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Diseases of the adrenal cortex in dogs: Cushing's syndrome and Addinsson's disease

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The kidneys are particularly susceptible to infections in dogs . In this article you can read about the illnesses that can often occur in your pet and how you can recognize them .  

Where are the adrenal glands in dogs?

The adrenal glands are arranged in pairs and are located near the left and right kidneys. They consist of the adrenal cortex (NNR) and the adrenal medulla (NNM). The so-called corticosteroids are produced in the adrenal cortex. A distinction is made between two hormones:
The mineralocorticoids (aldosterone), which are crucial for the electrolyte balance, and the glucocorticoids (cortisone), which take on important tasks, for example, in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism as well as in the counter-regulation of stress. Both too much corticosteroids (Cushing's syndrome) and too little (Addison's disease) lead to serious illnesses, as corticosteroids play a crucial role in practically all body tissues. 

Cushing's syndrome in dogs

Cushing's syndrome is a hormonal disorder in which too much cortisol is produced. 

How does Cushing's syndrome occur?  

Cushing's syndrome can arise from external influences through long-term use of glucocorticoids in injectable or tablet form. Internally, it arises from excessive production of glucocorticoids , especially cortisol, in the adrenal cortex. In 80-85% of cases, endogenous Cushing's disease is caused by excessive production of the hormone ACTH as a result of a tumorous change in the pituitary gland area of ​​the brain. This causes the adrenal cortex to enlarge, leading to increased production of glucocorticoids . The remaining 15-20% of endogenous cases are caused by benign (adenomas) or malignant (carcinomas) tumors on the adrenal cortex that produce increased levels of glucocorticoids . 

Symptoms of Cushing 's Sydrome

Cushing's syndrome most commonly occurs in older dogs. Female dogs are slightly more likely to become ill than male dogs. It occurs more frequently in the following breeds: Dachshund, Poodle, Labrador, Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Terrier, Beagle and Boxer. 

This is how Cushing's syndrome manifests itself: 

  • increased thirst 
  • increased urine output 
  • Increased appetite with weight gain and potbelly 
  • Massive skin and fur changes, hair loss, usually symmetrical on both sides of the ears, flanks and stomach, thinned and parchment-like skin, especially on the lower abdomen, sometimes with black coloring of the skin 
  • decreased muscle mass 
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Absence of heat, reduced size of the testicles, reduced fertility 
  • increased panting, increase in blood pressure 
  • often additional occurrence of a bladder infection 

There is also an increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus and/or an underactive thyroid. 

Treating Cushing's Syndrome : What can the vet do?

The diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome in dogs requires a thorough general examination, in which the typical symptoms already provide a clear indication. Final diagnosis is made through urine and blood tests.                  

Once diagnosed, the veterinarian can recommend appropriate treatment for the dog. Since the therapy varies greatly from dog to dog, frequent visits to the veterinarian are necessary. Early detection and consistent treatment can help relieve the symptoms of Cushing's syndrome and improve the dog's quality of life.

Addinsson's disease in dogs

In Addison's disease there is a partial or complete deficiency of minerals and ... Glucocorticoids. 

How does Addison 's disease develop and what are the symptoms ?  

A distinction is made between primary and secondary forms of the disease. In the primary form, the adrenal cortex is destroyed by the immune system. In the secondary form, the destruction is caused centrally by a growth, inflammation or trauma in the pituitary area of ​​the brain and the further progression leads to a loss of the adrenal cortex. 

Due to the shifts in electrolytes in the blood due to the lack of the hormone aldosterone, the following symptoms occur: 

  • dehydration 
  • Refusal to feed 
  • Diarrhea and vomiting 
  • Susceptibility to stress 
  • Drop in blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia 
  • Disturbance of energy metabolism 
  • Apathy to collapse  

It occurs much less frequently than Cushing's syndrome and more commonly affects younger, large breed dogs. Female dogs are more likely to become ill than male dogs. 

Treating Addisson 's Disease : What Can the Vet Do?

Due to the aldosterone deficiency, suspicious changes also occur in the blood, especially in the electrolytes. The ACTH stimulation test in the blood leads to the diagnosis. 

When it comes to therapy, a distinction is made between immediate measures in a so-called acute and life-threatening “Addisonian crisis” and maintenance therapy, which consists of compensating for the deficiency of mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids. The immediate measures consist of a continuous drip infusion of a physiological saline solution and the administration of certain cortisone preparations. 

With regular blood checks and medication, the animal with the disease can still achieve a normal life expectancy.