Recently I did a podcast with Dr Ruth Roberts Coupon, integrative veterinarian, holistic health coach, longtime pet advocate and your pet’s ally. Dr. Ruth is also the creator of The Original CrockPET Diet, a balanced home cooked diet for pets. Through her diet and practice, Dr. Ruth has supported thousands of dogs and cats to overcome health hurdles like kidney disease, GI illness, allergies, and cancer. She joined us on Your Natural Dog Podcast to discuss the adrenal diseases and disorders that are so prevalent in dogs today, and what we can do to prevent them or support our pets after a diagnosis.
What are Adrenal Disorders?
The adrenal glands are small glands located above each kidney. They are a part of the endocrine system, which is a collection of glands that produce hormones. The adrenal glands produce essential hormones, including sex hormones and stress hormones. In the case of adrenal gland disorders, the glands either produce too much or not enough hormones.
As stated in The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on the subject of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, when hormones are unbalanced for any extended period of time, it “nearly always result(s) in dysfunction or disease.”
What Causes Adrenal Disorders in Dogs?
Adrenal disorders are caused by problems with one or both adrenal glands, causing the production of too much or not enough hormones. For instance, Cushing’s Disease involves the production of too much cortisol, and with Addison’s Disease in dogs, not enough cortisol is produced.
Adrenal disorders are sometimes caused by masses or tumors on the adrenal or pituitary gland, which can be the case for Cushing’s Disease and Pheochromocytomas.
More recently, it has been suggested that spaying or neutering too early may be leading to increased hormonal imbalances and endocrine dysfunction. After a spay/neuter, the adrenal glands must take on the burden of producing sex hormones due to the absence of the reproductive organs. Sex hormones are not solely necessary for reproduction, they also play a role in a dog’s growth and development, behavior, immune system, as well as their susceptibility to cancer, diabetes and other metabolic or endocrine-related disease.
Taking over production of these hormones can overwhelm the adrenal glands, leading to disruption of their hormone production, which can lead to dysfunction and disease. A 2013 UC Davis study analyzed the multiple organ systems that may be adversely affected by neutering. Their analysis revealed that early neutering was associated with an increased occurrence of Hip Dysplasia, Cranial Cruciate Ligament tear, and Lymphosarcoma.
Common Adrenal Diseases in Dogs
Cushing’s Disease in Dogs
Cushing’s Disease, also known as hypercortisolism or hyperadrenocorticism, involves the production of too much cortisol hormone. Cortisol helps control stress, weight, infections, and blood sugar. Too much cortisol, or not enough cortisol, can wreak havoc on your pet’s overall health.
Pituitary Dependent Cushing’s Disease is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, and is the most common type, occurring in 80-90% of animals with Cushing’s Disease. Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s Disease is caused by a tumor on the adrenal glands, and is the second most common, occurring in about 15% of animals with Cushing’s. Iatrogenic Cushing’s Syndrome is caused by over-prescription of steroids, and is the least common type of Cushing’s.
Addison’s Disease in Dogs
Addison’s disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is when the adrenal glands no longer produce, or cannot produce enough hormones, specifically cortisol and aldosterone. It is commonly caused by some type of immune-mediated response resulting in destruction to the adrenal tissue. It can less commonly be caused by trauma, infection, or cancer.
The other form of Addison’s may be caused by a tumor or some type of pituitary defect. This may occur when a dog has been treated with steroids long-term or has abruptly stopped taking any medication. Iatrogenic hypoadrenocorticism can also develop in dogs after ending long-term steroid use.
Managing Adrenal Diseases in Dogs
When pets come to Dr. Ruth’s practice with a Cushing’s or Addison’s Disease diagnosis, they are typically between 8 and 12 years old. They’ve most likely been spayed or neutered early in life, and have had a lifetime of exposure to antibiotics, NSAIDs, and other pharmaceuticals. This results in poor gut health, a liver that is unable to process waste, and a non-functioning endocrine system. To combat all these issues, and give pets the support they need, Dr. Ruth has created protocols for managing adrenal disorders in dogs.
CBD for Adrenal Disease in Dogs
One of Dr. Ruth’s first steps is to start them on CBD for dogs, to encourage homeostasis in the body. CBD works with the body’s endocannabinoid system to bring the body back to balance. This includes hormonal imbalances like the cortisol imbalance from the adrenal or pituitary glands. CBD is also helpful in the case of adrenal disorders caused by tumors, as CBD has been found to trigger apoptosis (natural cell death) in cancer cells. It has also been found to reduce the growth of tumors by preventing the formation of blood vessels that feed the tumor’s growth.