The Cortisol Connection

The Cortisol Connection:

How Adrenal Hormones Affect the Health of Pets (And Their Owners)

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

cortisol connection pets

Steroids are a class of medications that are used to treat inflammation, allergic reactions and pain in pets. Synthetic steroids, such as prednisone, dexamethasone, prednisolone, and triamcinolone are already widely used in veterinarian practices. Synthetic steroids have a long list of side effects and may be dangerous to use for a prolonged period of time.

Dr. Al Plechner devised another treatment approach. He used hydrocortisone, a steroid hormone bioidentical to the cortisol produced in the body, to supplement the pets’cortisol levels. His book, Endocrine-Immune Mechanisms in Animals and Human Health Implications, describes this series of events that may lead to many chronic illness symptoms and shortened lives:

Cortisol disruption can occur in a number of different ways. The adrenal glands may not produce enough cortisol. Or, cortisol may be produced, but be unavailable for use because it is bound tightly to proteins. Or, variations in enzymes or receptors may lead to less actual cortisol activity.

When the pituitary gland senses cortisol disruption, it compensates by sending more and more stimulation to the adrenal glands. If cortisol activity remains uncorrected, the pituitary signals continue and stimulate estrogen and androgen production from the adrenal glands. Dr. Plechner is convinced these estrogens and androgens come from the adrenal glands rather than the ovaries or testes because 90% of the animals he treats are spayed or neutered.

An increase in adrenal estrogen production triggers the body to produce binding proteins. Like cortisol, thyroid hormones can be made unavailable for use by the body when bound to proteins. Usual lab tests may show normal thyroid levels because the thyroid hormones are present, but they are unavailable for use by the body. Cholesterol and triglycerides also may be high.

Symptoms in pets related to low thyroid function include:

  • excess sleepiness
  • sluggishness
  • excess pigment in the in nose, pads of the feet, and abdomen.

Ultimately, the immune system may be disrupted. Testing, performed by Dr. Plechner, revealed that many important immune proteins were low in pets with the imbalances described above. He theorized that the high levels of adrenal estrogen were responsible for these changes in the immune system along with the lack of cortisol activity.

He found supplementing with hydrocortisone made up for the lack of adrenal activity and, within a very short period of time, total estrogen levels dropped and immune proteins improved. More importantly, the health of the dog or cat was restored.

Interestingly, adequate thyroid hormones are needed to help break down cortisol in the body. Many dogs needed thyroid supplementation in addition to hydrocortisone to restore their health. Cats did not generally display the same thyroid deficiency problems, and so fewer needed thyroid.

Dr. Plechner writes that the area of the adrenal gland which produces cortisol is the most sensitive to assaults by chemicals, toxins, and continued stress. Inbreeding of pet animals has led to serious weaknesses with the adrenal production and activity of cortisol. Once cortisol activity has declined, serious impairment of the immune system likely follows. Dr. Plechner has linked the following conditions to this imbalance: infertility, endometriosis, cystic ovaries, heavy bleeding during menstruation, malabsorption and digestive disorders, allergies, lung problems, urinary tract problems, liver dysfunction, behavior changes, epilepsy, obesity, deadly infections, periodontitis, vaccinosis, autoimmunity and cancer.

Dr. Plechner believes that this situation also occurs in humans. He proposes that the work presented by Dr. William Jefferies in “Safe Uses of Cortisol” illustrates the human equivalent. Dr. Jeffries also found the use of low doses of supplemental hydrocortisone to be helpful for a large spectrum of disorders.

It is amazing to think that this cascade of hormone and immune dysfunctions could be behind so many different maladies. On the positive side, laboratory testing of cortisol, thyroid, and total estrogens can easily confirm this imbalance. Although it is not yet a standard practice, treatment with hydrocortisone is inexpensive and, according to Dr. Plechner, extremely effective and even life-saving. If you or your pet suffer from any of the conditions mentioned in this article, it may be worthwhile to discuss testing and hydrocortisone with your veterinarian and/or personal health care practitioner.

Additional Resources:

Book Review – Paleo Dog

The Cortisol Connection 2017-12-15T11:23:41+00:00

Book Review – Paleo Dog by Jean Hofve, DVM, and Celeste Yarnall, PhD

Book Review – Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf by Jean Hofve, DVM, and Celeste Yarnall, PhD

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy


Paleo Dog is a primer for the care and wellness of your dog. However, by following the principles outlined by Jean Hofve, DVM, and Celeste Yarnall, PhD, you might do yourself and your human household a lot of good as well.

Dogs are “opportunistic omnivores,” meaning that they will eat almost anything, but dogs actually evolved eating prey animals. So, what does a modern-day Paleo Dog eat? The Paleo Dog diet excludes all cereals and grains, and processed or synthetic foods. Paleo Dogs eat primarily bones, organ meats, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, and fish oils. This is basically the same diet that has become increasingly popular for humans, with names like the “Stone Age” diet or “Caveman Diet.”

According to the authors, approximately 78 million dogs live in US households, with 85% of those dogs eating a typical commercial dog food diet (which closely resembles the composition of a human “fast food” diet). About half of the dogs eating commercial dog food diets are overweight, and about 75% of them have some sort of dental disease by the age of three. The death rate due to cancer is over 40% for dogs under ten years old. Death in dogs typically occurs between 10-13 years of age, and most often from cancer.

Many dogs show early signs of health disturbances that owners and veterinarians might accept as normal. For example, excess weight leads to joint disease, heart disease, respiratory problems, diabetes, liver disease, skin and coat problems, decreased immune function, cancer, and a reduced life expectancy. (Sound familiar?) If your dog has “doggy” breath, this is most likely a sign of dental disease. If the dog’s coat is lifeless, greasy, flaky and not very appealing to stroke, this could be another sign of trouble. In addition, smells coming from every pore and a build-up of a waxy substance in the ears could indicate allergies. Your dog’s eyes might also exhibit a build-up of mucous in the corners, or persistent tear production. Dogs with allergies might also have bouts of wheezing or sneezing, or constant scratching of the ears, or scooting to scratch his butt. Doggy flatulence, along with foul smelling and large volumes of stool, may also be present. None of these symptoms are “normal” with a Paleo Dog diet.

The authors suggest that the Paleo Dog diet will address these and many other health-related symptoms or behaviors. Following the guidance in this book should help improve a dog’s digestion and periodontal health, as well as produce healthier skin and a shinier coat. In addition, allergies can be tamed and muscle strength, performance, and stamina can be improved.

The authors include lots of instruction to help transition your pet from a typical grain-based diet to one containing lots of raw meats and foods. While perusing the recipe section for Paleo foods to feed your dog, you might find that the recipes sound appealing for people as well (the Paleo Wraps sounded particularly tasty to me).

Paleo Dog addresses many other health-related topics beyond diet. For example, the authors describe how we expose our canine companions to a whole host of interventions that their wild cousins never encounter, such as vaccinations, spaying and neutering, deworming, and chemicals to control fleas. In addition, our pets face greater exposure to the chemicals we put in our yards and homes. Is it any wonder that they endure less than perfect health?

The book also offers a wonderful tableau of alternative treatments to explore for your dog, or even for yourself. The authors include information on treating your companion with herbs, acupuncture, emotional freedom technique, flower essences, and massage therapy. People who have not sought out these types of treatments before may be pleasantly surprised at the many options available.

Paleo Dog offers many practical tips for ensuring a long, healthy life span for both you and your canine pet. The authors include so many brief (but good) explanations for the dazzling array of choices that you may find yourself going back to it, over and over again, for years to come.

  • Hofve J, Yarnall C. Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books; 2014.
Book Review – Paleo Dog by Jean Hofve, DVM, and Celeste Yarnall, PhD 2017-12-14T12:26:03+00:00

The Concept of One Health

The Concept of One Health

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy


The idea of a “One Health” organization started with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). In 2006, they created a multidisciplinary task force of representatives from different health professions to explore the possibility of working together on solutions and treatments.

The resulting One Health Initiative promotes active collaboration among professionals caring for animals and professionals caring for humans. Their vision statement says that they are “dedicated to improving the lives of all species, human and animal, through the integration of human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental science.”

Thinking about human and animal health together makes sense in many ways, especially given that more than 50% of households have pets. Pets can be a source of infection and contagion for households with infants, the elderly, and those who have a compromised immune system. Veterinarians are the best source of information on the types of infections that can appear in animals, and how those infections are best treated. Proper treatment of infections in pets may be the first step toward eradicating infections in their human owners. At a minimum, practitioners in human health should be inquiring about household pets as part of their routine intake procedures.

We often hear about people who are allergic to animals (which can be a sentinel of a less than optimal immune system and adrenal functioning); however, pets have allergies too. In some cases, the humans and their pets can be suffering from similar environmental assaults. Understanding what is happening in the human might shed light on the maladies of the pet, and vice versa.

You may have heard the expression “canary in the coal mine” used as a warning or sign of danger. This came about when miners would take a canary into a mine to gauge air quality. If it was compromised, the canaries would be the first to show it, alerting the miners it was time to get out. In a similar vein, pets can convey a health warning to their owners. Because pets are usually smaller in size than their human owners, they may be affected by chemicals sprayed on lawns and used in carpet cleaning, or by exposures to heavy metals like lead, sooner than humans. Both people and their pets are at risk, but the veterinarian may be the first healthcare practitioner to identify the risk.

The One Health initiative also covers mental health. The book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky relates information gleaned from observing the animal kingdom. It discusses how stress is responsible for many chronic diseases, and how coping with stress can help alleviate disease. The book title illustrates that, if there is no lion present, zebras don’t worry about the next lion. Humans, on the other hand, who tend to worry constantly, are laying a foundation for illnesses.

The many health benefits enjoyed by people who keep pets as companions include contributions to their mental, psychological, emotional and physical well-being. The book Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa documents the wonderful empathy people experienced with this nursing home cat, which had very positive effects on the nursing home clients and their families.

The One Health Initiative extends its influence worldwide. Environmental issues like those killing the bee populations can have consequences that we haven’t even begun to understand in both human and animal health. With worldwide concern and resources, this collaboration is a positive step toward preserving our world, the animals in it, and our own health.

Like what you see? Please click here to subscribe to Pet Health Pharmacy’s e-newsletter.

Additional Resources:

Book Review – Paleo Dog

For more information, please visit these websites:

The Concept of One Health 2017-12-15T11:22:51+00:00