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Addison's disease in dogs: what you need to know


Addison's disease in dogs is also known as Addison's disease or hypocorticism. This is a disease of the adrenal glands that leads to a lack of certain hormones. The disease can be acute or chronic, but should always be treated by a veterinarian. The vet can treat Addison's disease in dogs with hormone replacement therapy - Shutterstock / Tyler Olson

The adrenal glands are responsible for the production of various hormones in dogs. If a dog has Addison's disease, this hormone production is disrupted. This has a negative impact on his metabolism and other bodily functions. Below you will learn more about Addison's disease, its consequences and its therapy.

What is Addison's disease in dogs?

Dogs suffering from Addison's disease suffer from a hormone deficiency. The reason for this is an underfunction of the adrenal glands, which produce so-called mineral corticoids such as aldosterone and glucocorticoids such as cortisol in a healthy state. For example, aldosterone regulates mineral balance, water balance and blood pressure. Cortisol is essential for a functioning metabolism.

A lack of these corticoids - hypocorticism - leads to poor circulation, dehydration and pathological weight loss. Incidentally, there is also an overproduction of corticoids - it occurs, for example, in Cushing's syndrome.

Acute and Chronic Addison's Disease in Dogs: Causes

In Addison's disease, a distinction is made between the acute and chronic form on the one hand, and the primary and secondary variant on the other. "Acute" means that adrenal fatigue suddenly occurs. "Chronic" means that the hormone deficiency develops gradually and only becomes noticeable over time. The causes of Addison's disease depend on whether it is the primary or secondary variant.

The primary Addison's disease is an autoimmune disease. The immune system not only fends off pathogens, but also destroys healthy body cells - in the case of Addison's disease, the cells of the adrenal glands, which are responsible for hormone production.

The secondary Addison's disease is a result of or a concomitant symptom of another underlying disease such as diabetes mellitus, injuries, inflammation or tumors. There is also the so-called Addison crisis, If affected dogs experience extreme stress or an infection in addition to Addison's disease, the hormone level drops so quickly that it can lead to shock or circulatory collapse. The Addison crisis is a life-threatening emergency!

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Addison's disease: symptoms of adrenal fatigue in dogs

Hypocorticism manifests itself in dogs as physical weakness. It manifests itself, for example, by the following symptoms:

● fatigue
● indifference
● tremor
● abdominal pain
● Loss of appetite
● Increased thirst
● weight loss
● diarrhea
● vomiting

There may also be blood in the dog's stool. If Addison's disease is left untreated, there is a risk of heart failure and lung damage. In stressful situations or with infections, the symptoms worsen. Caution! In this case, a life-threatening Addison crisis threatens.

Diagnosis of Addison's disease in dogs: blood test provides security

Unfortunately, the symptoms alone are not enough to determine with certainty Addison's disease. They are only evidence that something is wrong with your dog. However, another illness can trigger physical weakness. It is therefore necessary to visit the vet as soon as possible to determine the causes of your four-legged friend's poor condition.

The diagnosis of Addison's disease can be confirmed with a blood test. The lack of aldosterone causes increased levels of potassium and sodium in the blood. This can be demonstrated by a blood test. Finally, a so-called ACTH test, which measures the hormone concentration in the blood, gives certainty as to whether it is Addison's disease.

With an ultrasound or X-ray, the vet can also check how far Addison's disease has progressed and whether it has already damaged the heart and lungs.

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Hormone replacement therapy for dogs with Addison's disease

Addison's disease in dogs can only be treated with hormone replacement therapy. This applies to all forms of adrenal fatigue. The veterinarian prescribes hormone supplements for your dog that balance hypocorticism and normalize body functions.

If it is the primary variant of Addison's disease, your dog will need hormone replacement therapy for life. The primary form is not curable, but with the right treatment your dog can still lead a normal life. The secondary variant of Addison's disease can be cured if the basic disease is curable.