The adrenal glands are situated in the body at the cranial edge of
the kidneys. Adrenocortical insufficiency or hypoadrenocorticism results
from deficient production of glucocorticoids, mineralcorticoids, or both.
Mineralcorticoids are responsible for the reabsorption of sodium
and chloride. Decreased mineralcorticoid secretion results in loss of
sodium, which causes an increase of potassium in the blood. High blood
levels of potassium can lead to life threatening heart problems.
Glucocorticoids have a multitude of functions and effects. They
are involved in carbohydrate breakdown, they enhance glycogen storage and
they surpress systemic immunity. Decreased glucocorticoid secretion can
gause gastrointestinal signs such as loss of appetite, vomiting and
Most cases of Addison disease are thought to be immune mediated.
It is a relatively uncommon disease in dogs and extremely rare in cats.
There may be a genetic predisposition in several breeds of dogs,
including standard poodles, Labrador retreivers, and Portugese water
Signs of Addison's Disease
- A high index of suspicion is often needed to diagnose this
uncommon disease. The trouble with diagnosis is the signs animals have
with Addison's are similar to the signs of numerous other conditions.
There is no one clinical sign that pinpoints one to diagnose Addison
disease. Common clinical findings are depression, weakness,
gastrointestinal upset and a slow heart rate.
- The diagnosis of this disease relies on laboratory evaluation.
Many dogs will have hyperkalemia (high blood potassium) and hyponatremia
(low blood sodium). Definitive diagnosis requires more specific hormonal
- Acute adrenal failure is a medical emergency. Initial therapy
includes intravenous fluids and replacement steroids. Once the patient
is stabilized, lifelong supplementation of mineralcorticoids and occasional
glucocorticoids is needed. Periodic blood monitoring is required.
Addisonian patients if properly treated and monitored can lead a full and
Case History involving Addison's Disease
Berkshire Veterinary Hospital
730 1/2 Crane Avenue
Pittsfield, MA 01201