Can Dogs Live Without Their Adrenal Glands?

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Introduction

Canines are pretty resilient when you think about it. Like people, they can go through a lot of different diseases, deal with tons of conditions, and even have parts of their bodies removed and still live long, healthy lives. Sure, you've thought about some of the obvious ones - legs, paws, ears, even gall bladders. But did you know your pup can live without his adrenal glands, too? 

While we obviously hope your doggo never has to, removing canine adrenal glands is sometimes necessary, but the good news is, most dogs with successful surgeries are able to live long, normal, and happy lives.

Adrenal glands are important organs. Located just in front of the kidneys, these glands are super tiny, but they play an important role - regulating your doggo's hormones! 

This plays a giant role in your dog's homeostatic balance. The adrenal glands have two parts, the outer cortex and the inner medulla, and while they work together, their functions are a bit different. Sometimes, your dog can develop adrenal cancer or adrenal diseases like Cushings and Addisons, and because of this, they may have to have an adrenalectomy, or rather, a surgical removal of their adrenal glands. 

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Signs Your Dog May Be Having Trouble WIth Their Adrenal Glands

You know your dog better than anyone else, so we're sure you're aware when they're not up-to-snuff. But do you know what signs to look for when it comes to adrenal trouble? 

Keeping a close eye on your dog's signs and body language cues are going to be vital when it comes to determining their adrenal health. Keep a look out for things like polyuria, polydipsia, and polyphagia (fancy words for increased urinating, thirst, and hunger). You may also notice that your dog has weaker muscles, atrophy of the extremities, swayback, weight loss, skin lesions, and behavior changes. Some of these can include poor sleeping and bad sleep-wake cylces, lethargy, panting, and a lack of interest in interacting with their owners.

Body Language

Your dog may be giving you all the signs you need when it comes to checking if something is wrong with his adrenal glands. Make sure you're keeping an eye out on the following signs:
  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Panting
  • Weakness

Other Signs

Check out a few of the other signs that may signify your dog is struggling with his adrenal glands and might need to have them surgically removed:
  • Increase of Heart Rate
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Bloated Abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle Loss
  • Weight Loss
  • Increased Thirst, Urination, and Hunger

Historical Causes of Adrenal Gland Failure

Fortunately, adrenal gland failure is relatively rare in dogs and cats. However, there are a few historical, common causes of adrenal gland failure. 

Typically, environmental factors don't really play a part in adrenal gland issues, so it's hard for owners to help prevent it. Instead, adrenal tumors and cancers seem to be far more common in large dogs, and seem to be especially common in females. 

Unfortunately, though, it also has a lot to do with fate. Sometimes, prolonged use of coritco-steroids can cause adrenal failure in dogs. Additionally, auto-immune diseases and tumors in the pituitary gland can be to blame, too.

The Science Behind Adrenal Glands

Understanding adrenal glands are the first step in understanding how your dog can live without them. The adrenal glands are two glands that sit just above your dog's kidneys that are made up of the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. The adrenal cortex is the outer part of the gland that produces hormones that are vital to life, so, things like cortisol, which regulates your doggo's metabolism. 

The Medulla is the inner part of the gland that produces a few non-essential hormones, aka, the ones you don't need to for life - like adrenaline. When an adrenalectomy has to take place, it's typically because your dog has a tumor or disease that's affecting how he regulates his hormones or is making him sick.

How to Train Your Dog to Deal With Adrenal Issues

If your poor pup does develop adrenal problems and potentially needs to have his adrenal glands removed, there are many steps you can take to train him to be more comfortable, and make his life and experience far less overwhelming. 

First things first, your vet will likely need you to give your dog special medicine, so it's important your pooch is trained to take his pills without issue. Depending on your pup's personality, it might be helpful to implement a throw-and-catch game with his pills. You also could train him to take the pill gently out of your hand like a treat, or simply put it in his food to eat.

If your dog does have to undergo adrenal gland removal surgery, it's important to make certain adaptations while he heals. For example, make sure your dog doesn't lick his wounds, ensure he's spending most of his day resting and taking it easy, and avoid all stress if possible. Keeping him away from his sutures and calm and relaxed are likely the most important parts of his recovery. 

How to React if You Think Your Dog Has Adrenal Gland Issues

  • Consult your vet immediately.
  • With the vet's go-ahead, discontinue corticosteroid use.
  • Work with your vet to develop a proper medicine regiment.
  • Work with your vet to develop a proper diet and exercise regiment.
  • Minimize exposure to toxins - plastics, pesticides, herbicides, etc.
  • Consult your vet about licorice root for your dog's glands.