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Common Adrenal Diseases - Cushing's and Addison's Disease


                                                          A Closer Look at Adrenal Disorders

The adrenal glands are two small glands located near the kidneys which secrete hormones called cortisol and aldosterone. Diseases of the adrenal glands can cause problems in your pet.  These problems can cause a great deal of negative side effects in your pet’s overall and long term health. The symptoms of these diseases are often vague and common to many other ailments however once correctly diagnosed and properly treated many pets can live a normal and active life. It is important to understand these disorders and their causes in order to either prevent them from occurring where possible or to recognize the signs of  these diseases.

  • Understanding Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease, which is also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is a disease affecting your pet’s entire body.  It causes your pet’s hair to fall out and thinning in its skin.  It also raises the pet’s blood pressure and weakens the immune system.  As a result, the muscles weaken, the liver swells and the testicles shrink.  Pets suffering from Cushing’s disease also develop pimples, some animals may pant and develop facial nerve palsy.  The most common symptoms are increased water consumption and urination, increased appetite, abdominal enlargement - pot belly appearance, hair loss and thinning of the skin.The disease is treatable and the symptoms can be managed.

  • Causes of Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease is commonly caused by excessive steroid medications given to the pet to control inflammation.  When steroids cause the disease, it is referred to as iatrogenic Cushing’s disease.  Generally, once the steroids are no longer given to the pet, the disease subsides. 

The disease is also caused by adrenal or brain dysfunction.  Some pets have a problem with their pituitary gland, which is located deep inside the brain behind the eyes.  In this case, the pituitary gland either receives the wrong message from other parts of the brain or it simply begins secreting too much hormone for no apparent reason.  This then stimulates the adrenal glands.  Pets who have a problem with the adrenal glands themselves often have cancer of the adrenal glands which is causing the Cushing’s disease.

Some pets are predisposed to Cushing’s disease based on genetics.  This is particularly true for terriers, dachshunds and poodles.  Cats can also develop the disease but no particular breed is susceptible.


  • Understanding Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease also known as hypoadrenocorticism is a deficiency of cortisol or aldosterone.  Sometimes, there is a deficiency of both  these hormones.  As a result, potassium and sodium levels become abnormal.  This disease can be fatal to your pet because these hormones are necessary for normal health.

A faulty pituitary can cause the disease as well as faulty adrenal glands.  When a pet suffers from Addison’s disease, it has trouble regulating its blood pressure, heartbeat and kidney filtration.  Side effects of the disease include general weakness, listlessness, appearing depressed, lack of appetite and 'just appearing off'.  In more severe and advanced cases your pet may vomit, shake and become dehydrated. This acute form is known as an Addisonian crisis. An animal suffering from Addisonian crisis needs emergancy treatment with fluids and cortisol or else it will die.

Addison’s disease affects both cats and dogs.  There is no particular breed of cat that is predisposed to the disease.  Rottweilers, Great Danes, Standard Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, Wheaten Terriers and West Highland White Terriers are dog breeds that are more prone to developing the disease.