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Addison's Disease in Dogs - Canine Hypoadrenocorticism

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. June 2, 2022
Addison's Disease in Dogs - Canine Hypoadrenocorticism

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Addison's disease in dogs is a condition which is not exclusive to dogs. It is a relatively rare endocrine system disease which is also known as hypoadrenocorticism, among other names. It is most commonly suffered by young and middle-aged dogs. As a disease, it is relatively unknown, making it often difficult for veterinarians to recognize the symptoms. This is partly due to the fact many of its symptoms are concurrent with various other canine health problems. Although difficult to diagnose, it can be treated once a correct diagnosis is achieved.

At AnimalWised, we take a closer look at canine Addison's disease. Specifically, we look at the causes, symptoms and treatment of hypoadrenocorticism in dogs.

  1. Causes of Addison's disease in dogs
  2. Causes of Addison's disease in dogs
  3. Symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs
  4. Diagnosing Addison's disease in dogs
  5. Addison's disease in dogs treatment
  6. Dog breeds prone to Addison's disease

Causes of Addison's disease in dogs

Hypoadrenocorticism is a disease is caused by the inability of the dog's brain to release certain hormones, called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). These are the hormone's responsible for various bodily process in the dog. These include:

  • Maintaining the correct levels of blood glucose levels
  • Controlling the body's balance between sodium and potassium
  • Supporting normal heart function
  • Regulating the immune system

Although it is a disease, hypoadrenocorticism is sometimes referred to as Addison's syndrome in dogs. This is because it is not a contagious or infectious disease, and often results in unspecified symptoms. Essentially, it is a failure of the dog's body to properly function. As it is not contagious, there is not worry if a dog with Addison's disease comes in contact with other animals or humans.

Causes of Addison's disease in dogs

Although we know how Addison's disease in dog functions, we do not know its cause. This means we are not exactly sure why the adrenal glands of the endocrine system are unable to produce sufficient levels of hormones to allow the dog to function normally.

For this reason, the cause of most cases of Addison's disease in dogs is idiopathic adrenocortical atrophy. It is idiopathic because there is no known cause and it is an atrophy because glucocorticoids are not produced.

It is believed there is a genetic influence in the development of Addison's disease in dogs. They may be related to immune disorders which can be passed down through generations of dogs in the genes. These immune disorders can harm the dog's internal tissues and result in the aforementioned atrophy of the related parts of the endocrine system.

There are both primary and secondary types of hypoadrenocorticism:

  • Primary: a deficiency of both mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid secretion caused by the cessation of adrenal gland function. It is the most common type. The adrenal cortex could have been harmed by certain diseases or even by neoplasia such as tumors, although it is considered idiopathic.

  • Secondary: caused by issues with the dog's pituitary gland. It is significantly less common than primary Addison's disease.

Although Addison's disease is relatively rare in dogs, it is actually more commonly diagnosed in dogs than in humans. Females are more likely to be affected than males, especially if they are young or middle aged. It can also be related to medication usage, since steroid medication can affect hormone production.

Addison's Disease in Dogs - Canine Hypoadrenocorticism - Causes of Addison's disease in dogs

Symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs

Addison's disease in dogs causes various clinical symptoms. The most common are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss.
  • Dehydration
  • Apathy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Drinking a lot of water
  • Too much urine

These are just some of the symptoms that can be observed if your dog has Addison's disease. Symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea in dogs are non-specific and can be due to various disorders and pathologies. For this reason, we may not report our dog to the veterinarian as soon as we should. If gastrointestinal symptoms, not eating or similar symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, you need to take the dog to the vet.

Fortunately, Addison's disease in dogs is treatable. You can learn more about the diagnosis and treatment in the following sections.

Diagnosing Addison's disease in dogs

To diagnose Addison's disease in dogs, the first thing the vet will check is the medical history of your dog, followed by physical examinations and some diagnostic tests. These will require blood and urine sample to be taken for laboratory analysis, as well as ultrasound scans and x-rays, particularly in the abdomen. Learn more with our article on how to understand a dog's blood test.

Specifically, to confirm an Addison's disease diagnosis, a test known as an ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) stimulation test is required. This test will reveal if this hormone is absent in your dog or if the adrenal glands do not properly respond to it. This test is not at all invasive and is usually not cost prohibitive.

Addison's disease in dogs treatment

Once an Addison's disease diagnosis is achieved, it is relatively easy to treat. Although it cannot be cured, its management is such that the dog can live a completely normal life. A veterinarian will prescribe the hormones the dog does not naturally produce in tablet form. We will then administer the medication according to the professional's instructions. This treatment will have to continue throughout the dog's life.

Normally, corticosteroids should also be given at first, but over time the dose may be reduced until they are completely eliminated. The vet will perform regular checkups on our dog throughout their life to make sure the medication is working properly and the dog is otherwise healthy. Any changes in prescription can be addressed during these visits and they may be more regular during the initial stages of treatment.

Learn more about these types of medication with our article on corticosteroids for dogs.

Addison's Disease in Dogs - Canine Hypoadrenocorticism - Addison's disease in dogs treatment

Dog breeds prone to Addison's disease

As Addison's disease is idiopathic, there is no prevention of this disorder. However, we do know there is a genetic influence. This means certain dog breeds are more prone to developing hypoadrenocorticism than others. These breeds include:

  • Certain Spaniel breeds
  • Bearded Collie
  • Rottweiler
  • St Bernard
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Standard Poodle
  • Certain Spaniel breeds
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Great Dane
  • Bearded Collie
  • Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Basset Hound
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Learn more about other hormone-related canine disorders with our guide to hypothyroidism in dogs.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Addison's Disease in Dogs - Canine Hypoadrenocorticism, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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Addison's Disease in Dogs - Canine Hypoadrenocorticism