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Symptoms of Addison's Disease in Dogs and Cats

Haven’t heard of Addison’s disease? You’re not alone. This hormonal condition, also known as Hypoadrenocorticism, is somewhat rare. However, due to the fact that it can be life-threatening if left untreated, knowing the symptoms to look out for can be a great help in avoiding serious problems.

Understanding Addison’s disease

This dangerous disease is a condition of the adrenal glands, which control the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. These hormones are vital for the balance of salt, sugar, and water within the body.

There are two main types of Addison’s disease: primary and secondary. The primary type, which is much more common, is when the animal’s own immune system destroys the adrenal gland. The secondary kind is when a separate issue, such as a tumor, affects the pituitary gland and leads to a malfunction of the adrenal glands.

Though scientists are still not sure exactly what causes Addison’s disease, some dogs are more at risk than others of developing the condition. Although it can affect any dog regardless of breed, age or sex, it is more common in female or middle-aged dogs, and among certain breeds including Standard poodles, Great Danes, Portuguese water dogs, Bearded Collies, and West Highland white terriers.

The condition is much less prevalent in cats than in dogs. In cats, there is no specific breed that is more susceptible to the disease, but it is more common in middle-aged cats.

Symptoms of Addison’s disease

The condition has been called ‘the great pretender’ as many of the symptoms are similar to those associated with other conditions. In addition, the symptoms often come and go, and are often worse in times of stress.

The most common manifestations of Addison’s disease include:

  • Diarrhea – more common in dogs than in cats
  • Vomiting –nearly 40% of cats with Addison’s disease present with vomiting
  • Excessive thirst and urination – the hormonal imbalance means water is not conserved correctly by the kidneys
  • Dehydration – a particularly problematic symptom, caused by diarrhea, vomiting and excessive urination
  • Lethargy/weakness – caused by dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Shaking

Symptoms of Addisonian crisis

Due to the non-specific and intermittent nature of the symptoms, Addison’s disease is often not diagnosed at the progressive stage. Left untreated, the disease then develops into an acute condition known as an Addisonian crisis. At this point, the animal will go into shock due to the hormone imbalance within the body.

Symptoms of acute Addison’s disease may be the same as the progressive stage, but more severe. In particular, animals may display:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Collapse

Animals suffering an Addisonian crisis require immediate hospitalization. They will require intravenous treatment and hormone replacement to stabilize their condition before long term treatment can begin.

Symptoms of Addison's Disease in Dogs and Cats

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