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7 Warnings Signs of Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Catching Cushing's Disease Early

By Lauren Leonardi. October 27, 2013 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Cushing's disease is one of those diseases that is extremely difficult to detect because the symptoms can be linked to such a wide number of different ailments. Find out here some specific warning signs to look out for as your dog ages.

In a dog’s belly, near their kidneys, lives the adrenal gland. This gland produces a hormone called cortisol which affects the functions of many organs in the body. Cushing’s disease in dogs, otherwise known as hyperadrenocorticism, is the overproduction of cortisol, and is a condition that becomes increasingly likely as your dog ages. Too much cortisol in the body can cause a number of problems, including the suppression of a dog’s immune system, thereby increasing their chances of getting sick.

It can be challenging to diagnose, and a bit complicated to treat. As with most veterinary health conditions, early detection, diagnosis, and treatments (like Vetoryl) are incredibly important. Here are some early warning signs to look out for.

1. Increased Thirst and Urination

The onset of Cushing’s disease can be a long, slow process. One of the first signs of this disease is excessive thirst and urination. You may find that you’re refilling your pet’s water bowl more often. They may be asking to go outside more frequently. Paired with this, you may find that your well-trained dog is suddenly having accidents in the house.

Cushing’s is a disease more often found in older dogs, and as such, at its onset, these symptoms can sometimes be confused with urinary tract infections or even the senility that can come with old age. Additionally, increased thirst could also be a sign of kidney disease. If increased thirst and urination are paired with any of the symptoms below, you may want to ask your veterinarian to run diagnostic tests.

2. Increased Appetite and Weight Gain, Especially with a Pot Bellied Appearance

Higher levels of cortisone will increase a dog’s appetite. For this reason, they may eat more, and as a result, gain weight. This weight gain can make it hard for your dog to move around, jump up on furniture, or even climb the stairs.

Cortisone will also cause a dog’s abdominal ligaments to relax and their liver to become bloated -- causing a pot-bellied appearance.

As with urinary incontinence, these effects of Cushing’s can be confused with other issues elderly dogs commonly face, including arthritis. If you are suspicious of Cushing’s, ask your vet to feel your dog’s abdomen to see if their liver is enlarged. Sometimes the result of this simple hands-on exam will encourage your doctor to do further testing to either diagnose or rule out the onset of Cushing’s disease.

3. Panting

Panting is normal if a dog has exerted themself, during times of stress, or if they’re hot. However, if your dog appears to be panting more than usual, and if this occurs in conjunction with the other signs mentioned here, it could be an indication of Cushing’s.

4. Symmetrical Hair Loss

A dog with Cushing’s may lose fur, although typically, the fur on your dog’s legs and head will remain intact. Instead, Cushing’s-related hair loss occurs primarily on a dog’s midsection. Hair loss caused by Cushing’s is typically symmetrical -- occurring evenly on both sides of the dog’s body.

5. Thin Skin that Bruises Easily

Try gently pinching a fold of skin on your dog’s abdomen, near their flank. A dog with Cushing’s may have skin that feels thin to the touch, as opposed to the plumpness of healthy skin.

Of course, if you notice bruises on your dog, you should tell your vet.

6. Recurrence of Infections

Ear and eye infections may occur more and more frequently in a dog who’s dealing with Cushing’s disease.

7. A Change in Behavior

Many dogs with Cushing's will show a change in behavior, acting more aggressive, or not as calm as they usually are. Behavioral changes can signal a whole host of other health problems as well, so it's always a good idea to alert your vet.

Confusion with Other Conditions

Many of the warning signs mentioned here are also associated with a number of other ailments that can affect older dogs. Cushing’s is difficult to diagnose in part because of the universal nature of many of its symptoms. A few diseases that could be confused with Cushing’s:

  • Urinary incontinence is associated with old age and urinary tract infections.
  • A bloated belly is associated with gastric torsion and gastric dilation, which if left untreated, can be fatal.
  • Hair loss in similarly symmetrical patterns is associated with hypothyroidism.
  • Increased thirst and other related symptoms are associated with the onset of diabetes.

Cushing’s disease is being diagnosed more and more frequently, so don’t hesitate to ask your vet about looking into this as a possible cause for your dog’s symptoms.

More on Senior Dogs

The Best Senior Dog Pet Supplies
10 Must-Ask Questions at Senior Dog Vet Visits
Senior Dog Care: Keeping Your Senior Pet Healthy

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Cushing’s Disease at a glance

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  • 1Cushing’s disease is caused by an overproduction of cortisol, which can affect many organs in a dog’s body.
  • 2Common symptoms can include increased thirst and urination, and weight gain with a potbellied appearance.
  • 3While Cushing’s can result in hair loss, it traditionally only occurs on the midsection, and not on the legs.
  • 4Cushing’s can be hard to diagnose, because so many of the symptoms are associated with other conditions.