When To Euthanize A Dog With Cushing’s Disease 

Cushing’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. 

dog has cushings disease

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. 

When To Euthanize A Dog With Cushings 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.  

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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 cannot 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. 

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Summary

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!

There are 14 comments:

  • Jim d at 8:41 pm

    We just euthanized our 16 year old dachshund, also named Olivia. This is such a painful time, but Olivia is in a better place.

    She lasted over two and a half years with Cushings. I found this website to be particularly helpful. Olivia went blind. The disease put pressure on her left eye and we had to have it removed several months ago. We were considering euthanasia at that time, but it was five days after we lost one of our other dachshunds. We could not bear to lose two dogs in the same week.

    Olivia had huge appetite and got so heavy around her belly when you picked her up, her rear end would fall. She had the characteristic black skin from Cushings under her hair around her face. Her coat was very thin and she shed considerably.

    Although Oliva was blind, she still had a keen sense of smell and hearing. She stumbled into things but still knew where to go once we put her out side. Over the past few days she moaned and growled a lot and she had significant pressure on her other eye and we could tell it was causing extreme discomfort. She was telling us it was time to go. She still loved to cuddle with us–presumably being next to us gave her comfort. When I held her the last time, she still had that new puppy smell–something she never lost.

    Again, thank you for this website-it helped me get through this ordeal.

  • Uta Kelly at 4:49 pm

    I am so thankful that I read these posts yesterday. My beautiful white chihuahua, Sid, had been battling Cushing’s and an enlarged heart for about 3 years. These past couple of weeks he had steadily gotten worse and I made the decision to let him go today. Rest In Peace, my beautiful little Sid!

  • Stacey at 4:12 pm

    Our dog Taylor 11 year old labradoodle was diagnosed recently with cushings. She is on Vetoryl which has helped with excessive thirst and urination. Just recently has been suffering loss of appetite and hard to get up. Also no energy at all. It’s so sad and is breaking my heart. So far I wouldn’t say she’s suffering but I can see the decline. I hope I recognize when her time has come but I love her so much can’t imagine my life without her.

    • Lisa Gibson at 4:35 pm

      Oh Stacey I can feel your pain. After looking my first Maltese Shi Tzu cross, her single remaining pup was so distressed that he spent 2 weeks sitting at her grave site trying to dig her up. While I felt that I couldn’t share my heart again, I needed to do something drastic to help Chai – the remaining dog move beyond his loneliness. After all he had always shared a home with another dog. It was a wonderful decision. I have been rescuing dogs ever since and in particular, ones that need special or extra attention. I do my utmost to ensure they have the best quality of life until the very end. And to be honest I think these dogs have saved me.

  • John at 6:30 pm

    Our Yorkie mix Gordon has Cushing’s for about 2 years now. He has a huge appetite and is drinking a lot of water. He mostly sleeps most of the day. He sometimes loses strength in his hind legs and he has peeing accidents in the house. But as of right now he is not suffering, he still eats like a horse and doesn’t mind going out in the yard. Loves to be petted and snuggle in bed. I know when the time comes he will need to be put down. But the quality of life is still there. So my observation is they can last a while with the disease. Take it day by day.

  • Tara at 8:36 am

    I have an 11 year old Yorkie who was diagnosed with cushings 9 months ago. He was receiving medication but caused a complete muscle weakness to were I thought he was paralyzed. I kept him with me until morning and gave him a steroid provided by the vet. He recovered completely in 3 days. I was told to start giving him the meds every other day. When I started on his second dose he had explosive diarrhea. So I decided to stop the medication and just monitor him closely. He all of a sudden started limping on one leg which looks to be his hip. I just don’t know when to make the call. I don’t want him to suffer. He eats perfectly fine, drinks, urinated and has normal bowel movements. I just want to do what’s right for him

  • Jenny at 11:28 am

    Thanks for this – my 12 yr old Chihuahua was just diagnosed, and it’s helpful to hear what others have experienced. My vet has not mentioned life expectancy at all, which is what brought me here. She just started Vetoryl this week. She’s still energetic and happy, so I hope the meds don’t have too much of a negative impact.

  • Carolyn Miller at 12:46 pm

    My boy, Lucky, was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease this past December. After many inconclusive tests, a CT scan showed that he has a tumor on his adrenal gland that has progressed through the Vena Cava. With surgery not being an option, we started him on Trilostane. Within a couple of days Lucky’s heavy panting all but went away. He was still drinking and peeing alot but not quite as much as he had been. Now, after about 3 months on the Trilostane, the heavy panting has returned. We are adjusting his Trilostane to twice a day, since the panting seems much worse at night. I am just so afraid of knowing when it is really “time.” I have had to make this decision with other pets and was confident it was the right time but with Lucky I am so afraid of letting go too quicky but also of causing him to go through a possible catastrophic event. Lucky is my heart and this is excruciating. How can I be sure?

  • Renee at 3:56 pm

    I appreciate all these comments. I’m struggling with this decision. He can no longer walk on anything other than carpet. He does a little better outside, sometimes falling – the front legs cross at times now. Its mainly the back legs that don’t work. He can’t always get himself up from laying down. He hasn’t been able to do steps for over a year. His appetite is voracious! He barks at the cabinets minutes after eating and throughout the day and evening. I don’t remember the last time we could eat without him barking at us. He does pant a lot and I can feel his heart beating fast often. The dementia is sad. He forgets to turn around to come back to the door to come in. Instead he barks, looking like he’s lost, until we go pick him up. Inside he gets trapped in corners or on the wrong side of the bed. He’s peeing inside maybe 1-3 times a week but I keep him kenneled when I go to work and 1/2 the time he wears a belly band when he’s inside the house. I’m really struggling with thinking of putting him down, but lifting him and carrying him so much has caused physical problems for me. I need to have surgery next month. My family and friends say it’s time to put him down. But then he gets excited to see me and wags his tail….. ugh!

  • Angie at 11:05 am

    Hi Olivia, So heartbreaking and sorry for your loss but appreciate you sharing and similarly grateful to Meghan and Leslie for providing some clarity. It’s really tough to see the demise and tougher yet to be faced with big decisions. It’s really good to be able to anchor these in tangible experience. Wishing you all the best.

  • Carol Warren at 2:53 pm

    Our beloved dogs as been suffering from Cushings for at least 3 years since we had a hard time getting the correct doagnosis. It took at least 5 different vets over a course of 1 1/2 years, it is hard to know how long she has actually had this.
    How will I know when it is time to euthanize her? She is already panting more and for longer periods, getting weaker, having a hard time getting up from a laying down position etc.

    • Leslie at 10:25 am

      Hi Carol, only you will know when its time to let go. There will come a time when ‘quality’ of life is no longer there and suffering starts to kick in. If she is still happy, can eat, drink then maybe its not time yet. But if she just lays down and has a hard time doing anything basic, then maybe its time to really start preparing yourself for what is to come.

    • Olivia at 1:09 pm

      Hi my dog Rodney passed away this morning. He had been finding hard getting up on his own to go pee, eat and drink. 2 nights before he died he had little crying barks. The next day he collapsed outside, but he came back around and was licking his legs after a few minutes and eating ham. That night he was finding hard to breathe and had the crying bark for little while. The next morning I came down stairs, he was wagging his tail, I helped lift him up. He went outside and fell over. I picked him up and he collapsed and died. I was going to ring the vet that day anyway. But I wish I had known the sign of his bark and might have slept beside him the night before. Hope this helps.

    • Megan B at 12:33 pm

      Carol,

      I went through a 2-3 year battle with our dog and Cushings. For us it was neurological – she started to get lost outside our house and even inside – she would just wander the walls because she did not know where she was. You will know instinctually when it is time. For us, it was that. Have you tried any of the medicines? While the side effects are real (lack of appetite in our case), they do help with the disease itself.

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