The Great Pretender – Cooper’s Story

By: Cooper's Mom, Kim

The Story of a Havanese with Addison's Disease

In the spring of 2016, Cooper was 4 years old; he had always been a happy-go-lucky Havanese with a king-size personality and the bubbly spirit to match. That spring however, he seemed off…not so much spring in his step, often choosing to lay in his crate rather than be the social butterfly he normally was. His tail was often droopy (I had always called it his emotional barometer! You can always tell how he’s feeling by his tail) and he seemed depressed. Not all the time, mind you, but something was definitely different.































When my oldest son came home from university that spring, Cooper perked up so much! He was so happy to see his human brother and for a while, it seemed that missing him might have been the source of Cooper’s depression. When Cooper had his checkup at the vet that summer, I mentioned his occasional lethargy and depression but they also thought it might have been emotional.


























Later that summer, Cooper started hesitating to jump up on the sofa; he was always the kind of dog who would bound into the room and take a running leap onto the sofa, climbing up on top to look out the window and alert us to the presence of squirrels, birds, neighbors walking down the road….but that summer, he seemed afraid to try the jump up to the sofa and occasionally would fall while trying. We started helping him on and off the couch. He didn’t seem to care as much about what was going on outside the window anymore. He had lost his spark. He was eating ok, drinking ok and his blood work was all in normal range. No one was sure what was going on with Cooper.

On January 17th, 2017 we were relaxing on the sofa in the afternoon when I noticed Cooper shivering….it didn’t seem to bother him but went on periodically for about 10 minutes. It was odd but stopped fairly quickly so I didn’t think too much of it. The next day Cooper and his canine sister Molly went outdoors for their morning pee; they always get treats after a successful bathroom excursion but that morning, Cooper wouldn’t take a treat. That had never happened before; when I offered him breakfast, he refused that too and my heart sunk. Where was my happy-go-lucky, always-perky Cooper? I called his vet’s office; she was going to be in surgery all day and couldn’t see him so off we went to the emergency vet, an hour away. There he was examined and x-rays were taken; they suspected slipped discs in his back but his x-rays were clear. Not knowing what else to do, they sent him home with pain medication and instructions to bring him back if anything changed or if his symptoms increased.
































That night, my neighbor stopped in to check on him (she is a vet tech); when I told her about his visit to the emergency vet, she asked me what my gut told me. He had never refused food before so my thought was something was hurting him in his mouth. Sure enough, when she checked his mouth she found several loose teeth! I thought this was the answer we’d been looking for but felt horrible that this problem must have been developing for some time and I hadn’t noticed…the guilt was terrible! She arranged for him to have a dental cleaning and have his loose teeth pulled the next afternoon at his vet’s office. I slept with Cooper on the sofa that night.

Cooper’s dental went as planned January 19th….his pre-op blood work was fine so we went ahead with the procedure. I picked him up late that afternoon. The girls told me he was still kind of loopy from his anesthetic so to watch him closely, keep him on a leash outside, not let him jump on or off the sofa etc. He was sent home with pain meds and instructions to start introducing fluids, then soft foods in the morning. That evening Cooper continued to stagger when he walked; he refused fluids and wouldn’t settle down at all. He was pacing the floor and the few times he would lay down, it was on the cool floor in our laundry room (he hadn’t ever done that before) and only for a moment then he would start pacing again. I decided to sleep on the floor in the living room with him that night; my hope was that he would settle enough to get some rest. He continued to pace the floor and by early morning I had started forcing fluids, 1ml at a time by syringe as he was still refusing them. He also started having dark, bloody diarrhea, not even seeming to realize it was happening; this is the dog that potty trained in about two days and never has accidents. Not only was I exhausted from being awake with him all night, I was growing more scared as the night wore on that something was seriously wrong with Cooper.

I called the vet’s office and told them he wasn’t going to make it to 1:00 for his re-check and that I was on my way with him right then. I loaded my limp baby into the front seat beside me and drove like a maniac, tears streaming down my face so badly that I could hardly see. That 10 minute drive to the vet’s felt like an eternity; I called my husband on route and told him I didn’t know if Cooper was going to still be alive when I got there. He left work immediately (30 minutes away) and said he’d meet me there.


Thank God Cooper’s vet was in the office that day; Cooper was still alive when I got there so I knew he had a chance. She took him right in and started by examining his mouth while I rattled off what had been happening overnight. When she sat him on the floor to watch him walk (I had described him staggering), his back end collapsed underneath him immediately. She scooped him up off the floor and said, “I think I know what this is! Cooper has Addison’s Disease and often during times of physical or emotional stress, they can enter crisis. Poor guy, we were trying to help him by doing his dental but we sent him into crisis!” She told us to wait (my husband had arrived by then) while she ran blood work and started an IV. She was back a short time later; she had drawn the blood needed to check his electrolytes and get a baseline for the ACTH test which would determine whether he had Addison’s Disease or not (it had to be sent out for testing) but said the results from his preliminary blood work was definitely suggestive of Addison’s Disease. Cooper was admitted to their ICU to receive IV fluids, steroids and monitoring while they stabilized him. As scared as we were, his vet told us that it was a good news diagnosis in that it can be treated! Given how close we came to losing him, that reassurance meant everything to us.

Cooper’s vet was my angel; she gave me my baby back! She called me every couple hours to let me know how he was doing while I was snuggling his canine sister and trying to make her feel better about her brother not being there. The next morning the vet called and said Cooper could go home! While he was in ICU, I got online and read everything I could find about Addison’s Disease and treatment so we would be able to care for and monitor him properly. Addison’s Disease is known as 'the great pretender'; as adrenal gland function wanes, a dog can present with a variety of (often) vague symptoms including lethargy, depression and muscle weakness. With the benefit of hindsight, I knew what had been causing Cooper’s downslide for so many months. We discussed treatment options with his vet, settled on a treatment plan and took our baby home!



It took most of the spring for Cooper to get back to a state of wellness; with Addison’s Disease, dogs get a lot of muscle wastage so it took time for him to get his energy back. We started with very short walks every day, gradually increasing the distance and pace over time and by summer, he was walking 2-3km at a time. With a small adjustment to his medication dose and continued activity, he is regaining his strength and now walks 5km a day with his sister and I! He lost almost 3lb. during his crisis but is back to a healthy weight and has taken up his spot on top of the sofa once again, warning us about advancing wildlife intruders and neighbors going about their daily routines.


























Cooper is finally Cooper again! That happy-go-lucky little Havanese that I fell in love with is finally back to his mischievous ways and we couldn’t be happier. He will need medication for the rest of his life and we watch him closely for signs of stress (dogs with Addison’s Disease lack cortisol, the hormone used to cope with stress; Cooper also lacks aldosterone which balances electrolytes) so that we can boost his steroid if needed….but that is a small price to pay when we think about how close we came to losing him!

Kim's Thoughts about Writing Cooper's Story and

About Cooper as a Member of Her Family


I believe that Sharing can be hard (writing his story today had me in tears as I relived the details) but also cathartic...


It somehow seems fitting that Cooper’s spirit chose our family. Of my three children, two have special needs. We deal with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety, NVLD and Epilepsy as well as asthma in our family.


I also worked in Education for years as a Specialized Educational Assistant.  Youth at risk and autism were my areas of specialty.


I am naturally a mama-bear and advocate and it somehow seems right that Cooper ended up with us. He needed a family just like ours!

Kim's Thoughts About Her Breeder 

We were blessed with fantastic breeders for both of our pups. We checked them out; they checked us out; they matched the right pup to our family lifestyle….you name it! They took the utmost care with their dogs and their pups and we have maintained solid relationships with both Breeders. I know we are much more fortunate than some puppy parents!


Cooper wasn’t diagnosed until January of 2017 and given that there is not a test (yet) for Addison’s Disease and there was no known history of it in his lines, there is no way his breeder could have known he would get sick. Once he did, I let her know right away and she showed great concern. Neither Cooper’s sire or dam has had a litter since he was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease.

Kim's Decision to Include Cooper's Pedigree 

in the UC Davis Havanese Genetics Research Project

There is still a lot to be learned about Addison’s Disease. Research has shown it is genetic but the method of inheritance is unknown. We were fortunate to have a vet who identified Cooper’s illness before we lost him but the whole crisis was emotionally draining and super scary not to mention expensive! If we can help unlock some of the mystery surrounding this disease and how it is passed along in the genes, we will! My hope is that someday no other puppy parents will have to go through what we went through.

As soon as the vet office opened the next morning, I called them about bringing Cooper in for a recheck; they scheduled him for 1pm. I wasn’t happy to wait that long but I had described his symptoms and they didn’t seem overly concerned. My neighbor stopped in around 9am to check up on Cooper; she was very surprised to still see him staggering (we thought from the anesthesia). He did wag his tail when he saw her so I allowed myself to believe he was going to be ok, despite the pacing, staggering, bloody diarrhea and the fact that he had thrown up every bit of fluids I had forced into him.

After my neighbor left, Cooper threw up again, then collapsed on the floor; when I encouraged him to get up, it was quite obvious that he couldn’t. I picked him up and he was just limp, unresponsive to his name and going downhill very fast. Now I wasn’t scared, I was terrified!

About Addison's Disease


'Research has shown that Addison's Disease is genetic, but the exact method of inheritance is not yet known. It is thought that there may be an environmental trigger. There are ongoing research projects for several breeds, including Standard Poodles, Leonbergers, Great Danes and West Highland White Terriers, with hopes of identifying a genetic marker. However, at this time, there is no specific test to identify the gene, only the test to diagnose whether or not the dog’s adrenal glands are functioning properly.'

If you know of a Havanese who has this disease, please contact 

There is no specific test to diagnose this disease in Havanese. However, "The only way to get a specific test is to continue to send in samples from affected animals, so that research facilities can work towards isolating the mutation in the Havanese breed."

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