Addison’s Disease in Dogs

The adrenal glands, perched on the kidneys, produce two types of hormones, mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids.  Mineralocorticoids regulate blood sugar, salt, and electrolytes.  Glucocorticoids reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system.  Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands produce too little of one or both of these hormones.  This is a life threatening situation and should be treated as such.  Dogs can get a number of symptoms with Addison’s disease, such as weakness, dehydration, low blood pressure, depression, heart toxicity, vomiting, blood in feces, and weight loss.

Addison’s is fairly rare in dogs but does occur more frequently in some breeds than others.  Bearded Collies, Standard Poodles, Portuguese water dogs, West Highland white terriers, rottweilers, and wheaten terriers are the most likely to get this disease.  When it appears, it usually occurs in young to middle aged female dogs.

To diagnose Addison’s disease, your veterinarian will do a number of tests on your dog’s blood.  He will also do a urinalysis.  The results may reveal such things as anemia, a high number of white blood cells called eosinophils, and an increased number of white blood cells called lymphocytes.  In addition, your dog may have an a high level of potassium in his blood, and an accumulation in the blood of urea, signs the kidneys are not working properly.  The dog may also have low levels of sodium, chloride, high levels of calcium, increased liver enzymes, and low blood sugar.  The urinalysis may show a low concentration of urine.

The gold standard for diagnosing Addison’s is to inject a hormone called ACTH, which normally stimulates the adrenal glands to produce their hormones.  If the adrenal glands do not adequately respond, the dog has Addison’s disease.

Now that you know what is wrong with your dog, what do you do about it?  Fortunately, Addison’s disease can be treated.  The sudden onset of Addison’s disease usually puts the dog in the hospital.  There he will be given supplemental hormones and fluids to balance his electrolytes.  His cortisol level will be closely monitored, as well.

Once your dog gets out of the hospital, he will have to be monitoried closely the first month.  He will need to visit the veterinarian weekly for blood work to check his hormones.  After the first month, the dog will need to visit the veterinarian for hormone shots every three to four weeks for the rest of his life.  It is important that you comply with this treatment regimen for the health of your dog.  With appropriate treatment, the dog can live a normal life.  However, the owner must keep the dog from experiencing extra stress, since the dog cannot produce the glucocorticoids to allow his body to react appropriately to it.  Dogs may need extra hormones during stressful times such as when being boarded or moving, or any break in their routine.  Routine is key to managing these dog’s lives more than it is with other dogs because it keeps stress to a minimum.