When your dog's adrenal glands aren't working as they should, they may develop Addison's disease. This condition occurs when too much or too few of the hormones classed as mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids are produced. When these hormones are out of balance, your dog can experience muscle weakness that can affect their heart and leave it unable to pump blood around their body efficiently. Some dogs are genetically susceptible to the condition, while others may develop Addison's disease as a side effect of some drugs used to treat fungal infections and epilepsy. An underlying autoimmune disease can also damage the adrenal glands. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for Addison's disease in dogs:
Symptoms of Addison's disease in dogs include:
- General weakness
- Rapid weight loss
- Thinning hair or brittle coat
- Gastric upset
Your vet will diagnose Addison's disease by checking your dog's blood for increased liver enzymes, which can occur when your dog's adrenal glands are not working properly. They can also give your dog a hormone injection to stimulate their adrenal glands, and this will allow them to observe how the adrenals are functioning. Using diagnostic imaging to check the size of your dog's adrenal glands can also be useful as smaller than normal adrenal glands can be indicative of this condition.
Addison's disease is treated with hormone replacement injections that you will be shown how to administer to your dog at home. Your dog will require these injections for the rest of their life, and the optimum dose can vary depending on your dog's weight and current levels of their other hormones, so the vet will check their levels at set intervals to ensure your dog is receiving a therapeutic dosage. Stress can affect your dog's adrenal function, so you should let your vet know when your dog is going through any big life changes, such as a house move, and they will monitor your dog's medication more closely during this time. Additionally, if your dog's coat is in bad shape, your vet will recommend topical products to improve their skin and coat. If gastric upset has led to dehydration, your dog will receive intravenous fluids to balance their electrolytes.
If your dog has any of the symptoms listed above, or if you have concerns about their adrenal health, have veterinary consultations as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary discomfort.