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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 Tigard 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.

What causes Cushing's disease in dogs?

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.

What are the complications 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.

Does Cushing's disease in dogs lead to breathing problems?

While Cushing's disease in dogs doesn’t directly lead to breathing problems, it may lead to an increased risk of developing respiratory infections due to the weakened immune system. Additionally, the excessive production of cortisol associated with Cushing's disease can cause muscle weakness in the diaphragm, potentially leading to breathing difficulties in severe cases.

How is Cushing’s disease diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and run a few tests to determine what is causing your pet's symptoms and rule out any other health issues. Urinalysis, urine culture, a complete blood panel, and/or a full chemistry panel are all possible tests.

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 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, and 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 Cascade Veterinary Referral Center, 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 can 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'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. On average, dogs with Cushing's disease can live anywhere from 1 to 3 years after diagnosis if they receive proper treatment and care.

Most dogs can be successfully treated with few 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. 

If your dog is showing any of the above-mentioned signs of Cushing's disease, you should contact our Tigard vets right away!

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Cascade Veterinary Referral Center is accepting new patients! Get in touch with us today for information on how to book a specialty appointment for your pet. 

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