What is Hypoadrenocorticism?
The adrenals are small glands that are located near your pet’s kidneys. The adrenals are responsible for the production of the hormones mineralocorticoids (aldosterone) and glucocorticoids (cortisol). Adrenal hormones help regulate many processes in the body. When the normal amount of hormones are not produced, the electrolyte and metabolic balance is disrupted. The body is then unable to regulate, control or maintain:
- Sodium and potassium
- Chlorine levels
- Blood pressure and the flow of blood to vital organs
- Blood volume
- Blood sugar
- Immune system function
- Counteraction of the effects of stress
Hypoadrenocorticism is most commonly seen in young to middle-age female dogs. Certain breeds are more susceptible to hypoadrenocorticism than others, but it can develop in any breed. The most common breeds at risk include Great Danes, West Highland White Terriers, Standard Poodles, Rottweilers, Bearded Collies and Portuguese Water Dogs.
Hydroadrenocorticism is an endocrine system disorder, which happens when the adrenal glands produce less than normal levels of the hormones cortisol or aldosterone. Hydroadrenocorticism is also known as Addison’s disease.
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Symptoms of Hypoadrenocorticism in Dogs
The symptoms of hypoadrenocorticism may include one or more of the following:
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Increase of urine production
- Tremors or shaking
- Primary - The adrenal glands fail to produce both aldosterone and cortisol
- Atypical - There is immune system related damage to the adrenal glands; the adrenal glands fail to secrete sufficient amount of the glucocorticoid
- Secondary - The pituitary gland does not secrete ACTH, a hormone necessary to stimulate the adrenal glands; this could be due to a tumor, injury or secondary inflammation
Causes of Hypoadrenocorticism in Dogs
- The most common cause is autoimmune-mediated damage to the adrenal glands
- Physical trauma
- Adrenal cancer
- Ingestion of toxins
- Side effect of long-term use of steroidal hormones
- Granulomatous disease can cause formation of masses in the adrenal glands
Diagnosis of Hypoadrenocorticism in Dogs
The veterinarian will need a complete medical history of your pet. It may be helpful to bring a log with a time line of the symptoms you have noticed in your pet to the initial exam. The veterinarian will perform a physical examination which may include palpation of the lymph nodes and thyroid glands, a check of temperature, as well as listening to your pet’s heart with a stethoscope. Most veterinarians will recommend blood work, including a complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis and a serum biochemical profile.
The most definitive diagnostic test for hypoadrenocorticism is the ACTH-stimulation test. Cortisol levels are measured before and after an injection of a synthetic form of ACTH. The ACTH stimulation test will require your pet to stay at the clinic for approximately two to three hours. Your veterinary doctor may also recommend additional tests to rule out any other possible cause for of your pet’s symptoms, such as x-rays, ultrasound of the abdomen, ECG, basal cortisol levels, endogenous plasma ACTH, MRI or a CT.
Treatment of Hypoadrenocorticism in Dogs
The veterinarian team may determine that your pet needs immediate emergency hospitalization. Intravenous fluids and injections of corticosteroid hormones drugs, will be administered to help stabilize your pet. When your pet’s electrolyte and adrenal hormone levels are normalized he will be discharged.
Once hypoadrenocorticism is confirm your veterinarian will discuss with you, what the appropriate treatment plan should be taken. The long-term treatment of hypoadrenocorticism will involve hormones injections every 25 days or a daily pill. Dogs with hypoadrenocorticism cannot manage stress, so try to avoid situations you know cause your pet stress.
Natural treatments for hypoadrenocorticism focus on supporting the adrenal gland. Natural treatments have been proven to work along with medical treatment; they are not meant to replace your veterinarian’s plan. Suggested natural remedies include:
- Vitamin supplements
- A natural, organic diet high in antioxidants
- Glandular supplements (adrenal gland extracts or tissue)
- Herbal therapy to help with adrenal support (dandelion leaf, spirulina, parsley leaf, borage leaf, seaweed, nettle, and licorice)
- Ensure that supplements and other natural remedies are stored safely out of reach of your dog
Recovery of Hypoadrenocorticism in Dogs
Unfortunately, most cases of hypoadrenocorticism cannot be completely cured. Your pet may need to be medically treated for the rest of his life with corticosteroids.
As long as hypoadrenocorticism is diagnosed and treated early, the prognosis is good. It is critical to follow your veterinarian’s plan and administer the prescribed medications. Follow up visits will be necessary to check on your pet’s progress. Periodical blood and urine tests will be required to monitor your pet’s levels of sodium, potassium, chloride, glucose and adrenal corticosteroid hormones.