Addison's Disease

Information on the causes of hormone imbalances and Addison's disease symptoms in dogs and cats.

    information on Addison's disease symptoms in dogs and cats

    Select a Topic

    1. What is Addison’s Disease?
    2. What Causes Addison’s Disease?
    3. Diagnosing Addison’s Disease
    4. Help for Addison’s Disease
    5. More Information on Addison’s Disease

    What is Addison’s Disease?

    Addison’s disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is an endocrine disorder that develops as a result of insufficient production of adrenal hormones by the adrenal gland. While Addison's disease in dogs is fairly uncommon and seldom occurs in cats, it can affect any breed or sex.

    Canine Addison's disease has a greater chance of occurring or certain breeds may be predisposed to get it, such as poodles, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Airedales or St. Bernards. In order to fully understand the implications of this disorder, you have to an understanding of the anatomy and functions of the adrenal glands. There are two adrenal glands located in the abdomen in front of the kidneys.

    The adrenal glands secrete several different hormones such as corticosteroids, androgens and mineralocorticoids. These hormones metabolize proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and regulate the balance of water, salt and potassium. The adrenal glands also secrete adrenalin, which controls the body’s reaction to stress. They regulate blood pressure and heart rate, plus maintain blood sugar levels. Thus, imbalances in hormonal levels can disrupt all of these bodily systems.

    Symptoms and signs

    Symptoms are sometimes very vague and may often be mistaken for another disease. Common symptoms and signs of chronic Addison’s disease include:

    • Lethargy
    • Poor appetite
    • Vomiting
    • Weight loss and anorexia
    • Dehydration
    • Depression
    • Muscle weakness


    Common symptoms during an Addisonian crisis are very
    severe and include:
    • Severe symptoms of shock – animal collapses, shakes and has low body temperature
    • Heart arrhythmia, heart stoppage and death


    What Causes Addison’s Disease?

    The exact cause of Addison’s disease is not known. However, it is believed that the adrenal glands are damaged by the animal’s own immune system.

    Other factors that may contribute to the cause of Addison’s disease includes hereditary factors, infections, pituitary gland disease, trauma, cancer, or the discontinuation of steroid medication. There is no cure for Addison’s disease, but with early diagnosis and long-term treatment your pet can still enjoy quality of life.

    Diagnosing Addison’s Disease

    The diagnosis of Addison’s disease is based on the symptoms presented, thorough physical examination and review of your pet’s medical history. Certain diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry profile, urinalysis, x-rays of the chest and abdomen, ACTH stimulation test or ultrasound may be performed to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any other disorders.

    Help for Addison’s Disease

    Treatment generally depends on the severity of symptoms and overall health of your pet. For chronic Addison’s, corticosteroid and mineralocorticoid replacement therapy as well as a daily supplementation of salt may be administered.

    In a crisis situation where more severe symptoms are present, hospitalization may be required. Intravenous fluids, electrolyte and acid-base monitoring and mineralocorticoid replacement therapy will be administered.

    More Information on Addison’s Disease

    Tips to manage Addison’s disease

    Although there is no cure for Addison’s disease, there are several things that you can do to ensure that your pet continues to lead a normal, active life:

    • Give your pet a special concentrated diet that contains all the essential nutrients that your vet has recommended. Warm the food until just below body temperature.
    • Set up a comfortable and safe area of confinement such as a crate or kennel for your pet
    • Always provide clean, fresh water that is easily accessible for your pet
    • Make sure that you provide extra padding and softness for your pet’s bed to ease pain and discomfort
    • Strengthen your pet’s immune system with immune-building supplements
    • Monitor your pet’s appetite and general demeanour to see if there is any change in his condition
    • Reduce stress and anxiety pet and prepare or avoid situations that may cause physical or emotional distress for your pert
    • Brush your pet slowly with a soft brush – your pet will find your touch very soothing
    • Stock up on special treats for your pet, especially when he may not want to eat
    • Visit your vet regularly for routine check ups
    • Be patient and compassionate- remember that your pet cannot tell you what he needs