What Is Hypoadrenocorticism – Addison’s Disease?

mt. carmel animal hospital addison's disease

Mount Carmel Animal Hospital explains the meaning of Addison’s disease in this blog.

Also known as Addison’s Disease, hypoadrenocorticism is a disease in dogs originated by a deficiency of vital hormones made by the adrenal glands. This is not a common disease, but a very serious one. If you have a dog or are considering getting a dog as a pet, Mount Carmel Animal Hospital explains the meaning of hypoadrenocorticism in this blog.


The adrenal glands are small organs located next to the kidneys. In addition, the glands generate vital hormones, including cortisol and aldosterone. These hormones regulate life-sustaining functions – including blood pressure, metabolism, hydration, electrolyte balance, and stress responses.

Addison’s disease is provoked by a lack of cortisol and aldosterone hormones. This deficiency contributes to general illness signs, and the condition may worsen to the point of critical if the hormone levels drop excessively low. The most common cause of Addison’s disease is genetics, which causes the dog’s immune system to harm its adrenal glands. Addison’s can also be caused by infection, cancer, or iatrogenic causes (medication induced). However, these causes are less common.

Signs & Symptoms

The clinical signs of Addison’s disease might appear as unclear signs of illness that come and go. It is often referred to as the great pretender because its clinical signs are so broad may mimic those of many other diseases. They may include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Trembling
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Increased thirst and urination

Addison’s disease can present as an acute medical emergency known as an Addisonian crisis, which might seem as sudden weakness, diarrhea, collapse, and severe vomiting. It is imperative that you immediately take your dog to the veterinarian if he or she demonstrates any of these signs.


A Mount Carmel Animal Hospital veterinarian will conduct blood and urine tests to analyze your dog’s illness and seek signs suggestive of Addison’s disease, like electrolyte imbalances in potassium and sodium. We can confirm this disease with a blood exam known as ACTH Stimulation. ACTH is a hormone that notifies the adrenal gland to generate cortisol. Diagnostics like X-rays or abdominal ultrasounds might be performed to rule out other illness causes. An ultrasound will also allow the veterinarian to visualize the adrenal glands to look for any abnormalities.


Typical treatment forms of Addison’s disease require lifelong cortisol and aldosterone supplementation. Cortisol is given with daily oral steroids, like prednisone, whereas aldosterone is given with an injection, such as Zycortal, about once monthly. Because long term use of steroids like prednisone can cause other issues, Zycortal is the preferred option for life long treatment of Addison’s disease.

The goal is to monitor your dog’s electrolytes, clinical signs, and medication response. Afterward, your veterinarian will carefully minimize the amount of medications to the lowest dose and frequency. This involves regular blood tests and minor adjustments to medication doses as appropriate.

Treatment during an acute Addisonian crisis is more involved and often includes IV fluids and other IV medications like glucose, medications to protect your dog’s GI tract, and steroids after performing the necessary diagnostic tests. Tests are done prior to initiating steroid treatment to ensure the results accurately reflect your pet’s condition.


Mount Carmel Animal Hospital has been serving the Northern Baltimore/Southern York community for over 30 years and is proud to be an independently operated, small animal practice committed to excellence in veterinary medicine and client service. From grooming to wellness services, along with Canine Life Skills Training Courses, and surgical procedures, we have the expertise that will best serve the needs of you and your pet. Contact us at 410-343-0200 and follow us on Facebook!

This entry was posted on Friday, September 22nd, 2023 at 8:47 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.