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addison disease in dogs

My dog has Addison’s Disease. What does this mean?

Hypoadrenocorticism is a very long medical word. In this article, we’ll unravel its meaning to help you understand this condition. Hypoadrenocorticism, also known as Addison (or Addison’s) Disease, is a condition that develops in dogs and is extremely rare in cats. Keep reading to learn more about its signs, diagnosis, and treatment!

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What does ‘hypoadrenocorticism’ mean?

Breaking the word up, ‘hypo’ means ‘low’, and ‘adreno’ means ‘of the adrenal gland’.

The adrenal glands secrete hormones and have two distinct areas: the cortex, which is responsible for steroid production, and the medulla, which is responsible for the production of adrenaline. Both hormones are required by the body when under stress. Animals that suffer from Addison’s Disease have an adrenal cortex that can’t produce enough steroid hormone in response to stress. So, hypo- (low function of), -adreno (theadrenal), -corticism (cortex).

What are the signs of Addison Disease?

Patients with this disease cannot increase their steroid hormone production (cortisol) in times of stress. This means that they may have low blood sugar and exhibit weakness, fatigue, and even collapse. Other common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight Loss
  • Loss of Appetite

Additionally, there is another steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex that regulates salt balance (a mineralocorticoid). It’s commonly missing in most (but not all) cases of Addison Disease. If this isn’t produced, patients can become dehydrated and experience arrhythmias. In some circumstances, these symptoms are life-threatening.

How is Addison Disease diagnosed?

Addison Disease can be a great mimic, meaning it can look like a lot of other illnesses. It often appears over a long period of time and can wax and wane - at times the pet may appear normal.

Your vet may have a suspicion based on the pet’s breed and symptoms. Some breeds of dog are thought to be prone to this condition, including the Standard Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, Great Dane, and West Highland White Terrier. Additionally, young female dogs seem to be the most prone.

A routine blood test will often show dehydration and salt imbalance. Another blood test to measure cortisol levels can rule it out. If cortisol levels are normal, the pet will not have Addison’s. If the levels are low, an ACTH stimulation test is carried out to see how the adrenal gland can react in response to stress. If the result is low, Addison’s is confirmed.

How is Addison Disease treated?

The good news is that Addison’s is very treatable. Steroid hormone can be replaced by a daily tablet, and the mineralocorticoid can be replaced by another tablet or a monthly injection.

Your pet will be monitored closely when first on treatment to ensure the correct dose is established. After that, they will probably be monitored every 3 or 4 months via a simple blood test and physical exam.

The treatment for Addison’s Disease is lifelong. However, the prognosis is good once the correct medication dose is achieved and maintained.

Read more:

Everything You Need to Know About Diarrhea in Dogs

Everything You Need to Know About Vomiting in Dogs

Have more questions about Addison’s Disease in dogs?

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