Cushing's disease can result in serious conditions and illnesses in dogs, so a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan is key. In this post, our Orlando vets discuss Cushing's disease in dogs, including some of the possible complications and potential treatment options.
What is Cushing's disease in dogs?
Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a serious health condition that causes the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol (cortisone) in a dog's body. When dogs have a surplus of cortisol, it can be life-threatening and put them at a higher risk for several severe illnesses and conditions, including kidney damage and diabetes.
In many cases, Cushing’s disease is caused by a benign or malignant tumor in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland situated at the base of the brain. Sometimes, the tumor could be found in the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys.
Excessive cortisol can also be caused by prolonged use of steroids, called iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome.
Signs & Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs
Below, our Orlando vets share some common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs:
- Excessive thirst or drinking
- Increased appetite
- Frequent urination
- Muscle weakness
- Hair loss
- Thinning of the skin
- Enlarged abdomen (potbellied appearance)
Dogs that have Cushing’s disease will exhibit at least one of these symptoms, however, it is unlikely that they will develop all of them.
If you see your dog displaying any of the signs detailed above, contact our Orlando vets immediately or the nearest emergency or urgent care animal hospital. Dogs with Cushing’s disease have an increased risk of kidney damage, blood clots, high blood pressure, and diabetes
Diagnosing Canine Cushing’s Disease
Your vet will perform a physical examination and conduct several diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your pup's symptoms and rule out other health issues. The tests can consist of but are not limited to, urinalysis, urine culture, complete blood panel, and/or a full chemistry panel.
Your vet may run adrenal function tests, testing adrenal low-dose and high-dose dexamethasone suppression. However, adrenal function tests could cause false positives when another disease with similar clinical symptoms is present.
An ultrasound could help rule out other problems that may be causing your dog’s symptoms. Other diseases that can display similar signs include tumors in the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, and chronic inflammatory liver disease.
The most effective diagnostic testing for Cushing’s disease is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which lets your vet assess your dog’s adrenal glands. However, this testing method can be costly.
At MetroWest Veterinary Clinic, our vets are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of internal diseases and conditions. We have access to diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods that might be able to help identify and manage these problems.
Treating Dogs With Cushing’s Disease
In many cases, veterinarians treat Cushing's disease with medications that can help decrease the amount of cortisone the adrenal glands produce. The only way Cushing's disease can be treated is to remove the tumor, however, due to the complexity and risks of the surgery, most cases are treated with medication.
Depending on the type of Cushing’s disease your dog has, your vets approach to treatment may vary.
Pituitary tumor. Treatment of pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease is the most complicated. Often Two drugs, trilostane, and mitotane are used.
Adrenal tumor. Major abdominal surgery is usually needed to treat an adrenal-dependent Cushing’s disease. If the entire tumor can be removed and isn't malignant, there is a good chance your dog will regain normal health.
Iatrogenic Cushing’s disease. Treatment requires gradual discontinuation of the steroid, usually resulting in a recurrence of the disease that was being treated by the steroid.
After starting the medication treatments your dog will need to see the vet regularly for ACTH stimulation tests until the excessive production of cortisone is controlled.
Over your pet's lifetime, routine monitoring of blood tests and medication adjustments need to be made.
Is Cushing's disease fatal in dogs?
Diligent observation and long-term management can help minimize the symptoms of Cushing’s disease.
Most dogs can be successfully treated with medication while experiencing little to no side effects. However, the wrong dose can result in mild or severe side effects. Therefore, your pooch needs to be carefully monitored. Follow-up blood tests are also essential in ensuring treatment is effective and on schedule.
Dogs that don't receive adequate monitoring and follow-up care often experience relapses and severe illness or death due to complications.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.