Cushing’s Disease in Dogs
Last updated November 1, 2019.
Just like humans, dogs’ hormones can sometimes get out of balance. One example of hormonal imbalance is Cushing’s Disease, also called hyperadrenocorticism, which means excessive cortisol production in the adrenal or pituitary glands.
What is Cushing’s Disease?
Cushing’s Disease is a condition in which your dog’s body makes too much of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is normally produced in times of stress, or in response to low blood glucose. It is also known as the fight or flight hormone, so increased level can seriously stress out your pup. This disease weakens the immune system and can leave your pup vulnerable to additional infections and diseases. Cushing’s usually affects middle-aged and older dogs.
There are two main types of this condition that affect dogs:
- Pituitary dependent: This type is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland in the brain and is the most common type of Cushing’s disease.
- Adrenal dependent: Caused by a tumor in the adrenal glands, near the kidneys, this type of syndrome accounts for about 15%* of cases of Cushing’s disease in dogs.
Although there are many symptoms, Cushing’s Disease can be quite difficult to diagnose properly. Some signs to look out for:
- increased thirst, appetite, or urination
- saggy belly
- lethargy and weakness
- hair loss
Diagnosing Cushing’s Disease
Because Cushing’s has similar symptoms to a few other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose. Several blood tests are necessary to identify the disease as well as figure out whether the adrenal or the pituitary gland is the source of all the trouble.
Some diagnostic testing may include:
- ACTH stimulation test to check the adrenal glands
- Low dose dexamethasone suppression test
- Ultrasounds of the belly to check for adrenal tumor
In addition to these tests, X-rays and MRIs can sometimes be useful in making a diagnosis.
Just like the symptoms and diagnosis, the treatment of Cushing’s disease is varied and complex. If the condition is due to a tumor on the adrenal glands, then surgery to remove the tumor can cure the dog. In other cases where surgery is not an option, prescription medications may be necessary for the rest of the dog’s life. Although not a fatal disease, treatment is generally encouraged to improve the quality of life for your dog. Without treatment, symptoms may persist indefinitely. It’s best to come up with a plan alongside your veterinarian, since treatment is unique to every pup.
Dr. Kait Link, DVM, is a veterinarian and co-founder of Treat, an innovative vet practice. Treat is reinventing pet care, offering instant access to affordable in-home veterinary care, training, and grooming. Book in under a minute or chat free anytime. Download the Treat app at treat.co.