Cushing’s disease is fairly common in older dogs, and can cause serious health problems if untreated.
Dogs with Cushing’s disease produce too much cortisol which is a stress hormone.
Cushing’s is fairly common in middle aged and older dogs, more commonly in small to medium breeds
The most common symptoms are drinking and urinating more, developing a pot belly, panting all the time, and the skin starts to look different.
Cushing’s disease cannot be cured, and treatment is lifelong.
With treatment, dogs with Cushing’s can have a good quality of life.
What is Cushing’s disease in dogs?
Cushing’s disease, (also known as Cushing’s syndrome, or ‘hyperadrenocorticism’), occurs when the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, which is a steroid. The adrenals are little glands sitting next to the kidneys.
Cushing’s is usually caused by a benign tumour, which causes no other problems and does not spread. The tumour is usually in the area of the brain which tells the adrenal glands to produce the cortisol, but may also be in the adrenal glands themselves.
Another, less common cause, can occasionally occur in dogs on long-term steroids medication at a high dose can also develop Cushing’s disease.
What are the symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs?
The main symptoms of Cushing’s are:
Increased thirst (polydipsia)
Increased urination (polyuria)
Increased appetite (polyphagia)
Reduced energy (lethargy)
Poor quality coat
A pot belly, or bloated appearance
Thin skin, darkened skin and/or ongoing skin infections
Poor wound healing
Repeated urine infections/cystitis
These symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions and it’s important to see a vet as soon as you notice any.
How is Cushing’s disease diagnosed?
Your vet may suspect Cushing’s from your dog’s appearance. However, Cushing’s disease can be very hard to diagnose, so several different tests are usually needed.
Your vet may arrange:
Possibly an ultrasound scan of the abdomen.
Your dog may well need to stay in the hospital for the day, to have a series of blood tests.
How is Cushing’s disease treated in dogs?
Cushing’s disease cannot be cured, but in most cases can be very well managed with daily medication. Most dogs have a really good quality of life and go back to their normal selves.
Sometimes, in mild cases, no treatment is needed. In these cases, your vet will discuss the risks and benefits with you, and would regularly monitor your dog often doing regular blood tests.
In most cases, treatment involves giving daily medication to reduce the steroid production.
In a minority of cases surgery may also be an option. This surgery is a specialist procedure, which would usually only be performed at a referral centre.
On cases where the Cushing’s is caused by a dog being on long-term steroid medication then your vet will gradually wean them off the steroids.
How is Cushing’s disease monitored?
Keeping a diary of symptoms at home, water intake and energy levels is a really important part of monitoring the response to treatment.
Regular blood tests are also crucial to make sure that your dog is receiving the correct dose of medication.
Cushing’s disease is complicated but with the right medication and management dogs can have a happy and normal life. All cases are different, so feel free to discuss your dog’s Cushing’s disease with one of our friendly vets.