Addison’s Disease, also known as canine hypoadrenocorticism, affects a dog’s ability to produce hormones from the outer part or cortex of the adrenal gland.
Keep reading to learn some common symptoms associated with Addison’s Disease and what you can do to help if your dog develops it.
What causes Addison’s Disease?
An immune-mediated destruction of adrenal tissue primarily causes Addison’s Disease in dogs. The collapse of the adrenal cortex leads to a decrease in cortisol and aldosterone production, both hormones produced by the adrenal glands.
In some cases, the destruction of adrenal tissue may be caused by an autoimmune reaction that causes inflammation or damage to the glands.
Less commonly, the adrenal glands may be damaged by trauma, infection, or cancer. These conditions can also decrease cortisol and aldosterone production, resulting in Addison’s Disease.
Addison’s Disease can also occur following treatment of Cushing’s Disease, in which too much cortisol and aldosterone are produced.
Cushing’s Disease occurs when large amounts of these hormones are present for prolonged periods, and the body overcompensates after treatment by decreasing its production.
Therefore, after successful treatment for Cushing’s Disease, some dogs may develop symptoms associated with Addison’s Disease due to decreased hormone production from their adrenal glands.
Understanding the symptoms
The most common symptom of Addison’s Disease is fatigue.
Other symptoms may include vomiting and diarrhea, weight loss, muscle weakness, decreased appetite, lethargy, dehydration, frequent urination, excessive drinking (polydipsia), panting or difficulty breathing (dyspnea), and sudden collapse.
Unfortunately, these symptoms are shared with other ailments, so it can be difficult for veterinarians to determine if an animal has Addison’s Disease based solely on these common signs.
Diagnosing Addison’s Disease – ruling out other conditions
The first step in diagnosing a dog with Addison’s Disease is to explore the symptoms and see what illnesses cause those symptoms. After a physical examination, it is time to explore testing options.
Blood tests are typically used to rule out other disorders, such as kidney failure or adrenal gland cancer, before an official diagnosis of Addison’s Disease can be made.
Your veterinarian will also likely perform a physical exam on your pet and may recommend X-rays or an abdominal ultrasound to check for any underlying conditions that might be causing its symptoms.
Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend additional imaging studies such as MRI or CT scans to rule out other causes and get a better picture of what is happening inside your dog’s body.
These scans allow for a more detailed examination of the structure and function of the pituitary gland and surrounding areas.
Testing for Addison’s Disease
Once these test results have ruled out all other conditions, your vet will move forward with additional testing to diagnose Addison’s Disease. The diagnosis of Addison’s Disease in dogs is based on medical history, medications, clinical signs, and standard blood/urine tests.
The most definitive test for diagnosis is the ACTH-stimulation test. The ACTH-stimulation test is the gold standard for diagnosing Addison’s Disease in dogs because it measures cortisol levels before and after an injection of synthetic ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone).
Most dogs present in the acute crisis phase
Most dog owners don’t know or suspect anything is wrong with their dog until the disease has reached an acute crisis phase, known as an Addisonian crisis.
This medical emergency for dogs can be life-threatening if not treated quickly. It occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands become over-stressed, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and abdominal pain.
Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help your pup make a full recovery, including the following:
Intravenous fluid therapy
One of the most important elements of treating an Addisonian crisis involves administering intravenous (IV) fluids to your dog.
This is done to help restore electrolyte balance in the body, which helps normalize heart rhythms and blood pressure levels. IV fluids also provide hydration and allow medications to be administered quickly and effectively.
Steroids such as prednisone or dexamethasone are often prescribed to dogs suffering from an Addisonian crisis.
These drugs help reduce inflammation in the body and can help reduce symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and lethargy.
They also stimulate the body’s production of cortisol and aldosterone hormones, which helps restore hormonal balance.
Medications for abnormal heart rhythms
Dogs that experience an Addisonian crisis may also have abnormal heart rhythms, which need to be treated with medications such as digoxin or atropine sulfate.
These medications help regulate the heart rate, allowing it to beat more regularly without putting too much strain on the heart muscle.
They also help improve blood flow throughout the body, ensuring oxygen-rich blood reaches all organs and tissues without delay.
If your dog has an acute Addisonian crisis, you must immediately take it to the vet.
If your dog has been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, you may wonder what long-term treatment options are available and how this Disease affects your dog’s immune system.
Fortunately, Desoxycorticosterone pivalate (DOCP) injections, approved by the FDA, can treat Addison’s Disease.
DOCP injections replace missing mineralocorticoid aldosterone in dogs suffering from Addison’s Disease.
The amount of DOCP needed will vary based on the size of the dog and the severity of the symptoms. It is generally administered every 3-4 weeks to maintain an adequate aldosterone level in the patient’s body.
There is also the option to give your pup a pill twice daily instead, though this can be a more challenging option for many owners.
Daily pills are generally easier to administer than shots as they don’t require any special equipment or medical training. The downside? Getting some dogs to take their medicine in pill form can be difficult.
If your pup tends to be finicky with food or treats, it may not react well to taking pills regularly. Additionally, you will need to track when you give your pup its medication and ensure that no doses are missed; this can be tough if you have a busy schedule or multiple pets.
Understand the prognosis
The prognosis for dogs with Addison’s Disease depends on how quickly it is detected and treated. With early intervention, most dogs will have no long-term effects from the condition and can live an otherwise everyday life without significant complications.
However, if untreated, Addison’s Disease can cause serious health issues such as organ failure or even death.
Therefore, it is essential to work closely with a veterinarian to ensure that your pet receives proper care and treatment as soon as possible after being diagnosed.
Pituitary gland problems, such as Addison’s Disease, can be challenging to diagnose due to their wide range of symptoms that can often mimic other Diseases or conditions.
Suppose you suspect your dog may have a pituitary gland problem like Addison’s Disease.
In that case, a veterinarian must have your pup evaluated immediately so some diagnostic tests can be run.
If a diagnosis comes back positive, a treatment plan can be developed. With early detection and proper management, many dogs live long, healthy lives despite having this condition.
Final thoughts on Addison’s Disease
Certain canine breeds may be more likely to develop Addison’s Disease, including Portuguese Water Dogs, Bearded Collies, Standard Poodles, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Leonbergers, Great Danes, and Labrador Retrievers.
Pet owners must familiarize themselves with the signs of this condition to protect their furry friends best.
Early detection and treatment are critical for Addison’s Disease in dogs. With prompt intervention, most will experience no long-term effects and can enjoy a full life without complications. However, if left untreated, the condition can be potentially fatal as it may lead to organ failure.
Therefore, it’s essential to consult with your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment options. Since Addison’s Disease has many symptoms that may resemble other medical issues, accurate diagnosis is critical for successfully managing this condition.