Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease, also called hypoadrenocorticism or adrenocortical insufficiency, is an endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands cannot produce sufficient hormones for normal function in your pet. There are three types of adrenocortical insufficiency: primary, atypical and secondary. Primary and atypical hypoadrenocorticism are usually the result of damage to the adrenal glands by the immune system. Secondary hypoadrenocorticism is caused by failure of the pituitary to stimulate the adrenals properly. This is usually due to long-term glucocorticoid therapy but can also be caused by a tumor or other lesion in the pituitary gland. Addison’s disease is uncommon in dogs and extremely rare in cats.

Addison’s Disease

How it Affects your pet

In a normal animal, the cortices of the adrenal glands, small structures located adjacent to the kidneys, release hormones called glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. Glucocorticoids have many important functions including control of blood sugar and stress tolerance. Mineralocorticoids function to maintain electrolyte balance in the pet's body. Animals with primary hypoadrenocorticism are deficient in both glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, so they suffer from electrolyte imbalances and have a reduced ability to tolerate stress. Pets with atypical Addison’s disease and secondary hypoadrenocorticism only have glucocorticoid deficiencies. They have normal mineralocorticoid function. Most of the time, hypoadrenocorticism is a chronic disease with symptoms that wax and wane. In some cases, however, pets with the disease can collapse after a stressful event. This is known as an Addisonian crisis, and it requires immediate veterinary attention.

Common symptoms

Symptoms of adrenocortical insufficiency are fairly nonspecific. They also tend to be intermittent and are often associated with periods of stress. Some common symptoms include the following: Decreased appetite. Exhaustion. Vomiting. Weakness. Diarrhea. Weight loss. Trembling. Increased urination. Increased thirst. Collapse.

Treatments

To manage Addison’s disease, veterinarians prescribe glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid supplements as needed. Pets with atypical Addison’s disease and secondary hypoadrenocorticism only require glucocorticoid supplementation. Often, animals with secondary hypoadrenocorticism due to glucocorticoid therapy will recover normal adrenal function if given a tapering course of glucocorticoids. If a pet presents in an Addisonian crisis, the animal needs to be stabilized with fluids, medications to restore proper electrolyte balance and glucocorticoids. Once the animal is stable, it is treated like any other animal with chronic hypoadrenocorticism.

Breeds Affected

While the disease can affect any animal, dogs from the following breeds may be at an increased risk of developing Addison’s disease: Standard poodle, Great Dane, Portuguese water dog, West Highland white terrier, Rottweiler, English springer spaniel, Welsh springer spaniel, German shorthaired pointer, Soft-coated wheaten terrier, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, and the Bearded collie. Addison’s disease is very rare in cats, and there are no known breed associations.

Addison’s Disease Affects

  • In a normal animal, the cortices of the adrenal glands, small structures located adjacent to the kidneys, release hormones called glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. Glucocorticoids have many important functions including control of blood sugar and stress tolerance. Mineralocorticoids function to maintain electrolyte balance in the pet's body. Animals with primary hypoadrenocorticism are deficient in both glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, so they suffer from electrolyte imbalances and have a reduced ability to tolerate stress. Pets with atypical Addison’s disease and secondary hypoadrenocorticism only have glucocorticoid deficiencies. They have normal mineralocorticoid function. Most of the time, hypoadrenocorticism is a chronic disease with symptoms that wax and wane. In some cases, however, pets with the disease can collapse after a stressful event. This is known as an Addisonian crisis, and it requires immediate veterinary attention.

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