What Is Cushing’s Disease In Dogs?

Cushing’s disease is a troubling condition that many dog owners are unaware of.

Not only is this condition complicated, but it often leaves pet owners with more questions than answers when they are diagnosed.

So what is Cushing’s disease, and how will it impact your dog’s life?

In this article we will dive into the details of Cushing’s in dogs, and help you better understand this diagnosis going forward.

What Is Cushing’s Syndrome In Dogs?

Cushings Disease in Dogs

Cushing’s disease, or Cushing’s syndrome, is a condition that involves the overproduction of hormones produced by the adrenal glands.

Medically referred to as hyperadrenocorticism, dogs with this condition are plagued with an overproduction of the stress hormone known as cortisol.

Cortisol in dogs is responsible for weight management, combating stress and fighting infections.

With cortisol playing a major role in multiple body processes, the overproduction of this hormone leads to several medical complications down the line.

What Causes Cushing’s Disease In Dogs?

One of the many reasons Cushing’s disease is so complicated is due to the fact that there are a few possible causes.

It’s essential for your veterinarian to determine the exact cause of your dog’s Cushing’s syndrome, as this will directly impact their prognosis and treatment plan.

When discussing hyperadrenocorticism in dogs, there are three different forms of the condition; pituitary dependent, adrenal dependent, and iatrogenic.

Pituitary Dependent Cushing’s

Pituitary dependent Cushing’s is the most common cause of this condition. This develops as a result of a tumor on the pituitary gland, leading to an overproduction of the ACTH hormone.

This then triggers the adrenal glands to produce excessive amounts of cortisol, resulting in Cushing’s disease.

The tumor can range in sizes, and can be malignant or benign. Most owners choose not to perform extensive diagnostics to determine this, so most vets just treat as if the tumor is benign.

Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s

Some forms of Cushing’s disease are a result of a tumor on the adrenal gland. If the tumor is benign, removal of the tumor is often curative. However, if the tumor on the gland is malignant, the outlook is poor.

Iatrogenic (Long-Term Steroid Use)

Long term steroid use can lead to Cushing’s disease in some dogs. Though the prescribed steroids are often for legitimate reasons, long-term use can put a strain on the body.

If this is the case, your veterinarian will likely have to find a balance between pulling away from steroid use, while still managing the original condition as best as they can.

Signs Of Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

One of the reasons that so many cases of Cushing’s disease go unnoticed initially is due to the vague symptoms it causes.

The symptoms can point to so many different medical conditions, making it difficult to pinpoint.

To make sure you offer your pup an early diagnosis, let’s list the potential symptoms.

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive panting
  • Hair loss
  • Slow hair growth
  • Chronic UTI’s
  • Chronic skin infections
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle loss

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your canine companion, it’s best to visit your veterinarian for further care.

Even if your dog is not diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, these symptoms can point to other developing conditions as well.

Diagnosing Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

If your veterinarian fears the possibility of Cushing’s syndrome in your dog, there are a few diagnostics they can perform. The most common tests performed in office include an ACTH stimulation test and a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test.

Your vet may also perform a urine cortisol and creatinine ratio, but it will typically vary based on your vet’s resources.

If money is not a concern, your veterinarian can refer you to a radiologist that can perform an abdominal ultrasound. This allows the veterinarian to examine the size of the adrenal glands, and search for the presence of a tumor.

Some vets may be able to perform an ultrasound on their own, but most typically refer them out.

Once your vet confirms Cushing’s disease in your dog, they can best determine a plan of action going forward.

If the results of these tests are not straight forward, your pup may need to be referred to a specialist for further testing.

Treating Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

When treating a dog with Cushing’s disease, the best plan of action will depend entirely on the cause of their condition. Some dogs will thrive with the use of daily medications, while others will require surgical removal of the tumor.

To make sure you understand your dog’s options, let’s break it down.

Treating Pituitary Dependent Cushing’s

While this is the most common form of the condition, it can be the most difficult to treat. Some vets will prescribe medications like Trilostane or Mitotane, which prove to be the most effective treatment options.

Medications like Selegiline hydrochloride and ketoconazole can also be used therapeutically, but these are not often as effective.

Dogs receiving these treatments will need to maintain a close relationship with their vet, as the condition may continue to fluctuate throughout their life.

Treating Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s

If your dog’s Cushing’s is a result of an adrenal tumor, surgical removal of the tumor can be curative if the tumor is not malignant.

If the tumor is found to be malignant after biopsy, these will become much more complicated. Your vet will often refer you to a specialist at that point.

Treating Iatrogenic (Long-Term Steroid Use) Cushing’s

If a dog develops iatrogenic Cushing’s, this will typically require discontinuation of the steroids. This will need to be a gradual decrease with the guidance of a veterinarian, as stopping abruptly can lead to serious complications.

This will also mean that their initial condition being treated by the steroids may return.

Life Expectancy In Dogs With Cushing’s

If your dog has just been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, you may be wondering how much time you have left with your furry friend.

Though Cushing’s can be managed with long term treatment and a close relationship with your vet, many dogs will eventually decline at some point.

The beloved life expectancy for Cushing’s syndrome in dogs is about 3 years. This estimate varies based on the type of Cushing’s your dog has, your dog’s overall health at the time of diagnosis, as well as how well managed their condition is.

Having a close relationship with your vet is the best way to not only manage their condition long term, but offer them as much time as possible.

Every case will vary, so it’s best to just speak with your vet about a general life expectancy for your pup.

If you would like an in depth guide on how to know when it is time to say goodbye to your dog with Cushing’s disease, you can read our article on “When To Put Down Your Dog With Cushing’s Disease“.

Final Thoughts

Cushing’s disease is a complicated condition that deeply impacts our canine friends. Learning what this disease is, how it’s caused and what you can expect can allow you to understand what your canine friend is going through.

Also knowing what cushing’s disease is will allow you to understand the odd behavior you might experience with your dog.

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