Seeing your dog in pain can cause despair and anxiety, especially when you don’t know what is causing their discomfort. If your pet has been exhibiting unusual behaviour, such as sudden excessive thirst, depression, or lethargy, it may be a sign of something more serious. Addison’s disease can appear suddenly and severely, so it’s important to look out for any possible symptoms and treat them accordingly before it’s too late. Here is everything you need to know about Addison’s disease in dogs: treatment, management, and symptoms.

What is Addison’s disease in dogs?

Addison’s disease, which is also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is an illness caused by a drop in hormone production that stems from the outer cortex of the adrenal gland. In less technical jargon, Addison’s disease in dogs occurs when the adrenal glands, near the kidneys, fail to produce enough hormones. Although this disease can be both treated and managed effectively, it cannot be cured and, in some cases, it can be potentially life-threatening.  

What are the adrenal glands and what are they used for?

The adrenal glands are located in the abdomen, near the dog’s kidneys. These glands regulate a range of bodily functions and produce two essential hormones, known as Glucocorticoids and Mineralocorticoids. These steroids are in charge of regulating the dog’s internal organs and protecting it’s immune system. 

Glucocorticoids are a natural form of steroids, also referred to as natural cortisone. These hormones are responsible for fighting off infections and improving appetite. Without enough glucocorticoids circulating in the body, your dog’s health could quickly deteriorate. 

Mineralocorticoids are another type of steroid hormone that regulates electrolyte imbalances, such as the level of salt and water in the body. More specifically, these hormones promote sodium and potassium transport, which are vital for maintaining fluid balance in dogs. Similarly, too much or too little mineralocorticoid can cause serious medical issues.

Common causes of Addison’s disease in dogs

There are a few potential causes of Addison’s disease in dogs. Typically, this disease is spurred on by an immune-mediated destruction of the adrenal tissue. In other instances, adrenal glands can be destroyed as a result of trauma, haemorrhages, cancer, severe infection, or even adrenolytic agents, like the drug mitotane.

Dog owners commonly ask us, is Addison’s disease hereditary in dogs? Although genetic predisposition has been identified across generations, the actual inheritance pattern is unknown. In many cases, it is difficult to pinpoint what causes Addison’s disease in dogs.

Symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs

An Addison’s disease diagnosis is typically based on your pet’s medical history and past medications, as well as various blood and urine tests. However, there are also some clinical signs to look out for.  

Some of the most common Addison’s disease in dogs symptoms include: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea  
  • Weight loss, anorexia, or lack of appetite 
  • Bloody stools 
  • Alopecia (hair loss) 
  • Weakness 
  • Depression 
  • Shaking 
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive thirst 
  • Increase urination 
  • Irregular or slow heart rate 
  • Low temperature 
  • Painful abdomen 
  • Hyperpigmentation of the skin 

Addison’s disease diagnosis

Given the extremely wide range of symptoms associated with Addison’s disease, dogs with progressive debilitation are difficult to diagnose. The symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs tend to ebb and flow, adding another layer of difficulty to the process. 

This disease is typically diagnosed during an episode known as an Addisonian crisis. At this stage, the disease has reached an acute stage and the subject experiences life-threatening symptoms such as physical shock and collapse. 

After the dog is stabilised from the Addisonian crisis, a veterinarian will conduct several exams to determine the cause of the collapse and eliminate any adverse diagnoses. Typically, they perform blood work tests and a urinalysis. 

Unusually high levels of potassium and urea in the blood, alongside abnormal fluctuations in the levels of sodium, chloride, and calcium point to a case of Addison’s disease diagnosis in dogs. 

Nevertheless, the ultimate test for Addison’s disease is an ACTH-stimulation test. This will measure and monitor the function of the dog’s adrenal glands by introducing a synthetic hormone known as ACTH.

Treatment for Addison’s disease in dogs

If you are wondering ​​how to treat Addison’s disease in dogs, daily doses of medication can help correct imbalances in the level of steroid production. Your dog will need to be on a lifelong replacement of cortisol and aldosterone, which can be administered orally. 

However, the dosage of these replacement hormones must be adjusted over time, especially if your pet undergoes high levels of stress, such as travel or surgery. Owners must not adjust the amount of medication or change brands without prior consultation, as this could trigger another hormonal imbalance. 

Managing Addison’s disease in dogs

Although Addison’s disease is incurable, it is manageable with hormone replacement therapy. After the initial diagnosis, you should be prepared to visit your local veterinary centre on a regular basis. Your dog’s hormones and electrolyte levels will require constant surveillance until an appropriate dosage is prescribed. 

Apart from the daily medication, most dogs return to their normal lives, with the same diet and level of physical activity. After the first month of the diagnosis, you will need to return on a monthly basis to administer hormone replacement vaccinations. Nevertheless, with the right care, your dog can live a long and healthy life. 

At Dogwood Referrals, we pride ourselves on offering an exceptional level of care to the dogs we meet and treat. We offer advanced treatments and specialist knowledge in a wide range of conditions and illnesses, including Addison’s disease diagnosis in dogs. 

We hope you found this guide to Addison’s disease in dogs helpful and that it answers all your questions and concerns. If you are in need of any further advice or you simply have a question, please don’t hesitate to contact us.