Definition of Addison's DiseaseAddison’s disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is defined as diminished hormone production from the cortex of the adrenal gland. The adrenal cortex can be damaged by hemorrhage, mineralization, infection or immune-mediated attack, among other things. Addison’s is a potentially life-threatening but thankfully very rare disorder in cats.
How Addison’s Disease Affects CatsThe clinical signs of Addison’s disease can vary but almost always involve progressive loss of body condition. The signs tend to wax and wane, ranging from mild to severe, and include weakness, lethargy, anorexia, diarrhea (possibly bloody), weight loss, poor skin and coat condition, abdominal pain, dehydration, trembling and collapse. It is uncommon for cats to show signs of vomiting, regurgitation, drinking more water than normal or urinating more than normal, although dogs commonly show these additional signs. In advanced cases, the disease in cats can mimic systemic shock, with low body temperature, tremors and slow heartbeat. Some affected cats will deviate from their normal activities for no apparent reason. The signs tend to be progressively severe. Normally, by the time a cat is diagnosed with Addison’s, emergency medical treatment is necessary. Once the cat has been stabilized, proper assessment can be made and proper treatment protocols can be prescribed. Addison’s disease is more common in older cats, but there is no species or gender predisposition.
Causes of Addison’s in CatsThe signs of Addison’s are caused by an inability or insufficiency of the adrenal glands to produce the necessary amounts of mineralocorticol hormones. The cause of primary Addison’s disease is not always known but is thought to be the result of atrophy of all layers of the adrenal gland, which probably is immune-mediated. Other causes of primary hypoadrenocorticism include overdoses of certain medications, metastatic tumors and granulomatous disease. Secondary Addison’s can be caused by damage to the pituitary gland and, more commonly in cats, by long-term corticosteroid administration which leads to decreased secretion of ACTH and, in turn, reduced synthesis and circulation of glucocorticoid hormones.
Preventing Addison’s in CatsThere is no way to “prevent” hypoadrenocorticism in our companion cats. The recommended approach for cats with primary Addison’s disease is to continue glucocorticoid hormone replacement therapy for the lifetime of the animal, and possibly to increase the dosage of replacement hormones during periods of particular stress. Reliable tests are available to diagnose this disease, and there are good treatment protocols for managing the condition.
Special NotesAddison’s is very uncommon in cats, but it does occur. If not treated aggressively, or if diagnosis is delayed, Addison’s can become life-threatening, primarily due to elevated potassium levels and low sodium and chloride levels which cause serious and acute dehydration, volume depletion and problems with the heart and other organs. The prognosis for cats with Addison’s disease is very good if the.
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