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Addison’s disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is a disease caused by the lack of corticosteroid secretion from adrenalin glands located near the kidneys in dogs. Glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids are two important hormones released by the adrenal glands that maintain healthy functioning of the body. Both hormones have an important role to play in fat, protein and sugar metabolism, influencing sodium and potassium levels, and triggering fight or flight response in dogs. Any imbalance in these hormonal levels create complications and symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs. Hypoadrenocorticism is rare in dogs, but when it occurs, it affects mostly middle-aged and female dogs.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs
The symptoms of the disease vary greatly depending on its duration. Fatal symptoms are observed when the disease reaches an acute stage. However, the common symptoms observed are as follows:
- Lack of appetite or anorexia
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Lethargy and depression
- Frequent urination (polyuria)
- Excessive drinking (polydipsia)
- Low body temperature
- Faint pulse rate
- Blood discharge in feces
- Pain in abdomen
In order to diagnose Addison’s disease, a veterinarian performs a thorough examination of the dog’s physical symptoms with the help of laboratory tests, complete blood count testing, biochemistry profile testing, and urinalysis. The blood count test reveals signs of anemia, which is characterized by abnormal levels of eosinophils and lymphocytes.
The biochemistry profile testing reveals higher potassium levels and an accumulation of urea in the blood. The test also reveals lower blood sugar, sodium and chlorine levels and higher calcium levels and liver enzymes. The urinalysis shows low urine concentration.
However, detecting the cortisol levels in the body is a definitive test for diagnosing Addison’s disease in dogs. Generally, the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) produced by the pituitary gland stimulates the release of cortisol by the adrenal glands. In ACTH test, the dog is injected with ACTH; if it does not show increased cortisol levels, then the diagnosis of Addison’s disease is confirmed.
An acute episode of hypoadrenocorticism requires immediate hospitalization and treatment. The treatment for Addison’s disease in dogs is largely dependent on the severity and type of symptoms. The common treatment for the disease involves the replacement of glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids in the body using fludrocortisone. The drug is administered twice a day after monitoring the potassium and sodium levels in the blood. After the dog’s electrolyte imbalances are regulated, it is brought down to two to three times a year.
DOCP is a relatively newer treatment option where the injection is given once every 25 days. This options is seen to provide better regulation of electrolytes than fludrocortisone. However, some dogs on DOCP treatment may require a low dose of prednisone.