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Causes, Symptoms & Treatments for Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Causes, Symptoms & Treatments for Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Cushing's disease can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening conditions and illnesses. Our veterinarians in Mount Vernon will elucidate the factors behind this condition and share information on common symptoms and available treatments.

What is Cushing's disease in dogs?

Cushing's disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, causes the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol (cortisone) in the body, putting dogs at risk for various serious conditions and illnesses such as diabetes and kidney damage, and it can even be life-threatening.

Another term for this condition is Cushing's syndrome, and it typically arises from a tumor, either benign or malignant, in the pituitary gland, a small gland located at the base of the brain. Occasionally, the tumor may be found on the adrenal glands, situated just above the kidneys.

Excessive cortisol levels can also result from the extended use of steroids, leading to iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome.

So, what signs do dogs with Cushing's disease commonly display?

  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Increased appetite 
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Excessive thirst or drinking 
  • Hair loss 
  • Enlarged abdomen, potbellied appearance 
  • Frequent urination

You'll notice your dog displaying at least one of these symptoms if they have Cushing's disease. However, it's uncommon for all of these signs to be present. 

It's critical to contact your vet right away if your dog is displaying any of the symptoms listed above. Dogs with Cushing's disease have an increased risk of blood clots, high blood pressure, kidney damage and diabetes. 

How is Cushing's disease diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination and perform appropriate tests to identify the cause of your pet's symptoms and rule out other health problems. These tests may encompass a complete blood panel, urine culture, urinalysis, and a full chemistry panel.

Your vet might request adrenal function tests, including low-dose and high-dose dexamethasone suppression tests. Remember that adrenal function tests may yield false positives when another ailment with similar clinical symptoms is present.

An ultrasound can help eliminate other factors contributing to your dog's symptoms. Conditions such as bladder stones, gallbladder disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease, gastrointestinal issues, and liver or spleen tumors can produce similar symptoms.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the most effective diagnostic test for Cushing's disease, allowing your vet to examine your dog's adrenal glands. However, it's worth noting that this testing method can be costly.

At Northwest Veterinary Clinic of Mount Vernon, our veterinarians are skilled in diagnosing and treating various health conditions. We can access diagnostic imaging tools and treatment approaches to identify and manage these issues. 

Treating Cushing's disease in dogs

Cushing's disease in dogs is typically treated with medications that help decrease the cortisone the adrenal glands produce. The only way to cure Cushing's disease is to remove the tumor. However, because of the complexity and risks of surgery, most cases are treated with medication.

Treatments will vary depending on the type of Cushing's disease your dog has.

Pituitary tumor. Treatment of pituitary-dependent Cushing's disease is the most complicated. Two drugs, trilostane and mitotane are commonly used. 

Adrenal tumor. Treatment of an adrenal-dependent Cushing's disease usually requires major abdominal surgery. If the entire tumor can be removed and the tumor is not malignant, there is a good chance that 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 the lifetime of your pet, routine monitoring of blood tests and medication adjustments need to be made. 

Is Cushing's disease fatal in dogs?

The cause of your dog's Cushing's disease and the conditions your pup develops, which are linked to the disease, can affect your pet's prognosis. Early action and prompt treatment of the disease are crucial to minimize its severity.

You can reduce the symptoms of Cushing's disease through vigilant observation and long-term management.

Most dogs can receive effective treatment with minimal medication side effects. However, incorrect dosages may lead to mild or severe side effects. Therefore, monitoring your pet and scheduling follow-up blood tests is importantit's.

Dogs that aren't adequately monitored and don't receive follow-up care often face relapses and may experience severe illness or even 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.

Is your dog showing signs of Cushing's disease? Contact our Mount Vernon vets if you have any questions about preparing your dog for the procedure!

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