Addison’s Disease in dogs: Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Addison’s disease in dogs (hypoadrenocorticism) is a hormonal disorder in which Thomas Addison, a British scientist, became the first person to prove that the adrenal glands are essential for life.

Adrenal glands in dogs: Critical to life

A diagram shows where the dog’s adrenal glands are located. Dogs, cats, humans and other species have a pair of small glands in the abdomen, one next to each kidney.

In Latin, “kidney” means “kidney” and “adjacent” means “ad”. Hence these small glands are called adrenal glands.

Also Read: What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure in Dogs?

They are so named because they were recognized by anatomists long before their important (life-saving) function was understood.

Glucocorticoids and mineral corticoids

The glands produce two substances, glucocorticoids and mineral corticoids, which are vital to life.

Once they are synthesized, these substances are secreted into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. As such, they are classified as hormones.

Addison’s Disease in dogs

Both of these hormones affect the function of cells everywhere in the body. To put it another way, cells everywhere in the body need some glucocorticoids and some mineral corticoids to stay healthy.

Addison’s disease occurs when there is too little glucocorticoid or too little mineral corticoid in the body or both.


Glucocorticoids are natural cortisone, which is essential for life and is important in making people feel better. Glucocorticoids have many functions that affect appetite and immune system function.

Physicians generally use natural and synthetic cortisone because they can be used as a medical treatment for minor problems (e.g., poison oak) and serious malignant medical disorders (e.g., some cancers).

If the patient has too much or too little cortisone in their system, serious medical problems will ensue. Cortisone is one of the two components of Addison’s disease.

Mineral corticoids

Mineral corticosteroids are another important substance produced by the normal adrenal glands.

These regulate two important “salt” concentrations in the body, the levels of both sodium and potassium.

As with glucocorticoids, too much mineral corticoid in the system usually leads to serious medical problems. Very low mineral corticoid is a malignant condition.

What causes Addison’s disease?

Addison’s disease is usually the result of some destructive process affecting both the adrenal glands and the cells that produce these two complex hormones.

The most common cause of Addison’s disease is the destruction of two adrenal glands by a person’s own immune system.

The dog’s immune system will constantly on the lookout for foreign objects. The best examples of invaded objects that the immune system wants to kill are bacteria and viruses.

For reasons not well understood, the immune system occasionally sees normal body parts as “foreign” and sets out to kill these problems. In this abnormal case, the immune system sees the adrenal glands foreign and kills these cells.

Cancers or infections that can attack and kill the adrenal glands are less common causes of Addison’s disease.

What are the symptoms of Addison’s disease?

Addison’s disease is very common in dogs and rarely in cats. When seen, it is more common in young to middle-aged female dogs.

However, this condition has been diagnosed in dogs and cats of all ages, both gender and intact and in neutral animals. Some dog breeds may have pre-existing disease.

Usually, the symptoms of Addison’s disease come on quickly, usually within a few days; However, it can develop over weeks or even months.

Most owners note that their pet develops many problems at the same time. These issues include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Extreme laziness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle weakness

A common observation is weakness or loss of appetite. Some dogs have been observed shivering, shivering, or trembling as they feel cold.

Others seem to have suddenly collapsed and quickly developed a shock-like condition.

What tests are required?

Vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss are very specific problems. These are symptoms of a dog or cat that has stomach, intestine, heart, liver or kidney disease.

To further complicate this problem, diseases of other organ systems are much more common than Addison’s disease.

So your veterinarian may or may not suspect Addison’s disease after talking to you and completing a physical exam.

Your veterinarian believes your pet is sick and recommends a test battery that simultaneously assesses various organ systems.

One of the symptoms seen in dogs with Addison’s disease is an increase in the blood concentration of potassium and a decrease in the blood concentration of sodium. However, such changes are also not mentioned.

If Addison’s disease is suspected, the ACTH stimulation test is the “gold standard” for diagnosis. If the result is typical of Addison’s disease, your pet may need lifelong treatment for survival.

What is the recommended treatment for Addison’s disease?

Addison’s long-term treatment is not as difficult to diagnose in the first place.

Furthermore, long-term treatment such as intensive care, which is initially needed if the patient is in a serious, life-threatening condition, is almost impossible.

There are both glucocorticoid and mineral corticoid replacement drugs.

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