Cushing’s disease can be a serious condition in humans, but what about in beloved pets? Understanding Cushing’s disease in dogs can help pet owners take the best possible care of their canine companion and manage the disease for a long and healthy life.
About Cushing’s Disease
Cushing’s disease, also called Cushing’s syndrome, hypercortisolism, or hyperadrenocorticism, is a condition of having excess cortisol hormone in the blood, often from abnormalities in either the pituitary gland in the brain or the adrenal glands near the kidneys. It can take a long time for symptoms of Cushing’s disease to become noticeable, and because the symptoms are similar to other conditions, Cushing’s disease in dogs can be tricky to diagnose. While in humans the condition can be noted by excess belly fat, a hump of fat between the shoulders, bone loss, high blood pressure, acne, easy bruising, decreased fertility, and pink or purple stretch marks, in dogs the symptoms are more easily mistaken for simple signs of aging.
Cushing’s Disease in Dogs
Symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs often include:
- Increased thirst
- Increased appetite
- Frequent urination or housebreaking “accidents”
- Bladder or urinary tract infections
- Muscle weakness or general lethargy
- Skin infections
- Hair loss or bare patches of fur
- Pot-bellied appearance
It can take up to a year for these symptoms to become highly noticeable, and in many cases, symptoms may be mistaken for other conditions or as part of a dog’s aging process. Cushing’s disease is more common in middle-aged or older dogs, making these mistakes even more common. If left undiagnosed, however, Cushing’s disease can lead to severe diabetes and kidney damage in dogs, lowering the animal’s overall quality of life, and the disease can eventually become life-threatening.
Veterinary tests are essential to confirm a diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, and a vet may prefer to conduct several different tests to rule out other conditions before confirming Cushing’s. Certain dog breeds are more susceptible to this disease, including poodles, dachshunds, boxers, beagles, and Staffordshire, Yorkshire, and Boston terriers.
Treating Cushing’s Disease
Once it has been diagnosed, there are several treatment options for Cushing’s disease in dogs. If the disease is caused by abnormal adrenal glands, abdominal surgery can cure the disease if it has not advanced significantly and the tumors have not spread to other parts of the body. Some dogs may also develop Cushing’s disease if they are undergoing long-term steroid treatment for other conditions, and stopping the steroid treatment can reverse the Cushing’s disease, though other treatments for the initial condition will be necessary. If Cushing’s is caused by pituitary gland problems, however, it will be necessary to manage the disease, as it is not possible to operate on the pituitary gland in a dog’s brain.
Different medications are available for treating Cushing’s disease, though the dog will need that medication for the rest of its life. The medication must be strictly monitored, and it may take some trial and adjustment to find the correct dosage to best alleviate each dog’s symptoms without adverse side effects. With proper medication, however, a dog with Cushing’s disease can lead a very active, normal, and enjoyable life.
Other steps in treating Cushing’s disease involve keeping the dog healthy overall with a nutritious diet and adequate exercise, both of which can help any animal combat disease. Taking steps to lower the animal’s stress and anxiety will also help with Cushing’s disease by keeping the pituitary and adrenal glands from becoming overactive and producing too much cortisol.
It can be frightening to learn that your beloved pet is diagnosed with a lifelong disease, but Cushing’s disease in dogs can be successfully managed and treated to help your pet live a wonderful, comfortable, enjoyable life.