Why Does My Dog Have Low Cortisol

Why Does My Dog Have Low Cortisol?

Last Updated: August 20, 2023
correct answerThe Short Answer is:

The most common cause of low cortisol is adrenocortical failure. There is no clear cause for adrenal gland malfunction, but it is predicted to be caused by autoimmune diseases, hemorrhages, tumors, or enzyme inhibitions. A low cortisol level can also be caused by stress. Cortisol is also involved in stress management, as mentioned previously. Whenever the body is in danger or under stress, cortisol levels decrease when the stress subsides.

In this article you will know the answer to the query “Why Does My Dog Have Low Cortisol?“.

Your dog seems to be in trouble are you worried?

Why Does My Dog Have Low Cortisol

Have you noticed a change in their behavior or symptoms that are not quite explained lately?

Does your dog suddenly seem to lack energy or seem anxious for no apparent reason?

There are a number of illnesses that exhibit those symptoms.

Dogs with low cortisone also show these symptoms.

This is the condition I would like to focus on in this article.

What is cortisol and what role does it play in dogs?

An adrenal gland produces cortisol a hormone.

This hormone plays a role in energy production increases blood sugar levels regulates blood pressure and reduces inflammation in humans and dogs. Since it is a steroid hormone it also plays a role in boosting energy levels and reducing stress.

What are the symptoms/side effects of low cortisol in dogs?

It is not uncommon for dogs with low cortisol to experience non-specific symptoms similar to more common conditions. When symptoms worsen after stress a low cortisol level is evident. Below are some symptoms to look out for.

Lethargy and weakening of muscles

Cortisol as mentioned previously is a steroid hormone that affects energy. It is common for dogs to feel fatigued when they have low cortisol levels.


Cortisol is associated with stress so abnormal levels can lead to neurologic dysfunction. Trembling and anxiety are common symptoms.

Skin folds

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is produced in the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and controls the production of cortisol. Cortisol triggers ACTH production when levels are low. As ACTH levels rise more melanin is produced resulting in skin patches and folds.

Digestive issues (appetite loss nausea diarrhea vomiting)

Low cortisol in dogs can also disrupt digestion like many medical conditions. Nausea vomiting poor appetite and abdominal pain are the most common symptoms. Diarrhea is also a common gastrointestinal symptom.

Seizures or collapse

For dogs with low cortisol these symptoms are less common but there have been cases where dogs have seizures and collapsed.

High level of eosinophils

The owner cannot diagnose this symptom but eosinophilia is one of the side effects of low cortisol that vets can see after running a screening test. 

White blood cells called eosinophils make up the eosinophil population. Having a high amount of it can mean a variety of things including allergies and parasite infestation but it can also be a sign of Addisons disease.

Anemia (low amount of red blood cells)

A reduced amount of red blood cells is another common side effect of low cortisol that is often discovered during general diagnosis tests. Dogs with low cortisol levels also suffer from lethargy and muscle weakening due to this.

What causes low cortisol levels in dogs?

The most common cause of low cortisol is an adrenocortical failure. There is no clear cause for adrenal gland malfunction but it is predicted to be caused by autoimmune diseases hemorrhages tumors or enzyme inhibitions.

A low cortisol level can also be caused by stress. Cortisol is also involved in stress management as mentioned previously. Whenever the body is in danger or under stress cortisol levels decrease when the stress subsides.

When your dog is constantly stressed there is a problem. As a result the cortisol levels will constantly below and the bodys functions will be impaired.

What are the best ways to help a dog with low cortisol levels at home?

Although you can not treat low cortisol naturally at home you can do some things to help the situation. You must lower both the emotional and biological stress levels of your dog. 

High-quality foods and supplements

Providing your pup with high-quality nutritious food is one of the best ways to reduce biological stress. Foods derived from animal sources are usually digestible and grainy ingredients are avoided.

Another good way to improve your dogs food quality is to add probiotics. You can also give digestive enzyme powder to dogs who suffer from digestive problems.

Off-the-counter dog food supplements are also available. A number of supplements are specifically marketed for “canine adrenal support.”

Minimize emotional stress

Keep them out of confinement and play with them regularly for their emotional wellbeing. Be aware of what upsets your dog and avoid those situations as much as possible.

Medicinal herbs

Dogs with Addisons disease may sometimes be sedated or relaxed using medicinal herbs. You can use herbs such as licorice or German chamomile as teas add them to food or apply them to the skin and coat to relax them.

What is Addison’s disease and is it life-limiting?

Addisons disease is characterized by low levels of cortisol. The term is synonymous with hypoadrenocorticism (HOAC) which is a broader term describing a low amount of hormones being produced by the adrenal glands (not just cortisol). Canine hypoadrenocorticism is the medical name for Addisons disease in dogs.

Addisons disease can be accompanied by low levels of aldosterone another hormone produced in the adrenal glands.

Although symptoms might appear and disappear at first Addisons disease is a serious condition. If left untreated for too long it can result in death.

Thankfully once a dog gets diagnosed with Addison’s disease it can quickly be treated by the vet. However the treatment is usually life-long. If you see symptoms of Addison’s on your dog quickly take them to the pet hospital.

How is Addison’s disease diagnosed?

Addison’s disease can be tricky to diagnose because its symptoms are easily confused with other common dog diseases. Because of this Addison’s is dubbed “the great pretender.”

A determination is normally made when the sickness is at an intense stage and the canine starts encountering an Addisonian emergency. At this stage the canine will show stressful side effects like shock and breakdown.

  • Baseline cortisol screening test

The vet will run a particular evaluating test for Addisons sickness called standard cortisol. In any case this test is finished to take out the chance of Addisons and not to analyze the actual sickness.

  • ACTH stimulation test

In the event that the gauge cortisol test results return low the vet will do an ACTH stimulation test.

For an ACTH excitement test your canine will be infused with Cortrosyn (an engineered chemical explicitly used to screen adrenocortical deficiency). They will analyze how much cortisol is when the Cortrosyn infusion. In the event that the cortisol level does not increment after infusion it implies the canine has Addisons illness.

  • CAR test (Cortisol to ACTH Ratio)

Other than ACTH feeling theres one more option used to analyze low cortisol called a CAR test. Rather than infusing an engineered chemical the CAR test basically looks at cortisol level to ACTH level. On the off chance that the ACTH focus is high yet the CAR is low its an indication of Addisons.

ACTH excitement is utilized more frequently than the CAR test since it just measures one chemical. Then again to run a CAR test they would have to quantify both cortisol and ACTH. In any case the CAR test is more authoritative to analyze Addisons sickness contrasted with ACTH excitement.

How to treat Addison’s disease in dogs?

Initial treatment for Addison’s in dogs after diagnosis

In the event that Addisons illness is analyzed after an Addisonian emergency the vet will give beginning medicines to cure the emergency. Your canine will go through escalated treatment to treat the basic side effects as a whole.

What is the most effective treatment for Addison’s disease?

The best and most normally involved treatment for low cortisol in canines is the organization of manufactured cortisol called corticosteroids. There are a few sorts of corticosteroids including glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids.

The most well-known corticosteroid treatment utilized for Addisons illness in canines is DOCP (Desoxycorticosterone pivalate). DOCP is a mineralocorticoid medicine and a portion of the well-known brands of DOCP is Zycortal and Percorten-V.

Its infused into the veins and is FDA-supported for canines. Treatment is given around once 3 a month. From the get-go its finished at the vet and afterward the vet will show the canine proprietors how to give the treatment themself at home.

DOCP infusions are at times joined by an enhancement of oral glucocorticoid. In the event that your canine isnot responding great to DOCP you can supplant the DOCP out and out with oral prescriptions instead of both mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid. An illustration of this oral drug is fludrocortisone.

What dogs are most vulnerable to Addison disease?

In canines Addisons illness is more common in females than guys. Around 70% of the tormented are female canines.

Strangely not at all like most infections Addisons sickness will in general strike more youthful or moderately aged canines more than the old ones. For average hypoadrenocorticism (side effects of low cortisol level and electrolyte irregularities) canines at age 4 are at a higher gamble.

Then again abnormal hypoadrenocorticism (low cortisol yet ordinary electrolyte levels) torments canines between 6-7 years old more than the rest.

Fortunately Addisons sickness in canines is definitely not a typical condition. On the contrary side of the range Cushings infection (a state of cortisol overproduction) is more normal.

Are certain breeds more vulnerable than others?

Analysts have found that Addisons infection can be genetic for a few canine varieties that are more in danger. Some canine varieties that have a higher gamble of genetic low cortisol levels are:

  • Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers (NSDTR)
  • Standard Poodles
  • Portuguese Water Dogs

There are likewise breeds that have a higher gamble of Addisons illness yet havenot been demonstrated to be genetic including:

  • Bearded Collies
  • Rottweilers
  • Great Danes
  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • The Great Pyrenees
  • Pomenarians
  • Golden Retrievers
  • other Poodles

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Amanda Dogs Trainer

Amanda (Author)

With over a decade of experience, Amanda is a distinguished dog trainer. Her expertise in canine behavior has transformed countless lives, fostering harmonious human-canine connections. Through compassionate and personalized approaches, she empowers owners to understand and connect with their furry companions, creating a legacy of joyful tails and transformed lives.

Osvaldo Maciel Dogs Trainer

Osvaldo Maciel (Content Reviewer)

Osvaldo Maciel, a stalwart in the field with 14 years of experience, is a revered dog trainer. His journey is defined by a profound understanding of canine behavior, shaping unbreakable human-canine bonds. Osvaldo guides owners to connect with their beloved pets, leaving an indelible mark of happiness and transformation. His legacy shines through the countless lives he has touched.

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