Adrenal Glands in Cats
"Adrenal glands in cats control many basic body functions by secreting hormones including blood pressure, heart rate and glucose levels. Adrenal problem are rare in cats and can be fatal if not treated. It is part of the endocrine system. When the adrenal glands do not produce enough hormone (Addison's Disease) or too little hormone (Cushing's Disease) problems can set in which need to be immediately corrected."
Feline adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, a three gland system that produces hormones which controls most major functions in your cat's body. The first gland in the chain is called the hypothalimus, which secretes a hormone which tells the pituitary gland how much hormone to create. Hormones secreted by the pituitary (ACTH) then control the adrenal gland.
There are two adrenal glands located on each side of the kidneys.
Causes of Problems with Adrenal Glands in Cats
There are several reasons why your cat might have problems with the adrenal glands:
Autoimmune Problem: This occurs when the immune system of the body thinks there is a problem when there isn't. The body is in effect attacking the adrenal glands.
Pituitary Tumor: Approximately 85% of tumors which impact the adrenal glands are actually on the pituitary.
Feline Adrenal Tumor (adenoma): In approximately 15% of cases there is a tumor that exists on one of the two adrenal glands. If the tumor is on only one gland and if it is causing the gland to produce more hormone it is called a functional unilateral adrenocortical tumors.
Steroid Treatment: The hormones that the adrenal glands produce are steroids. If your cat is on steroid treatment for a long period of time, it could interfere with the adrenal glands.
Adrenal Glands in Cats - Common Conditions
Feline Hyperadrenocorticism (Feline Cushing's Disease)
This is a condition where too much hormone is being created. Depending on the hormone that is being created it could also be referred to as hypercortisolims, hyperprogesteronism (rarely occurs) and hyperaldosteronism (rarely occurs).
Hypercortisolims is also known as Feline Cushing's Disease. Most cases of Cushing's Disease in cats is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland (approximately 80% - called pituitary adenoma - PDH) and the remainder are caused by a tumor on the adrenal gland. About 50% of the tumors on the adrenal gland are benign (not cancerous) and the remaining 50% of adrenal tumors are cancerous.
Symptoms of Feline Hyperadrenocorticism
- Thirst (polyuria)
- Excessive Urination (Polydipsia)
- Eating Too Much (polyphagia)
- Weight Loss
- Pot Belly
- Messy Coat
- Hair Loss (alopecia)
- Thin Skin (may see tearing when your cat is playing with another cat)
- Skin Puss (abscess)
- Infection (urinary tract, mouth, respiratory tract)
Diagnosis of Feline Cushing's Disease
Your veterinarian will run a test called a stress leukogram and a urinalysis (urine test). Signs of hyperadrenocortisism include problems with the glucose levels and cholesterol. If a tumor is suspected, X-Rays and ultrasound can be used to see inside your cat's body.
Treatment of Feline Cushing's Disease
Treatment for cats with this type of problems with the adrenal glands in cats includes the medication mitotane. This drug reduces hormone production. A medication called Trilostane could also be of help.
If your cat has an adrenal gland removed, then she will receive two months of therapy with glucocorticoids. If both adrenal glands are removed then additional steroid replacements will be needed.
30% of cats do not live long after surgery. If your cat undergoes a pituitary treatment with removal of both adrenal glands, approximately 50% of cats will have a good outcome, and those with diabetes may no longer need insulin.
Homeopathic Remedy for Feline Cushing's Disease
There is a natural remedy that could help to support your cat's endocrine system. It is specifically formulated to provide support to the adrenal glands. Natural herbal products such as Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion), Arctium lappa (Burdock) and Astragalus membranaceous are all known to support the adrenal gland. The product is called
HYPOADRENOCORTICISM (Addison's Disease)
Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal glands in cats produce too little hormone. It is more likely that your cat will have Addison's Disease than Cushing's Disease. It is sometimes misdiagnosed as a kidney problem, since renal dysfunction (kidney dysfunction) is a symptom of Addisons.
Symptoms of Addison's Disease in Cats
The symptoms of hypoadrenocorticism in cats include:
- Excessive Urination
- Excessive drinking
- Loss of Appetite (anorexia)
- Urethral Obstruction (blockage in tube that urine travels from bladder to outside of the body)
Diagnosis of Addison's Disease in Cats
Your veterinarian will conduct a series of laboratory tests on the urine and blood. ACTH, the hormone secreted by the pituitary gland will also be tested to see if it in responding normally.
Treatment of Addison's Disease in Cats
The first step in treatment is to correct the dehydration by providing fluids. Hormones that aren't being secreted by the adrenal gland will be replaced by glucocorticoids (called Forinef) and mineralocorticoids (prednisone).
Homeopathic Remedy for Lethargy in Cats with Adrenal Gland Problems
There is a homeopathic remedy that is made specifically for temporary relief from lethargy due to the adrenal glands in cats problems. The product is PetAlive Adrenal Super-Boost - it contains ingredients selected to temporarily relieve adrenal fatigue and supports adrenal gland functioning. The manufacturer is also a good source for additional information in adrenal glands in cats.
HYPERALDOSTERONISM (Conn's Syndrome)
This a rare condition in which the adrenal gland suffers from abnormal cell growth such as tumor or what is referred to as a neoplasm. The tumor causes the adrenal gland to produce too much of the hormone aldosterone. Like Addison's Disease, cats are sometimes misdiagnosed with a kidney problem when in fact they have Conn's Syndrome.
Cat's with this problem usually have other glandular problems at the same time such as hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of Conn's Syndrome
Symptoms of this condition resemble other problems with adrenal glands in cats including:
- Excessive Urination
- Low levels of potassium (hypokalemia)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Weakness in the muscles
Diagnosis of Conn's Syndrome
A veterinarian will test for hormone levels. Ultrasound testing will detect if there is a tumor on one or both adrenal glands. Tumors are usually not cancerous (benign).
Treatment for Conn's Syndrome
Treatment starts with potassium replacement. The medication Amlodipine helps to control the high blood pressure. Surgery is used to remove any tumor or one of the adrenal glands. If a cat isn't operated on then the drugs amlodipine and potassium may help control symptoms.
Reto Neiger, Prof. Dr.med.vet., PhD, DACVIM, DECVIM -CA
Small Animal Clinic, Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Germany
Cats Only Veterinary Clinic, Vancouver, B.C., Canada