Dogs with Addison’s Disease Can Lead Full, Happy Lives
Your middle-aged female dog has just been diagnosed with Hypoadrenocorticism, more commonly known as Addison’s Disease. Your veterinarian has probably done a lengthy explanation of what this means for you and your pet, but you still have some questions about the whole health issue. Don’t despair. Addison’s Disease is a treatable illness, but it will require overcoming some special challenges and making specific accommodations for her. Your dog can lead a normal, happy life with medical support and treatment.
Addison’s Disease Defined
Addison’s Disease results from a decrease in the production of two hormones called mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids, which are created by the adrenal glands, located near the kidneys. These adrenal hormones help control salt, sugar, and water balance in a dog’s body. Insufficient production of one or both of these hormones will lead to serious health issues. Ideally, the pituitary gland in the brain controls the adrenal glands, but problems can arise. If the message from the pituitary gland is disrupted or misdirected to the adrenal glands, they will not make the necessary amounts of cortisol.
Though Addison’s Disease in dogs is rare, when it does appear it is most often seen in young to middle-aged female dogs, with the average age of symptoms noted at about four years old. (This diagnosis is extremely rare in cats). According to veterinarians, Addison’s can affect pets several ways. Its onset can be sudden and severe, or it may only flair up intermittently and its intensity will vary from episode to episode.
Stress is a culprit for triggering Addison’s in dogs, but not the only cause. A pet’s personality plays a factor in how stress is managed. When your pet is stressed, she adrenal glands will increase production of cortisol as a calming agent. Dogs with Addison’s will not be able to produce enough cortisol to deal with anxiety. Of course, what a dog finds stressful will differ from animal to animal, but for some any change in their lifestyle will cause the stress level to rise. Traveling, hosting unfamiliar houseguests, boarding and other causes may trigger an episode.
Signs and Symptoms for Addison’s Disease
Dogs with Addison’s Disease can experience an entire list of possible symptoms. These include:
Dehydration and overall weakness may also appear. Vomiting and diarrhea can occur and this will lead to dehydration. Severe dehydration will stress kidney function by increasing waste products in the blood that would be normally eliminated (creatinine and blood urea nitrogen called BUN). This may appear as kidney failure, but it is really just a symptom of Addison’s. Urine can be diluted.
Blood tests may reveal several key elements that lead to a diagnosis of Addison’s Disease, including a low blood sodium and high blood potassium level, changes in white blood cells (WBC) identified as a stress leukogram, and low blood sugar. An increased blood potassium level can create abnormalities in heart rhythm that will be life threatening. Heart rates can also become too slow and irregular.
Some dog breeds such as Bearded Collies, Standard Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, West Highland White Terriers, Rottweilers, and Wheaten Terriers may be more prone to Addison’s Disease due to familial links.
Symptoms of Addison’s Disease in dogs can vary from week to week, too. One week your dog will seem overly tired and the next week she is fine. She may throw up once and have no other issues after that until she has a severe reaction.
Dogs with Addison’s may also have other endocrine diseases like hypothroidism and diabetes.
Diagnosing Addison’s Disease
To determine if a dog has Addison’s, your veterinarian will look at an animal’s medical history and breed as well as conducting a physical exam. A significant marker for Addison’s Disease is a low sodium level compared with the ratio to potassium. Low sodium amounts cause blood pressure to fall. Laboratory tests, urine analysis, and blood work will probably give some indication of Addison’s, so the vet will use an ACTH test to confirm the disease. This stimulation test will measure how well the adrenal glands respond to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is a hormone produced in the pituitary gland that stimulates the adrenal glands to release a hormone called cortisol.
Your vet will get a blood sample from your dog. This will be followed with an injection of ACTH, usually into the muscle of your pet’s shoulder. After either 30 minutes or 60 minutes, or both, depending on how much ACTH your dog receives, her blood will be drawn again. Lab tests will check the cortisol level in all the blood samples. This will help determine if your dog has Addison’s Disease.
Treatment for Addison’s Disease
Depending upon the severity of your dog’s Addison’s Disease at her diagnosis, treatment may involve hospitalization for extreme cases to stabilize dogs with intravenous fluids (dehydration) and administer cortisol-like drugs to correct her hormone imbalance. It is possible more drugs may also be given to help neutralize the effects of potassium on the heart.
For long-term treatment, dogs will need hormones. This can occur either by daily pill or by injection about every 25 days. Some options for Addison’s treatment include Prednisolone, and Percorten-V and its generic counterpart, Zycortal. Since cortisol production is diminished in response to stress for dogs with Addison’s Disease, pet owners should try to decrease stressful situations as much as possible, too. Happy. Healthy. Active. Life can go on for dogs with Addison’s Disease. With some support from their human friends, they can be part of the family for a long time.