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

addison disease in dogs

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's 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.

The Addisonian Crisis

On some occasions, the disease takes on a life-threatening presentation which includes severe weakness, seizures, continuous vomiting, profuse diarrhea, and collapse. This is called an Addisonian crisis and is considered an emergency. This happens due to the severe electrolyte imbalance from the persistent lack of cortisol and aldosterone in the dog’s system. Addisonian crisis can be fatal to dogs if not addressed immediately. Dogs experiencing this crisis need to be treated intensively and hospitalized for a couple of days to stabilize the condition.

How is Addison's 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's 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.

Medications like Desoxycorticosterone, also known as DOCP (brand name Percorten-V), is one of the approved medications for treating Addison’s disease in dogs. It’s an injectable medication, usually given every 3-4 weeks, that replaces aldosterone in the dog’s system. Oral administration of glucocorticoids, such as prednisone or prednisolone, is used in combination with DOCP to help maintain proper aldosterone and cortisol levels in an Addisonian dog.

There are medications, like fludrocortisone (brand name Florinef) that can replace both cortisol and aldosterone in the system and are given orally, suited for dogs that do not tolerate monthly injections well.

Unlike some hormonal diseases, dogs being treated for Addison’s disease do not necessarily have to modify their diets or activity levels. If management is successful, the dog can often live a normal life for many years, even after an Addisonian crisis. Your veterinarian will regularly monitor your dog’s blood values and electrolyte levels and adjust the dosage of the medications accordingly to make sure that the treatment is working and your dog doesn’t experience any side effects.

Prognosis of canine Addison’s Disease, if diagnosed properly and treated accordingly, is good to excellent. Early diagnosis is key to effective and successful treatment when it comes to Addison’s Disease in dogs. If your dog is showing any of the clinical signs mentioned above, it’s best to visit your vet for a proper exam.

Read more:

My dog has Cushing’s disease. What does this mean?

Is my dog hypothyroid?

Diabetes in Dogs

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