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Causes, Symptoms & Treatments for Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Causes, Symptoms & Treatments for Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Cushing's disease is a serious condition in dogs that can lead to severe, sometimes life-threatening conditions and illnesses. Our Charlotte 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 health condition in which the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol (cortisone) in the body. Excess cortisol can put a dog at risk of several serious conditions and illnesses, from kidney damage to diabetes, and can be life-threatening.

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 on 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
  • Panting
  • Lethargy

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. 

It is essential to contact your vet immediately if your dog is displaying any of the symptoms above. Dogs with Cushing’s disease have an increased risk of diabetes, kidney damage, blood clots, and high blood pressure.

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 test. 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 conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms. Other diseases that may cause similar symptoms include tumors in the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease.

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. 

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists, our vets are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of internal diseases and conditions. We have access to diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods to identify and manage these issues.

What are the treatments for Cushing’s disease in dogs?

Cushing's disease in dogs is typically treated with medications that help decrease the amount of cortisone that the adrenal glands produce. The only way to cure Cushing's disease is to remove the tumor, however because of 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 their 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's disease as well as the conditions your pup develops that are linked to the disease are going to impact your pet's prognosis. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for limiting the severity of the disease.

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 followup 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. 

Is your dog exhibiting symptoms of Cushing's disease? Contact us right away! Our Board Certified Veterinary Specialists and Emergency vets provide advanced diagnoses and treatment for Charlotte pets. 

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