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Learn All About Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Learn All About Addison's Disease in Dogs

“Your dog can overcome this health threat, and intervention and treatment can allow your dog to lead a normal, happy life.”

If your dog has been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, also known by the scientific name canine hypoadrenocorticism, they are expected to have normal lifespans with proper treatment. Fortunately, there are treatment options for your pet, but you will have to make special accommodations for them and follow your veterinarian’s advice. Your dog can overcome this health threat, and intervention and treatment can allow your dog to lead a normal, happy life.

What is Canine Addison’s Disease?

Addison’s Disease results from a decrease in the production of two hormones called mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids, which are created by the adrenal glands, located near the kidneys. These adrenal hormones help control salt, sugar, and water balance in a dog’s body. Insufficient production of one or both of these hormones will lead to serious health issues. Ideally, the pituitary gland in the brain controls the adrenal glands, but problems can arise. If the message from the pituitary gland is disrupted or misdirected to the adrenal glands, they will not make the necessary amounts of cortisol.

Though this disease is rare in dogs, when it does appear, it is most often seen in young to middle-aged female dogs, with the average age of symptoms noted at about four years old. (Diagnosis of Addison’s Disease in cats is extremely rare.). According to veterinarians, this disease can affect pets several ways. Its onset can be sudden and severe, or it may only flair up intermittently and its intensity will vary from episode to episode.

Stress is a culprit for triggering Addison’s disease in dogs, but not the only cause. A pet’s personality plays a factor in how stress is managed. When your pet is stressed, her adrenal glands will increase production of cortisol as a calming agent. Infected dogs will not be able to produce enough cortisol to deal with anxiety. Of course, what a dog finds stressful will differ from animal to animal, but for some any change in their lifestyle will cause the stress level to rise. Traveling, hosting unfamiliar houseguests, boarding and other causes may trigger an episode.

Signs and Symptoms for Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Possible symptoms in dogs can form an entire list. These symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blood in their feces
  • Weight loss
  • Shaking
  • Increased urination and/or thirst
  • Hair loss
  • Low temperature
  • Collapse
  • Multiple heart issues-small heart size, irregular rhythm
  • Dehydration and overall weakness may also appear. Vomiting and diarrhea can occur and this will lead to dehydration. Severe dehydration will stress kidney function by increasing waste products in the blood that would be normally eliminated (creatinine and blood urea nitrogen called BUN). This may appear as kidney failure, but it is really just a symptom of Addison’s. Urine can be diluted.

    Blood tests may reveal several key elements that lead to a diagnosis of Addison’s Disease in dogs, including a low blood sodium and high blood potassium level, changes in white blood cells (WBC) identified as a stress leukogram, and low blood sugar. An increased blood potassium level can create abnormalities in heart rhythm that will be life threatening. Heart rates can also become too slow and irregular.

    Some dog breeds such as Bearded Collies, Standard Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, West Highland White Terriers, Rottweilers, and Wheaten Terriers may be more prone to Addison’s Disease due to familial links.

    Symptoms in dogs can vary from week to week, too. One week your dog will seem overly tired and the next week she is fine. She may throw up once and have no other issues after that until she has a severe reaction.

    Dogs with Addison’s may also have other endocrine diseases like hypothroidism and diabetes.

    How is Addison’s Disease in Dogs Diagnosed?

    To identify Addison’s Disease in dogs, your veterinarian will look at an animal’s medical history and breed as well as conducting a physical exam. A significant marker for Addison’s Disease is a low sodium level compared with the ratio to potassium. Low sodium amounts cause blood pressure to fall. Laboratory tests, urine analysis, and blood work will probably give some indication of Addison’s, so the vet will use an ACTH test to confirm the disease. This stimulation test will measure how well the adrenal glands respond to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is a hormone produced in the pituitary gland that stimulates the adrenal glands to release a hormone called cortisol.

    Your vet will get a blood sample from your dog. This will be followed with an injection of ACTH, usually into the muscle of your pet’s shoulder. After either 30 minutes or 60 minutes, or both, depending on how much ACTH your dog receives, her blood will be drawn again. Lab tests will check the cortisol level in all the blood samples. This will help determine if your dog has Addison’s Disease.

    What Happens After Diagnosis of Addison’s Disease in Dogs?

    Depending upon the severity of your dog’s Addison’s Disease at the time of diagnosis, treatment may involve hospitalization for extreme cases to stabilize dogs with intravenous fluids (dehydration) and administer cortisol-like drugs to correct her hormone imbalance. It is possible more drugs may also be given to help neutralize the effects of potassium on the heart.

    For long-term treatment, dogs will need hormones. This can occur either by daily pill or by injection about every 25 days. Some options for treatment include Prednisolone, and Percorten-V and its generic counterpart, Zycortal. Since cortisol production is diminished in response to stress for dogs with Addison’s Disease, pet owners should try to decrease stressful situations as much as possible, too.

    Life can go on for dogs with Addison’s Disease. They can live the good life with a little help from their human friends.