Adrenal Insufficiency in Dogs

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Adrenal insufficiency in dogs is also known as hypoadrenocorticism. The causes of the adrenal insufficiency are often unknown, but in some cases, the poor function of the adrenal glands may be due to an autoimmune disease, certain drugs and injuries or tumors affecting the adrenal glands. Treatment is possible and necessary to prevent renal failure.

Causes of Adrenal Insufficiency in Dogs

The adrenal insufficiency in dogs may be primary or secondary.

The primary adrenal insufficiency is often idiopathic, but may also be due to a defect in the function of the immune system that will prevent the production of a normal level of corticoids. Stress has also been associated with adrenal insufficiency.

Secondary adrenal insufficiency may be caused by an injury to the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland, which are responsible for producing the hormones. A tumor that grows in the hypothalamus or pituitary gland area may also cause adrenal insufficiency.

The administration of glucocorticoids or the sudden discontinuation of corticosteroids may also lead to adrenal insufficiency.

The dog may have a lack of glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids or both. These substances are normally produced by the adrenal glands.

Symptoms of Adrenal Insufficiency

The adrenal insufficiency is more common in female dogs between the ages of 4 and 6. Some dog breeds such as Poodles are more likely to develop adrenal insufficiency.

A dog that suffers from adrenal insufficiency will have a lower level of corticoids in the body. This will cause the following symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Weak limbs
  • Dehydration
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing, in rare cases
  • Diarrhea
  • More frequent urination
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Shock

These symptoms may point to various other diseases, so a clear diagnosis will be needed.

Diagnosing Adrenal Insufficiency

The diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency may be done by performing a few blood tests and evaluating the levels of corticoids in the pet’s system.

Additional tests may be performed to detect if the adrenal insufficiency is primary or secondary. The ACTH stimulation test can give a definite answer to whether the condition is primary or secondary.

It is also important to detect if there is an insufficiency of glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoid or both.

If the condition is secondary, other tests will be required, including an EKG, ultrasounds, urine tests or even biopsies, if tumors have been detected in the dog’s body.

Adrenal Insufficiency Treatment

The treatment for hypoadrenocorticism will depend on the test findings and whether the condition is primary or secondary.

The therapy may consist of intravenous fluids that will contain glucocorticoids or mineralocorticoids, depending on what the dog lacks.

The treatment should be maintained for several days, until the dog’s condition seems to be stable and he can get oral medication. Some dogs only require a few weeks of treatment while others will need several months of medication.

If the condition is secondary, the primary cause has to be dealt with.


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