Addison's disease in dogs is also known as hypoadrenocorticism. It is a disease that results from the reduction in corticosteroid secretion from the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland is a small gland located near the kidney that secretes several different substances that help regulate normal body functions.
The most common clinical signs of Addison’s disease include vomiting, lethargy, muscle weakness, diarrhea, intermittent collapsing episodes, poor appetite and a decreased heart rate. More severe signs occur when a dog with hypoadrenocorticism is stressed or when the chemical profile of the blood becomes altered enough to interfere with heart function. Dogs with this problem will sometimes suffer severe shock symptoms when stressed, leading to a rapid death.
Diagnosis of Addison’s disease can be somewhat difficult, although dogs are often diagnosed based on changes in routine blood work. The sodium and potassium levels of the blood are indicators of Addison’s disease. Further blood tests, such as the ACTH stimulation test, which triggers corticosteroid production by the adrenal glands, can be used to confirm the presence of Addison’s disease.
Treatment for this disease includes oral administration of fludrocortisone acetate (Flurinef), salt supplementation to your pet’s food and the administration of corticosteroids, like prednisone. In advanced cases of the disease, emergency treatments to correct the balance of electrolytes in the blood and improve cardiac function may be necessary. This may include a few days of hospitalization and the administration of intravenous fluids and electrolytes.
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Unfortunately, there is no long term cure for Addison’s disease and pets suffering from this disease will require special care and monitoring throughout their life. However, the treatment is generally straightforward and includes oral medication (usually prednisone) to replace the missing hormones. You should constantly monitor your pet’s appetite and activity level and visit your vet regularly (usually twice a year) to ensure that the proper dosage of medications is given.