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Addison's Disease in Dogs

Addison’s Disease is a hormonal disorder seen in dogs. Often caused by an underlying autoimmune condition, it’s characterized by a low hormone output from your pooch’s adrenal glands. Today, our Mamaroneck vets discuss this serious condition and how Addison’s Disease in dogs can be treated. 

Addison's Disease in Dogs

Addison’s Disease in dogs is also referred to as hypoadrenocorticism. One marker of this hormonal disorder is that your pooch’s adrenal glands have a low output of hormones. Often caused by an autoimmune disorder, the condition causes a dog’s own immune system to see your pet’s adrenal glands as a threat. The immune system then attacks and damages the adrenal glands.

Though much more rare, dogs can also suffer from Addison’s Disease due to damage to adrenal glands as a result of trauma, infection or treatment for Cushing’s disease. A secondary type of Addison’s can be caused by a defect or tumor in the pituitary gland. Suddenly ceasing long-term steroid treatment can also cause this condition.

What role do adrenal hormones play?

Your dog’s adrenal glands create two main hormones: aldosterone and cortisol. Aldosterone regulates organ functioning, which balances your pet’s potassium and sodium levels. These are responsible for maintaining optimal fluid levels in your pup’s body.

Cortisol has an important role in the overall functioning of your dog’s body, including breakdown of proteins and fat, regulating metabolism, blood pressure and production of glucose, counteracting stress, stimulating formation of red blood cells and suppressing inflammation.

Are some breeds more likely to develop Addison’s Disease?

Addison’s Disease can develop in any dog regardless of age or breed. However, the condition is most often diagnosed in young to middle-aged female dogs of these breeds: Labrador retrievers, standard poodles, Portuguese water dogs, Nova Scotia duck trolling retrievers, bearded collies and Leonbergers.

What are the symptoms of Addison’s Disease in dogs?

Similar to many conditions, symptoms of Addison’s Disease in dogs may be vague and common to many other illnesses or conditions. Keep in mind that symptoms may come and go, and vary in intensity Generally, symptoms of Addison’s Disease include:

  • Blood in stool
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of energy
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Weak pulse
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hair loss
  • Shaking
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Painful abdomen
  • Irregular heart rate

What is an Addisonian crisis?

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease may crop up suddenly and be extremely severe. This is known as an Addisonian crisis. Signs of an Addisonian crisis include life-threatening symptoms such as shock and collapse. If your dog experiences these symptoms, get them to a vet immediately.

What is Atypical Addison's Disease in dogs?

Dogs with Atypical Addison's Disease typically experience less severe symptoms of the disease, making the condition even more challenging to diagnose. These dogs do not present in Addisonian crisis, or suffer from severe dehydration or shock. Signs of atypical Addison's Disease in dogs may include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, or weight loss. Typically, these dogs experience chronic or intermittent gastrointestinal issues leading up to their diagnosis.

How is Addison's Disease in dogs diagnosed?

Most cases of Addison's Disease in dogs are diagnosed during an Addisonian crisis when the condition is acute and severe. Once the dog's condition has been stabilized, bloodwork and urinalysis will be done to look for signs of the disease such as anemia, high potassium and urea levels in the blood, and unusual levels of sodium, chloride and calcium. An ECG may also be required to detect any changes in your pup's heart rate.

The adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test is used to determine how well your dog's adrenal glands are functioning and is used to reach a definitive diagnosis of Addison's Disease.

How is Addison's Disease in dogs treated?

If your dog has suffered from an Addisonian crisis hospitalization and intensive care will be necessary to stabilize your pup's condition. Once your dog is out of immediate danger, your vet at Miller Clark Animal Hospital can prescribe one or more replacement hormone medications to help get your dog's hormones back to normal levels.

There is no cure for Addison's Disease in dogs. However, the condition can be managed with ongoing hormone replacement therapy and regular blood tests to check hormone and electrolyte levels so that adjustments to medications can be made as necessary. Finding just the right hormone replacement medications and strengths will take some time and a bit of trial and error so it's important to be patient.

It is essential for owners of dogs with Addison's disease to take their dog in for wellness examinations and never adjust the medications without explicit instructions from the veterinarian. 

What is the life expectancy for dogs with Addison's Disease?

With proper treatment and disease management, dogs with Addison's Disease can have a relatively normal life expectancy.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your canine companion displaying symptoms of Addison's Disease? At Miller Clark Animal Hospital our compassionate and friendly vets are experienced in diagnosing and treating conditions such as Addison's Disease in dogs. Contact us today to book an appointment. 

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