When To Euthanize A Dog With Cushing’s Disease 

When To Euthanize A Dog With Cushings DiseaseCushing’s disease is a complicated condition in dogs that requires long term management once it’s diagnosed. Though this condition can be managed with proper veterinary care, it will often come to the point that it begins to impact your dog’s quality of life. 

In this article we’ll discuss the disease itself, and the signs and symptoms of when it may be time to consider letting your furry friend go. We know this decision is tough, so we will try our best to explain the stages clearly to help you make the most informed choice. 

What is Cushing’s Disease In Dogs?

Cushing’s disease is a condition in which a dog’s body produces too much cortisol. With cortisol being responsible for combating stress, weight management, fighting infections, and more; too much of this hormone can result in serious problems for your canine companion. 

Also known as hypercortisolism and hyperadrenocorticism, this condition can have multiple causes. The cause of this condition will determine your dog’s prognosis, so it’s important to understand the root of your furry friend’s disease. 

Pituitary dependant: The most common cause of this condition is due to a tumor on the pituitary gland. The tumor will cause an overproduction of the ACTH hormone, which then triggers the adrenal glands to produce cortisol in excessive amounts. The tumor can be malignant or benign, and the symptoms can vary based on how large the tumor is. Since many owners do not choose to have extensive diagnostics to determine this, it’s usually treated as if the tumor is benign. 

Adrenal dependant: Cushing’s disease can also be caused by a tumor on the adrenal gland. In cases where the tumor on the adrenal gland is benign, removal of the tumor will often cure the condition entirely. However, If the tumor is malignant, the outlook is often grim. 

Steroid use: Cushing’s disease can also occur when a dog has been on long term steroids. This can be challenging for veterinarians, as the steroids are often given for good reason or to manage another condition. This becomes a juggling act of weighing out the importance of steroid use and managing the new condition.  

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

The symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs is what leads to the disease going undiagnosed in many cases. Since the signs can point to so many different conditions, it’s important to be aware of all the possibilities to give your pup the best chance at management. Symptoms of Cushing’s disease include:

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

Diagnosis & Treatment Of Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

Since the symptoms of Cushing’s disease can vary, the best way to accurately diagnose the disease is by running a few tests with your veterinarian. These tests include an ACTH stimulation test that measures how well the adrenal glands are working, an ultrasound in search of a tumor in the abdomen, as well as “experimental” steroid use to see if your dog responds positively. Since owner’s will vary on how aggressive they’d like to be, the diagnostics can always vary. 

Your veterinarian will then come up with a plan of action based on the cause of your dog’s Cushing’s disease. Some dogs can be managed with long term medication (often a medication called Vetoryl), while others will require surgery to remove the tumor that’s causing the issues. No matter which route your veterinarian takes, your dog will likely need diagnostic check ups for the rest of their life to make sure the disease is under control. 

How Long Can A Dog Live With Cushing’s Disease?

If your beloved companion has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, you’re likely wondering how much time you’ll have left with them. While this condition can be managed with medication and a close relationship with your veterinarian, many dogs will reach their end point with the disease. 

The standard life expectancy for Cushing’s disease in dogs is about 3 years. Though this may be the common estimate, it’s important to remember that each dog has a different situation. While some dog’s can remain comfortable for years with medication, others may have a short amount of time due to the complications of their disease. Because of this, it’s important to have an idea of what it may look like once your dog has reached the end stage of their personal disease. 

When To Euthanize A Dog With Cushing’s Disease

You know your furry friend best, so this will often be a personal observation based on their behavior each day in your home. Since our pups can speak and let us know how they’re feeling each day, it’s important to be aware of the possible signs that they are beginning to suffer in their disease. 

First, it’s important to realize that the medical management of Cushing’s disease is mainly to get the symptoms under control. The medication does not treat the disease itself, but rather makes your dog’s life more comfortable as they continue on. Because of this, it’s often a sign that your dog’s disease is worsening once these symptoms return despite their medication.

Some signs that it may be time to discuss euthanasia include excessive drinking and urination, lack of appetite, chronic and serious UTI’s, severe lethargy, disinterest in things they once loved, severe muscle loss, and any other symptoms that effect their quality of life. Severe neurological symptoms can also occur in the late stages of the disease in dogs with pituitary tumors. 

This is an extremely difficult and personal choice, so it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian before you come to a conclusion. Since they have often been at your dog’s side since their diagnosis, they can help you better understand when it may be time to let go. 


Our canine companions become family, making it so difficult to make the tough decision when it’s time. Be sure to review the tips we’ve mentioned above about your dog’s diagnosis, and you will be better prepared when this time comes!

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