Hormonal Disorders: Adrenal Glands



The adrenal gland is a flat gland that is on each side of the two kidneys. The gland has two parts:

  • Cortex: , releases steroid hormones such as cortisol (stimulates the liver to produce glucose and also affect fat distribution, protein use, affects the immune system and helps to reduce inflammation)
  • Medulla: releases epinephrine (helps to regulate the nervous system - adrenaline) and norepinephrine (helps to regulate blood pressure, heart rate and an aggressive response).

Several well known conditions are caused by the adrenal glands producing too much or too little of a particular hormone. These include adrenal gland tumor, Canine Cushing's Disease (hyperadrenalcorticism) and Canine Addison's Disease (hypoadrenocorticism).


If your dog has an adrenal gland tumor, symptoms include:

  • Excessive urination (Polyuria)
  • Abnormal Thirst (Polydipsia)
  • Excessive Eating (Polyphagia)
  • Obesity
  • Body getting larger
  • Thinning Coat
  • Failure to regrow hair
  • Hair loss (Alopecia)
  • Thin Skin
  • Panting
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Lethargic Behavior

Other Dog Adrenal Gland Symptoms that are not common:

  • Exhaustion due to becoming overheated
  • Scaling skin (seborrhea)
  • Blackheads on the skin (comedo)
  • Dark spots on the skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Lesions on the skin (calcinosis cutis)
  • Bruises on the body
  • Shrinking testicles (atrophy)
  • No period (no cycle)
  • Paralysis in the face
  • Shrinking clitoris (atrophy)


Your veterinarian will do a physical exam to identify many of the symptoms described above. A urine test (urinalysis) will be done since bacteria accumulation and high cholesterol levels are other signs of a canine adrenal gland problem.

Tests will help to determine if your dog has an adrenal gland tumor, a problem with the pituitary gland called pituitary dependant hypercortisolism (PDH) or another condition called hyperadrenocorticism (HAC).

Your veterinarian may also choose to use ultrasound to provide another level of information before making a diagnosis.


If your dog is diagnosed with having a tumor, your veterinarian will determine if the adrenal tumors affect only one of the two glands or as in 10% of the cases, both glands. It is common for dogs with adrenal gland tumors to also have a pituitary tumor as well.

Tumors are usually found in dogs that are over the age of 6. Breeds with an above average incidence of this disorder include:

  • Terriers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Dachshunds
  • German Shepherds

Dogs tend to be either medium or large breeds.

The most common type of adrenal tumor in dogs is called a functional tumor. The tumor causes the glands to release too much of each hormone such as cortisol, aldosterone, and aldosterone, sex hormones and catecholamines. The tumor itself can be bigger than the adrenal gland. A non functional tumor implies that it is not causing excess secretion of hormones.

The second most common type of adrenal tumor is called Pheochromocytoma (Pheo). Symptoms are caused by the gland secreting too much of a hormone called catecholamines (also known as neurotransmiters) that carry nerve impulses to different parts of the body. It is difficult to detect symptoms as they may come and go. Specific symptoms to look for include:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Agitated behavior
  • Excessive urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Detached retina (severe cases - due to and thirst. In more severe cases the retina could become detached due to high blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Cardiac Rhythm Problem
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tender Abdomen
  • Weight Loss
  • Collapse

It is possible for tumors to be benign (not harmful - adenoma) or cancerous (malignant or fast growing). A tissue sample is needed to determine which type your dog is suffering from.

Treatment of Dog Adrenal Gland Tumors

Surgery is the preferred method for removing a tumor (adrenalectomy). Approximately half of all dogs who undergo surgery have some type of post operative problem. These include pancreatitis, pneumonia, kidney failure and hypoadrenocorticism. Approximately 10% to 34% of dogs do not survive after surgery. Most dogs survive between 1 and 36 months.

Medications for adrenal disease in dogs are available that are used when surgery is not an option (mitotane). This approach can result in remission of the tumor.

Cushing's Disease

Cushing's disease (hyperadrenalcorticism) is a condition where the adrenal gland produces too much cortisol. When the body produces too much of this hormone, the immune system weakens allowing infection (bacterial, fungal, viral) to take hold. The liver can also become enlarged.

The Cushing's is usually triggered by a tumour on the pituitary gland. IN 10% of cases there can also be a tumour on the adrenal gland. Cushing's Disease in dogs can also be triggered if your dog is on long term steroid treatment.

Symptoms include:

  • Unusual Hunger
  • Excessive thirst (Polydipsia)
  • Excessive urination (Polyuria)
  • Enlarged Stomach (due to enlarged liver)
  • Panting
  • Thinning Coat

Diagnosis of Cushing's Disease in

Diagnosis of Cushing's disease involves measuring cortisol in the blood over the course of several tests. Your veterinarian will also look for elevated levels of liver enzymes. After Cushing's is diagnosed, your veterinarian will do additional testing to determine the location of the tumor causing the problem (adrenal gland or pituitary gland).

Treatment of Cushing's Disease

Treatment of dogs with Cushing's Disease depends on the location of the glandular tumor. If the tumor is on the adrenal gland, then surgery is recommended since the tumor is usually on only 1 of the 2 glands.

If there is a canine pituitary gland tumor, then surgery is not an option due to the hard to reach location of the gland in the skull. Instead a medication called Lysodren (mitotaine) is used to kill those cells that are causing too much cortisol to be produced. If your dog received too much mitotaine, it could trigger other problems such as Addison's disease and hypoadrenocorticism.

There is a natural alternative homeopathic remedy for Cushing's called It combines ingredients selected to support normal functioning of the adrenal glands such as:

  • Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion) - anti-oxidation, hair growth and health
  • Arctium lappa (Burdock) - supports waste removal from the body
  • Astragalus membranaceous (Huang Qi) - herb that helps with healthy adrenal cortical function and helps to support blood pressure and sugar levels in a natural range
  • Arsenicum (30C) - helps with urination and thirst
  • Hepar sulph (30C) - for skin and health
Be sure to check with your veterinarian before taking so that she can monitor your dog's progress.

Canine Addison's Disease

The opposite of Canine Cushing's disease is Canine Addison's Disease. This is where the adrenal gland doesn't product enough cortisol and a hormone called aldosterone (also called hypoadrenocorticism).

The aldosterone triggers a chain reaction that can cause your dog to go into shock. Aldosterone controls blood sodium levels. When these levels decline due to the aldosterone, the blood pressure goes down. When the blood pressure is low, the heart will try and compensate by beating faster. However, another side effect of aldosterone is that potassium levels go up. Potassium prevents the heart from beating faster causing the body to go into shock.


Dogs with addison's may move in and out of seeming like they are sick. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting.


Your veterinarian will test your dog's heart rate. If it is abnormally slow and if other readings are consistent with Addison's then the vet will seek to restore glucose and sodium levels


Treatment is with a prescription medication called Florinef. Approximately 50% of dogs will take a table daily for his or her entire life with the rest recovering enough to not need the medication.

Natural Remedy for Adrenal Gland Disease in Dogs

If your dog is acting lethargic due to adrenal gland problems, there is a natural alternative remedy formulated to address this issue. The product is called PetAlive Cushex It helps to temporarily relieves adrenal fatigue and supports adrenal gland functioning.

It contains ingredients such as:

  • Onosmodium (6C) - for exhaustion and clumsiness
  • Acidum phosphoricum (6C) - for exhaustion, chronic fatigue, listlessness and headaches.
  • Gelsemium (6C) is useful for those who are mentally and physically weak, even to the point of not being able to move. It is also recommended when fatigue and inertia are associated with nervousness.

Whenever giving your dog any dog adrenal glands supplement be sure to consult with your veterinarian. The company that manufactures this remedy is also an excellent resource for additional information on dog adrenal glands and adrenal disease in dogs.

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