If you have one of the susceptible breeds listed in this post (see below) your dog may be at risk of developing Addison’s Disease. Luckily, this autoimmune disorder is rare. Still, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs in case your dog does happen to develop the condition.
Addison’s disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, tends to occur most often in young to middle-aged female dogs. In addition to therapeutic treatment, dogs with Addison’s should also have a diet low in salt and high in balanced nutrition. Premium dog foods that are breed specific are a good choice although it’s always best to check with a licensed veterinarian.
This post will help you identify and understand the most important aspects of the disease to keep your dog healthy for a long time to come.
What is Addison’s Disease in Dogs?
Addison’s disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is a rare endocrine disorder that occurs due to inadequate production of adrenal (affecting the kidneys) hormones. Think of the endocrine system like a highway of chemical messengers that deliver the appropriate amount of hormones to specific glands within the body.
With Addison’s disease, the adrenal glands (there are 2 located above the kidneys) produce less mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids which causes a serious electrolyte imbalance. The adrenal glands produce hormones that are necessary for survival.
Mineralocorticoids are hormones that help regulate the amount of sodium and potassium in the body, both of which help to regular blood pressure. When a dog has Addison’s disease, this hormones allows the excretion of too much potassium from the body while retaining too much salt.
This hormone influences the reabsorption of sodium and the excretion of potassium from the kidneys. An imbalance of these electrolytes could leave your dog more susceptible to cardiovascular and kidney disease.
Ultimately, the job of this hormone is to manage blood-glucose levels by regulating the metabolism of protein, lipids and carbohydrates in the body. Glucocorticoids have an important job in regulating the effects of stress (environmental, physical, etc.) and maintain healthy digestion in dogs.
In the early stages of Addison’s disease, you may notice vomiting and diarrhea that come and go.
There is no known cause of atypical Addison’s disease in dogs, but it is thought to be genetically inherited (see the types of dogs most susceptible below).
Primary Addison’s disease destroys all 3 layers of the adrenal glands which seriously decreases vital hormone production.
Iatrogenic Cause of Addison’s Disease in Dogs
An iatrogenic cause for Addison’s disease means that the dog has likely been taking synthetic steroids for a long time that are suddenly stopped. When this happens, the body isn’t prepared and isn’t able to quickly top up hormone levels for healthy function.
It’s important to understand that any dog breed can develop Addison’s. Females appear to be more highly affected and tends to occur in young to middle-aged dogs. Neutered male dogs also appear to be more susceptible to hypoadrenocorticism.
Beware of Adrenal Crisis
Unfortunately, you may not realize your dog is in trouble until he/she develops an adrenal crisis. Dogs with presenting with an adrenal crisis are considered to be in hypovolemic shock and could collapsed. This is a medical emergency caused by severe fluid loss. Death will occur without immediate treatment.
Signs of adrenal crisis in dogs include the following:
Once the initial signs of shock and dehydration are brought under control, the veterinarian will want to perform tests to determine the cause. After a diagnosis of Addison’s Disease is made, your dog will likely require long-term medication, digestive supplements, and a low-salt diet.
Dogs very ill with Addison’s disease usually need IV fluids and close monitoring of their electrolytes (sodium and potassium) while in the hospital. IV therapy is often the first line of treatment to offset the deadly effects of shock caused by severe fluid loss.
There are various drugs that can be used to treat dogs with Addison’s disease. These include injectable or table form hormone replacements. If your dog is experiencing an adrenal crisis, he/she will likely receive the injectable form of glucocorticoid.
Since Addison’s disease causes low levels of glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, the dog will need something to replace those missing hormones.
How Well Do Dogs Respond to Treatment?
Most dogs respond well to monthly injections. Unfortunately, it can take several months to find the perfect dosage for the dog, but once that happens it likely won’t need to change.
You may need to follow-up with the veterinarian who will perform the injections and monitor the effectiveness of hormone replacement therapy. The type of medication prescribed may depend on the veterinarian’s preference, any underlying conditions, other medications the dog may be currently taking. The following is an example of the most commonly prescribed drugs to treat Addison’s disease in dogs.
If you have a prescription, you may be able to get these prescription drugs for a lower price through 1-800-petmeds.
Always check with a veterinarian before making any drastic changes to your dog’s diet, especially if your dog is sick. New diets are generally supplemented a little at a time, gradually changing from one food to another over a week or more.
Clinical symptoms of Addison’s disease are linked to electrolyte imbalance and could cause all or some of the following symptoms:
Dehydration and diarrhea
Dehydration and diarrhea in Addison’s disease are related to aldosterone deficiency . Increased urine output and the inability to store the right amount of fluids in the body will lead to dehydration.
The major hormone involved in fighting stress conditions is cortisol. As there is less production of cortisol in Addison’s disease, the inability to withstand stress can lead to weight loss due to lack of appetite.
Seen in dogs affected by Addison’s disease due to the lack of enough cortisol required for gluconeogenesis. The excessive loss of water from the body and frequent thirst leads to polydipsia or frequent water uptake.
At the end of the day…
The good news is that Addison’s Disease in dogs is rare. Some of the symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs could signify any number of conditions and that’s why it’s important to bring your dog for regular veterinarian check-ups.
Contact your veterinarian for more information about Addison’s disease in dogs. This information is not a substitute for veterinary advice. If you suspect your dog is having or is going through an Addison Crisis, call your veterinarian right away.