addison's disease in dogs

What is Addison’s Disease in Dogs?

Reviewed by Leslie Jones, DVM

Addison’s disease in dogs, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is a condition that can have catastrophic repercussions for dogs.

Yet with adequate treatment, dogs with Addison’s disease can expect to live normal lives. 

When the adrenal glands fail to generate the hormones that they are in charge of in the body, Addison’s disease develops.

What is Addison’s Disease in Dogs?

addison's disease in dogs

Addison’s Disease (Hypoadrenocorticism) is a hormonal illness named after Thomas Addison, a British scientist who is credited with being the first to establish that the adrenal glands are required for survival.

Steroids, notably aldosterone and cortisol, are the most significant hormones generated by the adrenal glands. 

The internal organs and bodily systems of your dog are regulated by these steroids. Without them, your dog’s body deteriorates, leading to serious complications and even death.

The adrenal glands are a pair of tiny glands that are found near the kidneys. An outer cortex and an inner medulla make up each gland. 

The glands create two key hormones that are required for life and govern a range of physiological activities. Cortisol, a stress hormone, and aldosterone, a hormone that controls sodium and potassium levels in the body, are the two hormones. 

Sodium and potassium levels are critical for maintaining fluid equilibrium in the body.

What Causes Addison’s Disease in Dogs?

addison's disease in dogs

The etiology of Addison’s disease in dogs is usually unknown. Most of these instances, veterinarians believe, are caused by an autoimmune reaction. 

Addison’s disease can also be caused by the death of the adrenal gland, which can be caused by a metastatic tumor, hemorrhage, infarction, granulomatous illness, adrenolytic drugs like mitotane, or drugs that block adrenal enzymes like trilostane.

When the adrenal gland is harmed, the body is unable to generate glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, particularly aldosterone and cortisol. This causes a wide range of symptoms, as well as mortality in severe cases of Addison’s disease.

Although scientists are unsure of the actual source of Addison’s disease, it can affect any dog, whether purebred or mixed-breed. However, certain breeds tend to be more susceptible to the disease:

  • Standard Poodles
  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Great Danes
  • Bearded Collies
  • Portuguese Water Dogs
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers

A tumor or abnormality in the pituitary gland, a key hormonal regulator found in the brain, can cause a secondary form of Addison’s disease.

If a dog has been on long-term steroids for whatever reason and the treatment is abruptly removed, secondary Addison’s disease might develop.

Iatrogenic hypoadrenocorticism is the term for this final disease, which is usually only transitory.

Signs of Addison’s Disease in Dogs

addison's disease in dogs

Addison’s disease clinical signs include:

  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which (lack of appetite)
  • Loss of weight
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stools that are bloody
  • Hair loss
  • Urination is becoming more frequent
  • Dehydration as a result of increased thirst
  • Shaking
  • Pulse is weak
  • Heart rate fluctuation
  • The weather is cold
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hyperpigmentation of the skin is a condition in which the skin becomes darker than usual.

Because of the vast spectrum of symptoms associated with progressive Addison’s disease, it can be difficult to diagnose. It’s known as the great imitator.

In general, dogs with Addison’s disease may have recurring attacks of gastroenteritis, a weak appetite, sluggish weight loss, and an inability to adapt effectively to stress.

It’s crucial to remember that Addison’s disease symptoms can come and go.

The body reacts strongly to a decrease in aldosterone synthesis. It affects the kidneys by causing variations in sodium, chloride, and potassium levels in the blood. As a result, issues with the heart and circulatory system develop.

The other main steroid hormone impacted by Addison’s disease is cortisol, which is found in practically every essential tissue in the dog’s body.

It controls glucose synthesis, metabolism, impacts fat and protein breakdown, regulates blood pressure, lowers inflammation, increases the development of red blood cells, and reduces stress.

The symptoms that pet owners and veterinarians most typically notice with the condition are caused by a decrease in aldosterone and cortisol production.

Diagnosis of Addison’s Disease in Dogs

addison's disease in dogs

During an Addisonian crisis, Addison’s disease is frequently diagnosed. The condition reaches an acute stage in an Addisonian crisis, and dogs exhibit life-threatening symptoms such as shock and collapse.

After the dog has recovered from the crisis, vets do a battery of tests to figure out what caused the collapse and rule out alternative possibilities. They will most likely undertake blood tests to obtain a full blood count and biochemistry, as well as a urinalysis.

Anemia, excessively high potassium and urea levels in the blood, as well as abnormalities in sodium, chloride, and calcium levels in the blood, are all symptoms of Addison’s disease. 

Low urine concentrations may be revealed by urinalysis, and your veterinarian may order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check for abnormalities in your dog’s heart.

The stimulation test for adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is the gold standard for Addison’s disease. 

The synthetic hormone ACTH is used to assess the function of the adrenal glands in this test. 

Cortisol levels are measured before and after ACTH administration by veterinarians. This tells them if the adrenal glands are working properly.

Treatment of Addison’s Disease in Dogs

addison's disease in dogs

The initial step in treating Addison’s disease in dogs is to stabilize the situation. An adrenal crisis is classified as an urgent medical emergency in the Merck Veterinary Manual. 

Your dog will be admitted to the hospital and treated with rigorous therapy to alleviate the symptoms of the crisis. 

Your veterinarian will prescribe a replacement hormone medicine to assist your dog manage with the shortfall once he or she is no longer in urgent danger. 

Typically, two medications are prescribed: a monthly injectable mineralocorticoid (typically DOCP) and a daily steroid (prednisone). 

In addition, a veterinarian will almost always prescribe yearly or biannual blood tests to confirm that the drug is working effectively.

The disease Addison’s is incurable. Your dog will need to take these hormone replacements for the remainder of his life, and the dosage may need to be changed over time, especially during stressful situations. 

It is critical that owners speak with their veterinarian before adjusting the prescription or switching brands, since this might result in another hormonal imbalance.

When to See a Veterinarian

addison's disease in dogs

If you notice any of the previously mentioned signs of Addison’s disease, such as low appetite, lethargy, or weight loss.

It’s best to call your veterinarian, to help in early diagnosis and treatment of your dog.

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