Cat Health

Addison’s Disease in Cats-Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

What is Addison’s disease      Symptoms of Addison’s disease      Diagnosing Addison’s disease      Treating Addison’s disease

Addison

What is Addison’s disease?

Also known as hypoadrenocorticism, Addison’s Disease is an endocrine disorder caused by a deficiency of corticosteroids which are produced by the adrenal glands. It is more common in dogs and is rare in cats. The cause is destruction of the adrenal cortices, which are responsible for producing a number of hormones.

Located on top of the kidneys, the adrenal cortices (also known as suprarenal glands) have an outer and inner layer.

  1. Adrenal cortex: The outer layer of the gland, called the adrenal cortex, produces hormones including cortisol, DHEA, estrogen and testosterone. Cortisol is essential for life, it plays several important roles, some of which include converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen and has pronounced anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects.
  2. Medulla: The inner portion of the adrenal gland which produces epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline). During a stress response adrenaline raises blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cardiac output.

Addison

The most common cause of Addison’s disease is the destruction of the adrenal gland cells by the cat’s own immune system. Other causes may include cancer and long-term glucocorticoid withdrawal, trauma, infection and internal bleeding.

What are the symptoms of Addison’s disease?

Symptoms are often be vague and can wax and wane, but may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Episodic vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Shaking/listlessness
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Sudden collapse

Without treatment, a life-threatening  Addisonian crisis (or adrenal crisis) may occur, where the cat collapses in a state of shock. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary treatment.

How is Addison’s disease diagnosed?

Addison’s disease has many symptoms similar to other disorders so diagnosis can sometimes be difficult. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and obtain a medical history from you. The exam may reveal a slow pulse, irregular heartbeat and signs of dehydration. Diagnosistic tests will include:

  • Complete blood count which may reveal anemia as cortisol is required for red blood cell production and elevated eosinophils, a type of white blood cell.
  • Biochemistry profile may show elevated potassium and phosphorous levels, low sodium and blood sugar levels and elevated liver enzymes.
  • Urinalysis which commonly shows mild to severe dehydration.
  • ACTH stimulation test: This test measures the ability of the adrenal glands to respond to a hormone known as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Produced in the pituatory gland, ACTH travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands where it stimulates the secretion of other hormones such as hydrocortisone from the cortex. The ACTH stimulation test measures levels of cortisol in the blood before and after an injection of synthetic ACTH.
  • Abdominal radiographs or ultrasound may show smaller than normal adrenal glands.

How is Addison’s disease treated?

  • Treatment is lifelong administration of the deficient adrenal hormones (corticosteroid and mineralocorticoid). Electrolytes will be closely monitored initially and where necessary, adjust the dosage.
  • Sodium (salt) added to the diet.

For Addisonian crisis your cat will require:

  • Intravenous fluid therapy to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Medication to replace deficient steroids.

References:

[1] The Cornell Book of Cats.