Sometimes, the gap between human and animal isn’t as far as we like to think it is. Take stress, for example. Dogs and humans often have the same stress responses and when coping with a condition like Addison’s disease, stress management becomes a critical skill.
Addison’s disease (hypoadrenocorticism) results from insufficient production of the hormones cortisol, aldosterone (or both) by the adrenal glands. It’s generally thought to be caused by damage to the exterior layer of the adrenal gland (adrenal cortex), which is responsible for producing hormones like adrenaline, estrogen, testosterone and cortisone.
Addison’s occurs in three forms: Primary, where disease “kills” the adrenal gland. Causes of this type can include metastatic tumours, infections, various types of inflammation and trauma. In its Secondary form, Addison’s occurs when problems with the pituitary fail to stimulate the adrenals with adrenocorticotropic hormone, and includes problems like inflammation, trauma and pituitary cancer.
But this type is generally believed to be most commonly caused when a cortisone used for medical treatment is suddenly withdrawn. It can also occur due to the presence of pituitary cancer that interferes with hormone production that stimulates the adrenal glands. An Atypical type can also occur.
The disease typically affects dogs between four-and-seven years old. Up to 85 percent of these dogs are female and some breeds like Great Danes, rottweilers, standard poodles, Portuguese water dogs and Highland white terriers appear to be more at risk than others.
But this doesn’t mean that Addison’s is an easy condition to identify. Indeed, symptoms can occur over years, making diagnosis problematic, and this is one of the biggest difficulties associated with the condition. Moreover, because many other conditions exhibit similar characteristics, veterinarians themselves may not initially consider the presence of hypoadrenocorticism. Still, some of the more common signs that can be observed include: lethargy, irritability, vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, weakness, dehydration, increased thirst and darkening of the skin, among others.
The condition is normally identified by an ACTH response test. This is the pituitary hormone that releases corticosteroids during stressful periods. Typically, an animal will demonstrate increased levels of cortisol in response to ACTH. A dog with Addison’s however, has no corticosteroids to work with. Diagnosis typically involves minimal invasiveness and is affordable, although results may not be available for several days.
It’s crucial to understand that canines with Addison’s disease can’t cope with stress, because they can’t produce enough cortisol, so symptoms may worsen when stress presents itself. Changes in routine, being boarded and thunderstorms can all being stressful. Furthermore, potassium levels can increase and disrupt heart function, leading to possible shock systems.
The good news is that with early detection, a veterinarian can customize a treatment plan for a pet. This can include salting food, and administration of corticosteroids like prednisone. Another option is florinef, an oral pet medication used to supplement a canine with mineralocorticoids.
With effective medication and monitoring, a prognosis can be excellent and the patient can enjoy a life both thriving and full.
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