigue or lethargy.

Paulin explains that some owners don’t realize their animal has Addison’s disease until it escalates to an acute crisis. But if it’s caught early, the disease is easy to treat with daily prescriptions.

The Robinsons were worried about their young dog, but relief washed over them once they found out that his condition was completely treatable. They had the option to maintain Copper’s hormone levels with a combination of injections and oral medications — or only oral drugs. They opted for the latter treatment.

“We even had a little bit of a sit-down with Dr. Paulin and he explained everything … and we just felt really comforted knowing that Copper was going to be able to get well,” says Robinson. “I guess you'll never get over the disease, but at least there is a solution to keep him healthy.”

After everything, Robinson says that he wished he and his wife had been more aware of the common diseases for goldendoodles so they could have potentially avoided an acute crisis. Since Copper’s diagnosis, Robinson has often talked to other dog owners of similar breeds about Addison’s disease and cautions them about the disease.

“These diseases are more common than what's explained to you when you get that type of dog,” says Robinson. “When you have it under control and it's medicated, it's easy to deal with. But when you have … a scenario where you have no idea what's going on or your dog falls ill … it can be quite a scary experience.”

Before coming to the VMC, Paulin had previous experience treating dogs with Addison’s disease while he was a clinical intern at the University of Montreal’s veterinary teaching hospital. He’s seen a number of unresponsive dogs in life-threatening conditions make full recoveries after treatment.

Witnessing a happy reunion between recovered dogs and their owners is what makes veterinary medicine so rewarding for Paulin, who is now a resident in small animal internal medicine at the WCVM. 

“Those dogs have a happy and long life with a very successfully treated Addison's disease. So, I think the reason why I like [Copper’s] story and what I like about Addison’s disease is [that] the acute presentation is critical and life threatening, but in a couple of days, the patient can be almost back to normal,” says Paulin.

“You know … it’s a story with a happy ending.”