Two of smallest glands in the body are the adrenal glands but they fill many important bodily functions. We have all experienced an adrenal event with we had to make a panic stop and our body responded by releasing adrenalin. That instant stress response caused an increase in heart rate, respirations and our eyes dilated. This reaction passes quickly, and the body returns to its normal awake rhythm.
Pets also have adrenal glands and can have an instant adrenalin release that is triggered by the flight or fight fear emotion. The adrenal glands responsibilities do not end with the adrenalin release. Two additional hormones are produced by this remarkable gland. Glucocorticoid which is cortisone released for long term stress reaction and mineralocorticoid which controls the kidneys ability to concentrate urine and retain electrolytes. These two hormones are under the control of the pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain. This boring lesson in physiology gives you enough understanding to learn about two disease that affect dogs and to a lesser extend cats and ferrets.
Cushing’s disease is a hyper (excessive) function of the glucocorticoid producing portion of the adrenal gland. Excessive amounts of natural cortisone are produced by the organ causing an affected pet to drink excessive amounts of water, make urine mistakes, pant excessively, show muscle wasting, exhibit hair loss and in some cases show strange and changed behavior. Cushing’s is most frequently diagnosed in older pets. Testing for Cushing’s is done by running full chemistry, urine and a blood test called a low dose dex suppression.
Once diagnosed there are multiple treatments but the most common is a veterinary approved medication called Vetoryl. Cushing’s disease is controlled, not cured. Should the source of Cushing’s disease be an adrenal gland tumor surgery can be considered to remove the abnormal gland. Adrenal tumors are the most common cause of Cushing’s in ferrets. Cushing’s can be caused by over treating allergies and other steroid responsive diseases with manufactured steroids. This serious complication is called iatrogenic Cushing’s. The most common condition where steroids, like prednisone, are used is allergy treatment. To avoid using steroids we recommend using Apoquel and or Cytopoint neither of which affect the adrenal gland.
The opposite disease of Cushing’s is a hypo (under) function of the adrenal gland called Addison’s disease. Addison’s disease is called the great imitator as it can mimic many other diseases from weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, increased kidney lab values, poor appetite slow heartrate and potentially death. A test called an acth stim is run to make the diagnosis of Addison’s.
In most cases of Addison’s disease lifelong treatment is necessary but very successful. The best treatment is an injection give every 28-30 days of either Percorten or Zycortal. They can be used interchangeably which is good because Percorten is on a long back order. Zycortal is not generic but is fully FDA approved. In some cases of Addison’s low doses of manufactured cortisone is given. When an Addisonian pet is going to be stressed, surgery, boarding are two examples extra doses of cortisone are given.
Fear-free tips: If your dog has not been vaccinated against the canine influena viruses, do it now. There has been a large outbreak in the Detroit area and it could end up back in NW Ohio.