Among the diseases that older dogs may be more susceptible to is Cushing’s Disease (CD). But what is it and what are the symptoms, causes, and treatment options if our canine companion gets the disease?

Quite common in older dogs but often underdiagnosed, Cushing’s Disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism or hypercortisolism, is usually due to a tumor in a dog’s pituitary gland or in one of the adrenal glands (though this is less common).

The pituitary gland is a very small gland that is located at the brain’s base and secretes the ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone). It then signals the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol a.k.a. glucocorticoids. Cortisol produces a “fight or flight” response, which answers to the adrenal cortex, belonging to the outer surface of the adrenal glands.

Both of these glands the size of a peanut can be found in front of the kidneys, and they release hormones that enable the body to function properly.

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When it comes to dogs that have Cushing’s Disease, however, having a tumor in either the pituitary gland or one of the adrenal glands causes the cortex to secrete too much of the stress hormone cortisol. This leads to problems when it comes to the way dogs’ bodies function and can be serious if it is left untreated.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease

Below are some of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in dogs:

Owners of dogs with Cushing’s Disease report that the first sign they noticed that signaled that there was something wrong was when their dog was peeing too often. Because the disease causes excessive thirst, there is a tendency for a dog with Cushing’s Disease to drink loads of water, resulting in them peeing often.

Upon the progression of the disease, dogs also experience muscle loss and become weak. Among the other symptoms that may be noticed are skin lesions, thinning skin, loss of hair, obesity, and lethargy.

It may take at least a year for these symptoms to be noticeable and they may also be mistaken for common signs of an aging dog. Because of this, a lot of dogs already reach the advanced stage of Cushing’s Disease before the owners realize that it’s more than just signs of aging.

However, there are ways that can help us monitor and take care of our dogs more carefully. One way for us to monitor our dog is to use interactive pet cameras such as the Petcube Cam. With its high-quality features such as the HD camera and the 2-way audio, it will be easier to notice if our dog is exhibiting any of the symptoms above. There is also an option to use an Online Vet service, allowing you to consult with certified vets anytime and anywhere.

Causes of Cushing’s Disease

According to research, Cushing’s Disease is a syndrome that happens naturally. However, it may also be due to having been exposed to medications such as dexamethasone or prednisone for long periods. Another possible cause is when ear drops that contain steroids are often applied to a dog since this is absorbed by the skin. The majority of patients are more than 8 years old when Cushing’s Disease develops.

There are also certain dog breeds prone to Cushing’s Disease. These breeds include the Daschund, Beagle, Boston Terrier, Poodle, and Boxer.

How to Diagnose CD?

It’s quite complicated to diagnose CD. Not to mention, it can be expensive too. If your vet suspects that your dog may have CD, urine and blood tests will be administered to be able to diagnose it. If your dog’s urine is dilute and if the alkaline phosphatase (liver enzyme) in the blood is high, this may indicate the need to test for CD.

To verify if your dog has Cushing’s Disease, a simulation test called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) may be done. The test involves getting a blood sample, being injected by ACTH, and taking a blood test again after a few hours.

If the cortisol level of your do just increases slightly, this is normal. However, if it goes high from the start and goes even higher, this would confirm that your dog has Cushing’s Disease.

Another method that your vet may suggest is the dexamethasone suppression test, where your dog is injected with dexamethasone. If your dog is healthy, their cortisol level will go down in a few hours as the adrenal production is being suppressed by the steroid.

On the other hand, if your dog’s cortisol level doesn’t drop, there’s a high chance of a tumor that isn’t responding to the medication that is given.

Your vet may also suggest an ultrasound to see whether there is a tumor or not, and if the tumor is found in the pituitary gland or adrenal glands in case there is.

Treating Cushing’s Disease

The treatment for CD depends on where the tumor is located, although the majority (90%) of cases are found in the pituitary gland.

Pituitary-gland tumors are tiny millimeter-sized tumors that are usually benign. However, the problem arises due to the fact that it releases too much ACTH that stimulated the adrenal cortex, causing it to excrete high levels of cortisol.

While pituitary tumors can be easily removed in humans, surgical removal in dogs is quite new. Alternately, the CD is treated with oral medications such as Trilostane (Vetoryl) and Mitotane (Lysodren) that target to destroy a part of the dog’s adrenal cortex. The purpose of this is so that cortisol levels will stay normal even if ACTH is released.

With this treatment, however, it is important to monitor closely to make sure that the medications don’t destroy the whole cortex and that the cortisol levels will remain steady.

On the other hand, there is the adrenal-based CD, which is thankfully rare. This is a more serious form of CD that may require surgery. Around ½ of adrenal gland tumors are malignant, and aggressively grow and metastasize fast.

If the tumor is malignant, surgery to remove it may not be able to cure it. With a benign growth on the other hand, having it surgically removed may cure your dog, but this involves a complicated surgical procedure.

After starting treatment, CD symptoms should begin to decrease. However, skin lesions may take several months to heal.

Emergency Fund

When it comes to our canine companions, especially when our pet is a senior already, we want to keep them healthy and happy for them to enjoy their senior years. A way for us to take care of our pets is to make sure that they are covered when it comes to emergencies and vet visits. Petcube’s Pet Emergency Fund makes this possible, as it provides a one-of-a-kind pet insurance alternative.

Apart from securing enough funds for your pet’s needs, Pet Emergency Fund also does not discriminate as it covers all dogs and cats, regardless of age, breed, and medical history. You also have an option to use their Online Vet service, allowing you to consult with certified vets with any concern you may have at any time of the day, anywhere you may be.

Read more: Things You Should Know Before Buying Pet Insurance & Comparison Table


What are some natural remedies for Cushing’s Disease in dogs?

Remember to consult with your vet before trying anything. Because CD is a serious condition that needs careful management, an expert should be consulted to administer the following home remedies:

  • Acupuncture;
  • Supplement;
  • Homeopathy;
  • Herbs - Western or Chinese.

Is there a Cushing Disease dog diet?

Making sure that your dog is given the proper nutrition may help reduce the levels of cortisol and also manage other underlying diseases. At the same time, doing so may also increase your dog’s lifespan.

First, remember not to serve your dog table scraps as well as treats that contain high amounts of sugar, fat, or salt. Instead, consult with your veterinarian as to what they recommend for your specific dog’s needs.

These are some factors of a good diet for a dog with CD:

  • Low in fat, moderate fiber;
  • Formulated for adults;
  • Protein content that is highly digestible;
  • Low in sodium and chloride.

If needed, your vet may also recommend certain supplements.

What are the symptoms of a dog dying from Cushing’s?

When a dog may be dying from Cushing’s, they can exhibit symptoms such as being lethargic, too much urination and thirst, UTI, and skin infections. If a dog's CD is due to a pituitary gland tumor, they may start to show neurological problems because as the tumor increases in size, it affects the brain tissue surrounding it. Unfortunately, if your dog isn’t responding to treatments, the prognosis isn’t good.

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