Cushing's disease is a condition in which the adrenal glands produce an excessive amount of the hormone cortisol in the body. Find out the symptoms and potential treatment.

What You Need to Know About Canine Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease is a chronic condition that affects many people. But did you know it can affect dogs, too? Canine Cushing’s disease is fairly common, and though it is a serious illness, there are treatment options that can help prolong your dog’s quality of life.

What Is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s disease is a condition in which the adrenal glands produce an excessive amount of the hormone cortisol in the body. While all dogs need a certain level of cortisol, some dogs produce too much for various reasons.

What Causes Cushing’s Disease?

Pituitary Gland Tumor – Approximately 80-85 percent of Cushing’s disease cases in dogs are triggered by a tumor on the pituitary gland (a tiny organ found at the base of the brain). 

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

“The pituitary tumor causes overproduction of (adrenocorticotropic hormone) ACTH, which travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands, stimulating them to produce more cortisol than the body needs.”

Whether the tumor is cancerous or benign, that spike in cortisol may cause the dog to develop Cushing’s disease.

Adrenal Gland Tumor – Your dog may also over-produce cortisol if he/she has a tumor on the adrenal gland. Again, the tumor may be cancerous or benign.

Prolonged Steroid Use  It’s also possible for a canine to develop Cushing’s disease if given too many steroids. Even if the steroids are prescribed by a veterinarian, they may cause a build-up of cortisol in the body, which can lead to Cushing’s. If your pooch has a serious condition that requires regular steroid treatment, you should discuss the pros and cons of the treatment with your vet to determine your pup’s risk of developing Cushing’s.

Cushing’s Disease Symptoms

Cushing’s disease has many symptoms that are easy to spot, but it’s often difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic those of many other illnesses. Common symptoms include the following:

  • Excessive hunger: If you notice your dog is eating more than usual, this may be a sign that something is amiss.
  • Pot-belly or weight gain: Dogs with Cushing’s disease often gain a substantial amount of weight in a short amount of time. They may have a pot-bellied appearance, which is a classic sign of Cushing’s. Many dogs with Cushing’s become obese. They may also gain fat in certain areas, such as the neck or shoulders.
  • Excessive thirst or urination: Cushing’s causes an increase in thirst, which may also result in increased urination.
  • Panting: While all dogs pant occasionally, excessive panting can be a sign of Cushing’s.
  • Recurring infections: Chronic or frequent infections of any kind may be an indication of Cushing’s.
  • Hair loss: Your dog may lose hair on one or more parts of the body.
  • Lethargy: Your pet may suddenly have less energy than usual or lie around more often.
  • Insomnia: Though your pet has less energy, he or she may also have difficulty sleeping.
  • Bruises/Skin Darkening: If you can see your pet’s skin, you may notice bruising or blackheads. His or her skin may also darken in certain places.
  • Scaly patches of skin: Your pet’s skin may develop hardened patches on the elbows or other areas.
  • Neurological issues: Your dog may exhibit odd symptoms, such as behavioral changes, anxiety, seizures, etc.

Cushing’s Disease Treatment

Treatment for Cushing’s largely depends on the cause. Many vets prescribe a daily pill, such as Vetoryl, to control symptoms. However, Vetoryl pricing has increased over the years (though can be still found at affordable prices via the Internet, rather than paying full price at the vet’s office).

If caused by a tumor, your vet may recommend surgery to remove it. If your dog’s tumor is small, the outcome is likely to be favorable. On the flipside, if the tumor is large, your vet may be more aggressive with treatments and the outcome may be less favorable. Whichever situation you’re facing, it’s certainly worth discussing all of your questions and options with your vet.

If caused by steroids, your vet may recommend weaning your dog off steroids until symptoms subside.

No matter which treatment your vet recommends, it’s worth noting that most pets with Cushing’s disease do live full, happy lives with proper treatment.