Addison’s disease, named for the 19th century physician who defined this adrenal gland dysfunction, is also known as hypoadrenocorticism or adrenal insufficiency. While fatal if left untreated, with appropriate treatment Addison’s can be managed so that affected patients lead normal, active lives. First diagnosed in dogs in the 1950s, it is considered an uncommon canine disorder. However, veterinarians who routinely test for Addison’s often find it, suggesting that the illness is not really rare but rather under-diagnosed and under-reported. You don’t find Addison’s unless you look for it. Some veterinarians speculate that Addison’s disease occurs in dogs at a rate as much as 100 times the rate in humans.
From 70 to 85 percent of dogs with Addison’s disease are female and between the ages of four and seven. Some breeds seem more at risk for the disease than others, including Great Danes, Portuguese water spaniels, Rotties, standard poodles, Westies, and Wheaten terriers.
There are so many factors and symptoms and each dog will present differently.
Commonly reported symptoms, which can vary dramatically from dog to dog, include loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, listlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, hind-end pain, muscle weakness, tremors, shivering, increased thirst, excessive urination, a painful or sensitive abdomen, muscle or joint pain, and changes in coat, which may become thicker, thinner, longer, or even curly. About 15 to 20 percent of Addisonian dogs will have dark, tarry stools (melena, caused by gastrointestinal hemorrhage) or blood in their vomit. Symptoms often wax and wane, with the dog getting worse, then better, for months or even years.
From Dr. Becker There are actually three types of Addison’s disease – primary, secondary and atypical.
Cortisol is a corticosteroid produced by the middle layer of the adrenal gland and it acts on sugar, fat and protein metabolism in a dog’s body. Corticosteroids, remember, are responsible for the fight-or-flight response and play a huge role in an animal’s ability to adapt to stressful situations.
When cortisol is under-produced, even the smallest amount of stress can result in physiologic disaster for the dog.
The mineralocorticoids, one of which is aldosterone, are produced by the outside layer of the adrenal gland, and their job is to regulate electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
Typically, both the middle and outer layers of the adrenals begin to under-produce hormones, which is what leads to primary Addison’s disease.
If only the middle layer fails, meaning the adrenals are still producing electrolyte balancing hormones, the condition is known as atypical Addison’s disease.
A common root cause of both the primary and atypical forms of the disease is immune-mediated damage to the adrenal glands. This is a situation in which the dog’s immune system attacks the adrenal tissue.
Although it is rare, adrenal gland failure can also occur due to infection or tumor of the glands, or even death of adrenal tissue due to obstruction of the blood supply.
Secondary Addison’s is caused by failure of the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus, both of which act on the adrenals, but in different ways.
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If your dog is having persistent symptoms it may be time to talk to your holistic or western vet and have them test for Addison’s specifically..
Is Addison’s becoming more prevalent because of diet or environmental factors? Are our dogs more stressed out than they were fifty years ago? It would be interesting to see if dogs in certain states are more prone to the disease, or if there is a difference in dogs that live in rural areas vs urban. How many cases are brought on by over treating Cushing’s disease. Hopefully the AVMA or another organization will run some studies so pet parents can be more aware of the disease and what to do to prevent it.
If diagnosed ; options for treatment range from western steroid protocol, to a more holistic approach including diet and acupuncture or acupressure as well as other modalities. It is wise to work with a Holistic Vet to make sure you are getting the best results. If western is your preferred method, maybe incorporate some acupressure or TCM to support the organ systems during this time.. a few good points to support adrenals kidney and liver function are listed below
Ki3 BL 60 top of the hock thin skin your fingers will slide into it on either side it is kind of like our Achilles
Liv3 between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsal bones on the hindlimbs
Sp6 3 cun above the medial malleolus or ankle bone this point is on the bone so just follow it up two finger widths on the inside of the back leg.
To read articles on Addison’s, including breeds that are predisposed and additional symptoms and prevention click below…