Cushing’s disease in dogs causes, signs and treatment

Understanding Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

A fur kid's health is of the utmost importance to any pet parent, and will usually do everything possible to keep them as happy and healthy as possible. However, there are some conditions that can affect canines that cannot be easily prevented and are often largely out of a dog owner's control. Understanding what these conditions are can make them less scary and easier to deal with should you have to.

Here we are going to take a look at the condition Cushing's disease, which is also sometimes called Cushing's Syndrome as well.

The second form of the disease is caused by a tumor of the adrenal gland itself. If that tumor is found to be benign it can often be surgically removed and the disease will essentially be eliminated. If however it is malignant it may still be removed but the prognosis for recovery is lessened.

What is Cushings Disease?

Cushing's Disease is a disorder in which the adrenal gland over produces certain hormones. It is also known as Hyperadrenocorticism. This overproduction can then lead to a number of different problems, as the adrenal glands - and the substances they secrete - play a part in many different functions of a dog's bodily systems. Although several different hormones may be affected it is the overproduction of the hormone cortisol that can be most problematic, and can lead to complications that can cause death.

Types of Cushing's Disease

There are in fact three different types of Cushing's disease that can be diagnosed in dogs, and as all three have different causes, as well as different treatment methodologies and possible clinical outcomes an accurate diagnosis is crucial for care.

In 90% - or even a little more - of diagnosed cases of Cushing's syndrome a tumor of the pituitary gland - a gland that is located at the base of the brain - is usually to blame. These tumors may be malign or malignant and can be very small in size. What they do however is trigger the overproduction of a hormone called ACTH that triggers an excessive production of cortisol in the adrenal glands.

Finally Cushing's disease can be triggered if a pup is given too many steroids. This form of the disease is known as iatrogenic Cushing's disease. Usually the steroids have been given for legitimate medical reasons but then taken for too long or in doses that were too high for the affected pup's system to process. 

Are Some Dog Breeds At a Higher Risk for Cushing's Disease?

Any dog can be affected by Cushing's Syndrome, as it does not seem to have a particular genetic trigger. However, there is some limited clinical and anecdotal evidence that small terrier breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Jack Russel Terriers, Boston Terriers as well as Dachshunds, Poodles , Beagles and Boxers may be at a higher risk of pituitary tumors. Whereas adrenal gland tumors are more common in large breed dogs. 

It really should be emphasized however that any dog, including a mixed breed dog, could be potentially at risk and that should the symptoms of the disease appear they should never be ignored, no matter what kind of pup you have.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Cushing's Disease?

Although they will vary from pup to pup there are some general symptoms that present themselves that indicate that Cushing's Disease may be present. The most common are excessive thirst and increased urination. Often a dog's appetite will increase significantly as well. Other signs include a distended abdomen, with or without actual extra weight gain, lethargy and hair loss.

Any of these symptoms merit a visit to the vet and in actual fact many cases are diagnosed at an early stage because a pet parent was concerned about hair loss, something that may seem rather inconsequential but can actually be a useful diagnostic tool.

How is Cushing's Disease Diagnosed?

To be accurately diagnosed - and the diagnosis needs to be made both of the disease itself and the type - a dog will need to undergo a series of specific blood tests and adrenal function tests as well as diagnostic imaging if a tumor is suspected to be the cause.

How Is Cushing's Disease Treated?

The treatment for Cushing's syndrome varies according to type:

In the cases of pituitary tumor - if the disease is the result of the development of a tumor of pituitary gland and the tumor - and the dog itself is - is suitable for surgical removal that may then be attempted and were it to be successful the disease is likely to be cured. This can be tricky however as the gland is located at the base of brain and the surgery can carry significant risk.

If it is not excised there are medications that, when given can control adrenal function and with continued use, and careful monitoring, a pup may continue to live a relatively normal life. If a tumor is malignant, this complicates the treatment and the prognosis for survival is poorer.

In the case of adrenal tumor, if the treatment for pups with Cushing's Disease cause by an adrenal tumor is similar to that for dog with a pituitary tumor. However these tumors are often easier to remove as they are in a less sensitive location and while there is still risk involved, as is the case for any surgery, if it is successful and the tumor is benign the dog will essentially be cured and there should be no further cause for specialist drugs although regular medical checkups are a must.

In the case of Iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome the primary treatment is the cessation, or significant reduction of the steroids that caused the problem. The downside here can be, of course, a recurrence of the condition that the steroids were being administered for in the first place, so this is a treatment that has to be very carefully thought out and administered.

Finally, one note about diet. Some experts are studying a phenomenon they are terming 'food induced' Hyperadrenocorticism, with the hypotheses in mind that over processed dog foods may trigger an excess of cortisol production. This research is ongoing, but it may be something to discuss with your vet when choosing your pup's food.

Share Your Experience: Have a story about Cushing's disease in dogs? Share it with us by leaving a comment below. 

If you are concerned about your pet, visit or call your veterinarian – he/she is your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your dog. This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet.

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