How To Recognize and Treat Cushing's Disease in Dogs
Cushing's Disease in dogs
(hyperadrenocorticism or HAC) is a common endocrine system problem that
refers to the excess production of the hormone cortisol. It can be
caused by a tumor on the pituitary or adrenal glands or from drugs like
prednisone. The condition is usually seen in dogs age 9 or older
(average age is 11.5 yrs). Three quarters of dogs with the condition
(75%) weight under 44 pounds.
Diagnosis is difficult with symptoms that
mimic old age such as weakness in the legs and a sagging abdomen.
Treatment can include surgery, radiation, medication and possibly
homeopathic supplements. Untreated dogs can develop permanent diabetes
mellitus as well as signs such as urinary or skin infections.
Symptoms of Dog
Cushing's Disease Include A Thinning of the Coat Caused by Steroid
Therapy (Iatrogenic Cushing's)
Source: Caroldermoid (1)
Cushings disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a fairly common
condition in older dogs, with symptoms often mistaken for part of the
natural aging process. The condition is caused by a problem with the
pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain, or the
adrenal glands, which are in front of the kidneys. The of prescription
steroids can also trigger the condition.
Over 85% of cases are caused by a problem with
the pituitary gland. 90% of these "pituitary dependent" cases are
caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland referred to as a adenoma. The
pituitary gland produces a hormone ACTH which stimulates the adrenal
gland to produce excess cortisol, a naturally-occurring chemical in the
body which helps the body respond
to stress such as infection or pain as well as the regulation of body
functions such as sugar levels, the immune system sand the health of
Adrenal gland problems are referred to as "adrenal-dependent"
Cushing's syndrome. The cause is a tumor on one of the adrenal glands.
When one gland is affected it decreases the normal function of the
other gland referred to as gland atrophy.
Last Cushing's disease in dogs can be caused by a medical treatment
that involves steroids, referred to as Iatrogenic HAC.
MRI of Chow Mix
with Pituitary Tumor
(macroadenoma) That Caused Canine Cushings Disease (1)
Breeds and Dog Cushing's Disease
The following dog breeds have a higher incidence of Cushings
- Boston Terriers
- Small Dachshunds
- German Shepherds*
- Large Poodles*
*predisposed to adrenal gland dependent Cushing's
Dog Cushing's Symptoms
The excess production of cortisol causes a number of symptoms which
are described below. Symptoms of untreated Cushing's disease in a dog
- Increased water drinking/thirst
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Fatty deposits in the hindquarter (called "Cush Tush")
- Bloated or "pot-bellied" appearance
- Muscle weakness
- New reluctance to jump up on furniture or people
- Excessive panting
- Thinning hair or baldness
- Dull, dry coat, hair loss
- Delayed wound healing
- Dog Cushing's Skin Problems:
- flaky skin
- Change in skin color
- Calcium deposits under skin (calcinosis)
- Enlarged liver
- Behavioral change, mood change
- Neurological problems
Skin Symptoms (Cutaneous
Diagnosis of Hyperadrenocorticism in Dogs
There is no test for Cushing's disease in dog. It can be a difficult
condition to diagnose. If your dog has several of the symptoms above,
your vet should consider Cushing's disease as a possible diagnosis.
Your vet will do some blood tests to check for diabetes and for
signs of infection and your dog's urine to check cortisol levels.
Cortisol levels will be tested, followed by an injection of ACTH
(stimulates cortisol production in the pituitary) followed by a
retesting of cortisol.
Other tests include X-Rays, ultrasound, CT scans or MRIs to check
In the near future it is expected that a test that measures cortisol
levels in dog hair will confirm a Cushing's diagnosis.
Diseases with Symptoms Similar to Cushings
There are several diseases that have to be ruled out before a Cushings
diagnosis is reached. These include:
Picture of the
Skin Symptom Calcinosis
on a Dog Cushing's Patient
Treatment of Cushing's disease in dogs depends on the type of
Cushing's disease, i.e. whether the tumor is situated on the pituitary
gland or on one of the adrenal glands. The goal is to address any
symptoms and enable the dog to live a high quality of life.
Treated For Cushings
Adrenal gland tumor
Surgery is the preferred treatment method for adrenal dependent
Cushing's disease in dogs. If the tumor is benign (non-cancerous), this
may be a good choice of treatment. However, since one symptom of
Cushing's disease is poor wound healing and since most dogs with the
condition are elderly, many owners opt against surgery.
If the tumor is malignant (cancerous) it often has spread to other
organs by the time the Cushing's disease has been diagnosed. In this
case, surgically removing the tumor is not useful.
The prognosis is positive for dogs that make it through a 2 week
recovery period. Dogs might require life long cortisone supplements.
Dog Pituitary tumors are not removed surgically because removing
them is too risky and they are very small and do not usually grow any
larger. Instead, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms of the
condition. Radiation can be used to shrink the tumors further, but this
is quite costly and most dog owners opt against it.
There are medications available to treat Cushing's disease. Lysodren
damages the adrenal glands so that they cannot produce excess cortisol.
Of course, this can have serious side effects if the adrenals are
damaged too much, because the body requires a certain amount of
cortisol in order to survive. This medication has largely been replaced
by Trilostane (Vetoryl).
There are other medicines that are less effective but safer. For
instance, Ketaconazole works by suppressing hormone production. Anipryl
works by balancing and stabilizing brain chemicals.
In the case of many elderly dogs, owners opt to forgo treatment and
focus instead on keeping their pet comfortable by just treating
symptoms of the condition.
Dog Cushing's disease caused by steroids is treated by stopping the
treatment. Any symptoms will disappear over time. Dogs usually live for
3 years after the diagnosis since the condition often occurs in older
While natural supplements can't cure Cushing's, some herbs will
and effectively support your pet's general health and contribute to a
reduction in the severity of the symptoms of Cushings disease in dogs
Look for supplements such as
Cushex for Cushing's Disease
which contain a blend of herbal and
homeopathic ingredients designed to treat Cushing's in dogs. Each
herbal ingredient of this natural remedy has a specific role to play in
normalizing adrenal function, balancing corticosteroid levels or
reducing the troublesome symptoms of this condition such as digestive
function, excessive urination and thirst. You should see
improvement from herbal remedies in 3 to 6 weeks.
Dog Cushing's Disease Prognosis
Cushing's is not curable, but it can be controlled. Dog's that are
treated for Cushing's will live a better quality of life with
improvement in related symptoms
such as panting, strength, susceptibility to skin infections urination
and thirst. Most dogs do well with
prescribed medications despite the concern for side effects. Sometimes
correcting Cushing's in a dog will reveal another underlying
condition that was masked by the high cortisol levels such as
Dog that react well to surgery or medications can live for many
years with the condition.
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References for Cushing's Disease in
Cushing's Disease and
Other Adrenal Gland Disorders
Canine Cushing's Disease
Diagnosis and Treatment of Hyperadrenocorticism in the Dog
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine