Addison’s disease in dogs is caused by a serious deficiency of cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. When the adrenal glands produce cortisol, the hormone is used by organs and tissues throughout the body in hundreds of ways, including the management of stress responses. Cortisol also helps maintain blood pressure, stimulates appetite, balances insulin’s breakdown of sugar, and promotes cardiovascular function. In the more common Cushing's disease, the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, as opposed to too little cortisol.
The adrenal glands are triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys.They produce essential steroids and hormones that your dog’s body needs to function. Due to an obstruction of the adrenal gland, (or to the pituitary gland in the brain that signals the production of cortisol), the body undergoes hypoadrenocorticism, a state where the lack of adrenal function creates a deficiency of cortisol and aldosterone. Along with the inability to manage stress, this deficiency can also cause high level of potassium and low levels of salt, creating a serious electrolyte imbalance.
Addison’s disease most commonly affects female dogs around four or five years old. This condition is typically caused by injury to the adrenal glands’ tissue from infection, hemorrhaging, or autoimmune disorders. If your pet is coming off of steroid treatment, the steroid withdrawal may also be causing an imbalance. Lastly, the pituitary gland in the brain that signals the production of cortisol can also be the cause of Addison’s disease.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease are typically vague and inconsistent. Dogs may go through bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, shaking episodes, increased thirst, and urination. Vets look for signs of depression, dehydration, weakness, and an irregular heartbeat. Because these symptoms are associated with other common illnesses, Addison’s disease is often misdiagnosed
Addison’s disease is diagnosed by vets through a series of exams, including a physical exam, blood test, and an ACTH challenge. Once Addison’s disease is diagnosed, long term treatment options include pills or injections to manage your pet’s cortisol levels.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.