Addison's Disease in Dogs

Addison's Disease in Dogs

What Is Addison's Disease in Dogs?

In dogs, Addison's disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, is a condition where the adrenal glands fail to generate sufficient corticosteroid hormones. With timely diagnosis and proper treatment, affected dogs can lead fulfilling, long lives.

The adrenal glands are twin diminutive organs situated adjacent to the kidneys. Their primary function is the production of corticosteroid hormones, crucial for various bodily functions, including:

  1. Glucocorticoids (like cortisol): Influence the metabolism of proteins, sugars, and fats. These substances are stored and utilized during high-stress scenarios.
  2. Mineralocorticoids (like aldosterone): Regulate levels of sodium and potassium.

Adrenal glands are essential when creatures, including humans, experience stress. They release hormones resulting in a variety of physiological and behavioral responses. In canines, signs of stress might manifest as:

  • Repetitive stair climbing
  • Observable anxiety and constant pacing
  • Interactions with fellow canines
  • Elation upon your return home

For dogs suffering from Addison's disease, their adrenal glands are not producing hormones in the required amounts, affecting their ability to cope with stress. Without these vital hormones, even minor stress triggers can lead to grave consequences and, in extreme instances, can be fatal.

Symptoms of Addison's Disease in Dogs

Recognizing Addison's disease in dogs solely based on symptoms can be challenging. Often, the condition is identified unexpectedly during routine blood tests when veterinarians spot inconsistencies in electrolyte levels. A vet might suspect Addison's disease if a dog shows intermittent symptoms such as fatigue, reduced hunger, episodes of vomiting, and irregular bowel movements.

Around one-third of dogs diagnosed with Addison's disease have undergone an Addisonian crisis. The dog's sudden collapse marks such a crisis due to its inability to handle external or internal stress. This might result in critically high blood potassium levels, leading to unusual heartbeats and a significantly reduced heart rate. Furthermore, Addison's disease has the potential to result in acute hypoglycemia or perilously low blood sugar levels.

An Addisonian crisis is indicative of about 90% dysfunction of the adrenal cortex, which is the adrenal gland's external layer. If not promptly and adequately addressed, a shock from this crisis can be life-threatening.

Causes of Addison's Disease in Dogs

Addison's disease in dogs stems from two primary forms of hypoadrenocorticism:

  1. Primary Hypoadrenocorticism develops when a dog's immune system targets and damages the adrenal glands. The adrenal gland may also undergo drug-induced damage from medicines like ketoconazole, trilostane, and sodden.
  2. Secondary Hypoadrenocorticism: This arises when there's a reduction in the releasing hormones originating from the brain. Factors contributing to this condition include inflammation, tumors, brain injuries, or inborn defects.

Often, dogs diagnosed with Addison's disease are relatively young, usually between three to six years of age. However, the disease doesn't discriminate by age. Female dogs tend to be more susceptible than their male counterparts. While certain breeds like West Highland White Terriers, Great Danes, Basset Hounds, Portuguese Water Dogs, Airedale Terriers, Standard Poodles, and Bearded Collies are more commonly affected, it's crucial to understand that dogs of any breed or age might suffer from this condition.

Healing and Overseeing Addison's Disease in Canines

Canines experiencing an Addisonian crisis are often administered intravenous fluids to stabilize electrolyte imbalances, steroids, and specific drugs to rectify heart rhythm irregularities. These interventions generally lead to favorable outcomes, with dogs showing swift improvement.

Oversight of Addison's disease is an ongoing process. Frequent blood tests might be required, particularly during the first three to six months, as your vet determines the ideal medication dosage frequency. Fortunately, once diagnosed and treated, most dogs with Addison's disease enjoy a fulfilling and long life.


Is it possible for Addison’s disease in dogs to disappear? 

Regrettably, Addison’s disease doesn’t resolve by itself. Medications are crucial for the well-being of dogs diagnosed with this ailment.

How prevalent is Addison’s disease among dogs? 

While Addison's disease is relatively frequent in dogs, it's not as ubiquitous as Cushing's disease. The latter is essentially the antithesis of Addison's, characterized by the body's overproduction of steroids and cortisol.

What's the life expectancy of dogs with Addison’s disease? 

A dog with Addison's disease can enjoy an average lifespan with timely diagnosis and suitable treatment. However, if an Addisonian crisis strikes and remains untreated, it could prove lethal.

What initiates Addison’s disease in canines? 

The root cause of Addison’s disease in dogs often remains elusive. It's primarily perceived as an immune-mediated disorder but can manifest due to particular medications, infections, trauma, or tumors within the adrenal glands.

What leads to atypical Addison’s disease in canines? 

The origins of atypical Addison's remain a mystery. In this condition, dogs regulate their electrolyte disparities via alternative hormones. Such dogs might only need glucocorticoid supplementation and exhibit symptoms akin to a standard Addisonian dog without the severe crisis. It's advised to keep track of electrolytes in atypical Addisonian dogs every three to six months, as many eventually evolve to the conventional form of the disease.

Can vets test for Addison’s disease in dogs? 

The ACTH stimulation test is typically employed to diagnose or rule out Addison’s disease. Most veterinary clinics, as well as specialty and emergency centers, can perform this test. The drawn blood samples are dispatched to a lab, which returns the findings to the vet.

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