Addison’s Disease is also called adrenal insufficiency or hypocortisolism, which means low or decreased activity of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located just above each of the dog’s two kidneys. The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, and are really made of two parts, the medulla and cortex. The medulla is responsible for production of epinephrine- this is generally not affected by Addison’s.
The adrenal cortex produces the hormones (cortisol and aldosterone) that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in the body. Here are some of the jobs of cortisol and aldosterone hormones: Cortisol mobilizes nutrients, modifies the body’s response to inflammation, stimulates the liver to raise blood sugar, and also helps to regulate amount of water in the body. Aldosterone regulates salt and water levels which affects blood volume and blood pressure.
Though all the causes of Addison’s Disease are not fully understood, in some cases it is an auto- immune disorder in which the pet’s body makes antibodies that destroy its own adrenal glands. The process can take months or even years. Some less frequent causes may be related to severe chronic fungal infections and adrenal cancers. The onset of Addison’s disease (as well as Cushing’s, liver disease, kidney failure and other auto-immune system disorders) has been linked to the increasing long-term use of veterinary drugs that are commonly prescribed for various skin problems.
Addison’s Disease appears to be getting more and more common in dogs in the United States. The disorder is much less common in cats. Clinical signs occur as a result of the decreased output of adrenal gland hormones. Some of the signs pet owners notice are extreme weakness, loss of weight and vomiting. These symptoms can be vague and intermittent, making a definitive diagnosis difficult in many cases.
Conventional treatment for Addison’s disease involves administration of supplemental hormones for the life of the pet. Some natural treatments include a healthy fresh food diet to help improve your pets overall health, glandular therapy (using whole animal tissues or extracts of adrenal glands), antioxidants, and some herbal remedies. With natural medicine there is no one modality that will cure all, but rather it involves treating the body as a whole. Some herbal remedies to help strengthen the adrenal glands include Borage, Dandelion leaf, Licorice, Nettle, and Spirulina.
Some great resources:
“Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats”, by Shawn Messonnier, DVM
The following web site has some very informative links: www.k9addisons.com
Please remember, dietary and other health-care changes should be made under the guidance of your vet, particularly when underlying health conditions exist.