Addison’s disease in dogs is an endocrinal disease that is caused by a reduction of the steroid hormones. It is also referred as hypoadrenocorticism, a term that implies adrenal insufficiency. It is entirely the opposite of Cushing’s syndrome in dogs, which is caused by hyper-functioning of the adrenal glands or an increase in the production of hormones.
The adrenal glands are triangle-shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys. The glands are made up of two layers – the outer layer is the cortex and the inner layer is the medulla. The cortex secretes corticosteroid hormones. The medulla is part of the sympathetic nervous system and secretes epinephrine in response to stress. The medulla is not affected in the case of Addison’s disease. The adrenal glands produce steroid hormones, glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. These hormones affect the functioning of gonads, have an anti-inflammatory function, and influence the metabolism of sodium and potassium.
The adrenal tissue in dogs with Addison’s disease is usually damaged. This leads to a reduction in the production of these hormones. Addison’s disease can actually be caused due to immune-mediated damage to the adrenal cortex or an inefficient pituitary gland that fails to stimulate the adrenal glands with ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone).
The symptoms of Addison’s disease are vague and can mimic symptoms of many other diseases, including Cushing’s disease. Typical symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, listlessness and lethargy, appetite loss, muscle wasting, pain in hind quarters and tremors. As the symptoms tend to increase and decrease over a period of time, it becomes fairly difficult to decide whether the dog is actually suffering from Addison’s disease or simply experiencing a mild illness. Delay in treatment ultimately results in a crisis situation leading to hyperkalemia, abnormally high levels of potassium in the blood, accompanied by severe bradycardia (abnormally slow heartbeat).
Treatment of Addison’s disease is usually done with supplemental oral or injectable mineralocorticoids. Oral prednisone is the preferred option for making up the deficiency of glucocorticoids.
Both Addison’s and Cushing’s disease in dogs are adrenal dysfunctions. Herbal remedies for Cushing’s disease meant for restoring adrenal functioning can help to a great extent in alleviating symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs. Specific herbal treatment of Addison’s disease involves the herbs like licorice, milk thistle, slippery elm, ginger, garlic and valerian.
Addison’s disease may occur on its own or as a part of other medical problems. Some of the diseases associated with it may be resolved on treatment of Addison’s disease while others may not. This usually indicates the involvement of other glands like the thyroid or pancreas.