Hyperadrenocorticism: A common hormonal imbalance in senior dogs


Believe it or not, my handsome Doberman Pinscher Neo was nine years old when he had his very first urine accident in the house! He’d been perfectly housetrained as a puppy, and he remained perfectly housetrained since then. So I immediately knew something was wrong, and we made a trip to the veterinary clinic so I could run a few tests.

Neo’s x-rays looked fine, but his blood and urine test results indicated that he had hyperadrenocorticism, which meant one or both of his adrenal glands were overactive. The adrenal glands are small structures in the abdomen that sit on top of each kidney and produce several hormones that help regulate metabolism, stress responses, blood pressure, and immunity.

Overactive adrenal glands can produce too much of a steroid hormone called cortisol. (Cortisol is a corticosteroid, so it works differently than the anabolic steroids that people sometimes use to build muscle.) Cortisol influences many body functions, and one of the effects of too much cortisol is that it inhibits another hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). ADH tells the kidneys to conserve water, so when ADH is turned off, a pet drinks more water and urinates more. That’s why Neo had his first pee accident in the house! And after Neo’s initial tests, I noticed that he had been drinking more water than he usually did.

Other signs of hyperadrenocorticism in dogs include ravenous appetite, thin hair coat or hair loss on both sides of the body, muscle weakness, fatigue, excessive panting, thin skin, recurring skin infections, and a rotund, “pot-belly.” Neo didn’t have any of those signs yet.