Endocrine Diseases in Poodles
Along with the immune system and the nervous system, the endocrine system performs some of the most important functions of the body. Poodles are prone to two serious endocrine problems, one involving the thyroid, and one involving the adrenal glands.
Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) is the most common endocrine problem in dogs. It can lead to weight gain (without an increase in eating), poor coat, loss of coat, skin problems, and even aggression. If your poodle suffers from any of these symptoms, have your veterinarian draw some blood for a full thyroid panel.
Autoimmune thyroiditis, in which the thyroid is destroyed by the body's immune system, is genetic and is seen in all three varieties of poodles. Reputable breeders test their dogs for autoimmune thyroiditis before breeding them.
Hypothyroidism is fairly easily treated through medication that supplies the hormone that the body cannot make. That medication is given twice daily for the rest of the dog's life.
If you have your poodle tested for a thyroid disorder, the vet may want to run just a test known as a T4. However, you should ask for a full panel, including a TgAA (thyroglobulin autoantibody) analysis, which will tell you if there's a genetic autoimmune component to the problem. If there is, you should inform your poodle's breeder.
Addison's disease, technically known as hypoadrenocorticism, is the result of poorly functioning adrenal glands. It occurs in all three poodle sizes but is most common in Standard Poodles.
An untreated poodle with Addison's disease will be lethargic, eat poorly, and perhaps limp. He might be depressed, and have vomiting or diarrhea (though some prediagnosis Addisonian dogs are constipated). His coat might be bad. These symptoms will worsen under stress, as the adrenal glands can't put out extra cortisol under stress as they're supposed to.
Diagnosing Addison's disease can be difficult. For one thing, the symptoms wax and wane inconsistently. Also, on blood work the disease can give results that look like kidney disease. Many affected dogs are promptly treated for kidney failure, which makes them feel better but doesn't help with the adrenal insufficiency. Red flags on blood work are high potassium and low sodium, or a sodium-to-potassium ratio of 26 or less.
If your poodle is diagnosed with Addison's disease, you'll be able to learn much from other owners of Addisonian dogs. One place to meet them is through the website AddisonDogs.
There's a definitive test for Addison's disease, called the ACTH stimulation test. It requires drawing blood from your dog, injecting a form of the pituitary hormone called ACTH, which should stimulate the body to create cortisol, then drawing blood in an hour to see if the dog responded by making cortisol.
Some dogs have atypical Addison's disease, which means that their sodium and potassium aren't affected. This makes diagnosis even more difficult, though it can be detected through an ACTH stimulation test. These dogs are treated with only one of the two medications that dogs with primary Addison's get.
Left untreated, Addison's is deadly. But once diagnosed, the dog can be treated with daily or monthly medication to replace the hormones that the adrenal glands can't produce. A poodle that continues to take these hormones can live a long life, though he'll always be extra sensitive to stress.