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Dog Addison's Disease

Updated 1/17/2011

Addison's disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is not terribly common in dogs but can be potentially devastating when it does occur.

What Causes Addison's Disease

The adrenal glands, located next to the kidneys, produce a variety of hormones including those that allow animals to respond to stressful situations (glucocorticoids) and those that maintain normal fluid and electrolyte levels in the body (mineralocorticoids). When the adrenal glands do not produce adequate amounts of these hormones, Addison's disease is the result. Usually, the dog's own immune system has attacked and destroyed his adrenal tissues, causing Addison's disease. Less frequently, other causes such as drug therapy are responsible. For example, the sudden withdrawal of high doses of corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone) may cause Addison's disease in dogs.

The Signs of Addison's Disease

Any dog can develop Addison's disease, but it is most frequently diagnosed in young to middle-aged females. Typical symptoms include:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • dehydration
  • weakness
  • increased thirst
  • poor appetite
  • weight loss

With severe Addison's disease, extremely low glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid production causes a condition known as an Addisonian crisis. Affected dogs usually collapse, have extremely slow and irregular heart rates, and may die.

Unfortunately, all of these symptoms may be caused by a number of different diseases, and because Addison's is relatively uncommon, it is frequently overlooked or misdiagnosed.

Routine blood work may hint at the presence of Addison's disease, especially if an electrolyte panel is included. Finding low sodium and high potassium in the blood is suggestive, but other diseases can cause these results also. To add to the confusion, some Addisonian dogs only suffer from low glucocorticoid production and their normal mineralocorticoid levels mean that these typical electrolyte changes do not occur.

An ACTH stimulation test is required to definitively diagnose all cases of Addison's disease.

Veterinary and Home Care

Dogs in the midst of an Addisonian crisis will need to be hospitalized for intravenous fluid therapy, glucocorticoid injections, normalization of the body's electrolyte levels, and close monitoring. Long-term therapy includes medications to replace the missing mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid hormones.

Options include:

fludrocortisone acetate – an oral medication that has good mineralocorticoid and some glucocorticoid activity. Additional supplementation with glucocorticoids may or may not be necessary.

Percorten-V – an injection given about once every 25 days to replace natural mineralocorticoids. Additional supplementation with glucocorticoids is necessary.

prednisone – a glucocorticoid that may be given at low doses regularly and/or at higher doses at times of stress.

Addison's disease cannot be cured but with a dedicated owner, affected dogs can live long and happy lives.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain product or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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