Cushing's disease is a serious condition in dogs that can lead to severe, sometimes life-threatening conditions and illnesses. Our Stroudsburg vets explain what causes Cushing's disease in dogs, as well as the symptoms and treatments.
What is Cushing's disease in dogs?
Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a serious medical condition in which the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol (cortisol). Excess cortisol can put a dog at risk for a variety of serious conditions and illnesses, ranging from kidney damage to diabetes, and can be fatal.
Cushing’s disease is commonly caused by a benign or malignant tumor in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain. In some cases, the tumor could be located in the adrenal glands, located just above the kidneys.
Excessive cortisol can also result from the prolonged use of steroids, called iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome.
What are the symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs?
The most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease seen in dogs include:
- Increased appetite
- Excessive thirst or drinking
- Thinning of the skin
- Hair loss
- Frequent urination
- Muscle weakness
- Enlarged abdomen, potbellied appearance
If your dog has Cushing’s disease you will see at least one of these symptoms, however, it is uncommon for all of these symptoms to be present.
If your dog exhibits any of the symptoms listed above, you must contact your veterinarian immediately. Diabetes, kidney damage, blood clots, and high blood pressure are all more common in dogs with Cushing's disease.
How is Cushing’s disease diagnosed?
Your vet will do a physical exam and run a few tests to determine what may be causing your pet's symptoms and to rule out other health problems. The tests can include but are not limited to, urinalysis, urine culture, complete blood panel, and/or full chemistry panel.
Your vet may run adrenal function tests, testing adrenal low dose and high dose dexamethasone suppression tests. However, adrenal function tests can result in false positives when another disease with similar clinical signs is present.
An ultrasound may help to rule out other possible causes of your dog's symptoms. Tumors in the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, and chronic inflammatory liver disease can all cause similar symptoms.
The most effective diagnostic testing for Cushing’s disease is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which allows your vet to assess your dog’s adrenal glands. However, this testing method can be expensive.
What are the treatments for Cushing’s disease in dogs?
Cushing's disease in dogs is typically treated with medications that reduce the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. Cushing's disease can only be cured by removing the tumor; however, due to the complexity and risks of surgery, most cases are treated with medication.
Treatments will vary depending on the type of Cushing’s disease your dog has.
Pituitary tumor. Treatment of pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease is the most complicated. Two drugs, trilostane, and mitotane are commonly used.
Adrenal tumor. Treatment of an adrenal-dependent Cushing’s disease usually requires major abdominal surgery. If the entire tumor is able to be removed and the tumor is not malignant, there is a good chance that your dog will regain normal health.
Iatrogenic Cushing’s disease. Treatment requires gradual discontinuation of the steroid, usually resulting in a recurrence of the disease that was being treated by the steroid.
After starting the medication treatments your dog will need to see the vet regularly for ACTH stimulation tests until the excessive production of cortisone is controlled.
Over the lifetime of your pet, routine monitoring of blood tests and medication adjustments need to be made.
Is Cushing's disease fatal in dogs?
The cause of your dog's Cushing disease, as well as the conditions your dog develops as a result of the disease, will have an impact on your pet's prognosis. Early detection and treatment are critical for limiting disease severity.
The symptoms of Cushing’s disease can be minimized with diligent observation and long-term management.
Most dogs can be successfully treated with few medication side effects. However, the wrong dose can cause mild or severe side effects. Therefore, your pet must be carefully monitored and follow-up blood tests are essential.
Dogs who do not receive adequate monitoring and follow-up often experience relapses and severe illness or death, as a result of complications.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.