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Addison's Disease in Dogs

Posted December 23, 2011 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

How Addison's Disease Affects Your Dog
Addison’s disease (hypoadrenocorticism) is a hormonal disorder that is caused by a deficient production of the adrenal gland hormones, cortisol and aldosterone.

The adrenal glands are two small glands located next to your dog’s kidneys. The glands help regulate several bodily functions and are responsible for the production of cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol is a steroid that helps your dog combat stress, while aldosterone helps regulate the water and electrolytes in her body. A deficiency of these two hormones is referred to as hypoadrenocorticism, or Addison's disease.

There are two types of Addison's disease, referred to as primary and secondary Addison's disease. Primary Addison’s disease is the most common form; it may be futher subdivided into typical and atypical disease. The primary type of Addison’s is a result of your dog’s own immune system destroying the adrenal gland itself. Why this happens is unknown (idiopathic). Certain medications, toxins, cancer, or concurrent disease are less common causes of primary hypoadrenocorticism. Addison's disease may also result when the drug used to treat Cushing's syndrome destroys too much of the adrenal tissues, resulting in a deficiency of cortisol and aldosterone.

Secondary Addison's disease results from a problem, such as a tumor, in the pituitary gland, which is an important hormonal regulator located in the brain. Secondary Addison's disease can also develop if your dog has been treated with long-term steroids for any reason and the medication is abruptly stopped.

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease
Syptoms may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness 
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Depression 
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst 
  • Cool to touch
  • Shaking
  • Slow heart rate
  • Addisonian crisis in dogs

Sometimes, Addison’s disease can manifest in a much more serious form. If your dog suddenly becomes weak with severe vomiting and diarrhea, or collapses, contact your veterinarian immediately!

Diagnosing Addison’s Disease in Dogs
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and take a thorough history of your pooch. Most likely, diagnostic tests will be recommended to identify the cause of your dog’s illness, especially since her symptoms could be the result of so many different conditions.

These tests may include:

  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
  • Antibody tests to identify if your pet has been exposed to vector-borne or other infectious diseases
  • A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood-related conditions
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog
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