Cushing’s Disease In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, in dogs is a condition caused by an overactive adrenal gland that pumps too many steroids and hormones into the bloodstream. Cushing’s disease can be caused tumors or growths in the adrenal gland or the pituitary gland, as well as exposure to corticosteroid medications. Though it can affect dogs at many ages, it usually appears in dogs around six to seven years of age. Cushing’s disease usually develops slowly and can result in a variety of symptoms. If you see the signs of Cushing’s disease in your dog, get to a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis so they can prescribe treatment. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for Cushing’s disease in dogs.

Symptoms Of Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

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Symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs can vary widely because the adrenal gland is responsible for the production of many hormones and steroids. Therefore, symptoms can appear differently in type and severity depending on which hormones or organs are affected. For example, if glucocorticoid, a natural steroid, is affected, then muscle tissue can break down and urination can become abnormal. If the immune system is affected, there may be secondary infections, and if the pancreas is affected, dogs may have diarrhea or start vomiting. Here are a few of the symptoms you may see in dogs with Cushing’s disease.

  • Increased thirst or urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A pot-bellied or distended abdomen
  • Obesity
  • Hair loss
  • Thinning, discolored, scaly, or unhealthy skin
  • Calcified lumps under the skin
  • Infections of the skin, ears, urinary tract, or elsewhere
  • Easily bruised
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia

Causes Of Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

The Labrador Retriever is one of several kinds of retriever, a type of gun dog. Even-tempered and well-behaved around young children and the elderly, Labradors are athletic and playful. A favorite assistance dog breed in these and other countries, Labradors are frequently trained to aid blind and autistic people, act as therapy dogs, and perform screening and detection work for law enforcement and other official agencies.

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The most common cause of Cushing’s disease in dogs is benign growths on the pituitary gland. Though it is rare, malignant pituitary tumors may also cause the disease. These make up about 80 to 85 percent of naturally occuring Cushing’s disease cases in dogs. Tumors on the adrenal gland make up the rest and have an equal chance of being benign or malignant.

Cushing’s disease may also occur non-naturally when a dog is overexposed to corticosteroid medications, which are commonly prescribed for allergies, immune disorders, cancers, inflammation, or to correct hormonal imbalances from conditions such as Addison’s disease.

Diagnosis Of Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

Cushing’s disease is hard to diagnose in dogs since there is no one test that will identify it. Veterinarians generally perform several blood and urine tests over a period of time, and then compare the results to normal levels. If Cushing’s is suspected, an x-ray and/or ultrasonography can help reveal the presence or absence of a tumor.

Treatment For Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

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Cushing’s disease in dogs can be treated medically and surgically, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the dog’s general health. The medical option is a prescription medicine to slow down production in the adrenal gland, while the surgical option is used to remove the growth that stimulates the hormone overproduction. However, most dogs are treated medically because the surgery carries significant risks and should only be used when medical treatment has proved ineffective.

Prognosis For Dogs With Cushing’s Disease

While Cushing’s disease itself is rarely life threatening to dogs, its side effect of a weakened immune system can make dogs more vulnerable to other diseases, as well as causing fatigue and exercise intolerance. Furthermore, in some rare cases, there are no symptoms at all.

The biggest issue with Cushing’s disease is its impact on your dog’s quality of life. If it is adversely affected, you should certainly consult with your veterinarian about the best way to return your dog to a healthy, comfortable life.

Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association