5 Facts on Canine Cushing's Disease What to Know about Cushing's Disease in Dogs

5 Facts on Canine Cushing's Disease

Dogs of all ages may be developing Cushingโ€™s disease. Here are five facts you should know about the disease.

Whether middle aged or older, your dog may be developing Cushing’s disease without notable symptoms. It is important for your veterinarian to know any and all physical or behavioral changes your dog experiences, even if they seem a natural progression. Cushing’s disease often can be controlled or cured, and finding it early may increase the efficacy of treatment. These five facts may help guide you toward helping your dog live a longer and happier life.

1. It may be more than just getting old.

Cushing’s disease is often not identified correctly, due to symptoms seeming too mild or just a natural progression of aging. In fact, many instances of Cushing’s disease are diagnosed late in the development, because the dog just seemed to be getting old. Thinning fur around the body, and a distended abdomen are easy to spot, but subtle behavioral changes, such as increased thirst or lethargy after exercise can go unnoted. Ask your veterinarian for Cushing’s tests around six years and older.

2. Certain Dog Breeds Tend to Get Cushing’s More than Others.

There are several breeds that tend to suffer from Cushing’s, such as beagles, Boston terriers, boxers, dachshunds, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, poodles, Scottish terriers, Yorkshire terriers, and terriers in general. If your dog is one of these breeds, be on the lookout for symptoms and request a blood test from your vet. While these breeds may be more prone to Cushing’s than others, all breeds can get it.

3. It’s Hormonal.

Cushing’s disease is caused by tumors on either the pituitary gland or the adrenal glands, preventing the endocrine system from effectively understanding information delivered through hormones in the blood stream, and disabling the ability to maintain hormonal balance.

4. Is Cushing’s Disease Preventable?

No. While there is no known way to effectively prevent Cushing’s disease, there are diagnostic tests that can be performed early enough to prevent further damage. As dogs reach middle age, more frequent visits to the veterinarian for blood tests may become necessary.

5. Cushing’s Can Be Controlled, and in Some Cases, Cured.

Pituitary dependent Cushing’s may be controlled by oral medication, while adrenal dependent Cushing’s may be controlled by oral medication (such as Vetoryl), and in some cases, cured by surgical removal of tumors or the entire adrenal gland.

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. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

Cushing's Disease Symptoms in Dogs

It is very common for Cushing’s disease symptoms to be mistaken for normal signs of aging, as the symptoms appear very gradually, and mostly in older dogs. These symptoms are also shared by many other conditions, making Cushing’s difficult to diagnose without in-depth testing.

Cushing’s disease symptoms can be categorized into behavioral and physical symptoms.

Behavioral Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease behavioral symptoms include polydipsia, polyuria, polyphagia and lethargy.

Polydipsia is increased or sudden excessive consumption of water. Since it is sometimes difficult to determine if a dog is thirsty or excessively so, there is a formula that may help. Normal daily consumption of water is [140 x (body weight of dog in kg.)0.75]. Any volume above the formulaic solution is most likely polydipsia.

Polyuriais increased or excessive urination, often seemingly uncontrollable, or atypical to training. Typically, an adult dog produces between 20-40 milliliters of urine per kilogram of body weight, per day. Urine production in excess of 45 milliliters per kilogram of body weight per day, is consistent with polyuria.

Polyphagia, an increased or excessive appetite, often manifests itself as trash rooting, food stealing, intensified food guarding, and begging. The ravenous appetite of a Cushingoid dog is often accompanied by weight gain, or weight loss.

Lethargy is avoidance of exercise and play, often when the dog typically would be energetic and playful. Sometimes a weakness may be detected in the hind legs, causing dogs to resist jumping up onto furniture or people, whereas before it was easy. Cushingoid dogs tend to seek out cool surfaces to lie on, while excessively panting.

Physical Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease

Physical symptoms of Cushing’s disease gradually become apparent over time, and are often disregarded by dog owners as typical aging breakdown. Physical symptoms of canine Cushing’s disease include visible aging, slowed healing, skin and coat problems, additional endocrine diseases, and seizures.

Visible Aging in Cushingoid dogs means they visibly look older than their years, with thinning hair on the body, a saggy pot-belly, fat redistribution, and a bony face. It also may include sudden difficulty breathing, stiff walking and paws knuckling over.

Slowed Healing is a result of the hormonal imbalance created by Cushing’s disease dogs heal slowly and bruise easily.

Skin and coat problems in Cushingoid dogs include thin skin, increased number of wrinkles and folds, muscle atrophy, and their remaining coat gets dull and dry. Cushing’s disease increases susceptibility to skin infection, and may cause hard lumps on skin called calcinosis cutis.

Additional endocrine diseases may result from Cushing’s disease, such as diabetes and pancreatitis. Arrange a blood test for your dog, and begin treatment so Cushing’s disease does not progress to other diseases.

As some of these symptoms are difficult to identify as abnormal, it is important to keep track of any behavior or physicality that is inconsistent with your dog previously.

How many dogs have Cushing’s disease?

Cushing’s disease is a naturally occurring endocrine disorder in dogs, characterized by its body producing too much of the stress hormone cortisol. Nearly 80-85% of cases are pituitary-dependent, caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Other cases are related to functional issues in adrenal glands when they produce too much cortisol. According to a clinical study, the 1-year period prevalence for this syndrome among dogs under veterinary care was 0.17%. Breeds like Border terriers, Scottish terriers, Yorkshire terriers, miniature schnauzers, beagles, and German shepherds are prone to this syndrome. Although aging may be the reason for the condition, dogs of all ages may develop Cushing’s syndrome. Pet parents must watch out for the warning signs because they are often subtle.  

How bad is Cushing’s disease in dogs?

Cushing's disease is surely a reason to worry for pet parents because excess cortisol can be harmful to a dog. It can elevate the risk of several illnesses and conditions, such as diabetes and kidney damage. Further, your pet may experience common symptoms like increased thirst and urination, hair loss, excessive panting, skin infections, and thin or fragile skin. According to Lisa Carroll, a canine development coach, lethargy, sleepiness, and cloudy eyes are other indications of the disease.  Your dog may be unable to do simple things, such as hopping in the car. In severe cases, the condition can be life-threatening. That means the disease can get really bad for dogs if not diagnosed early and managed promptly. 

Can canine Cushing’s disease be cured?

The line of treatment for Cushing's disease depends on its cause. Surgery is the only cure if the disease is caused by a tumor on the pituitary or adrenal gland. However, it works only if the tumor is easy to reach and has not spread, which is rare. Diligent observation and long-term management are the only solutions when surgery is not an option for your pet. In this case, your vet may recommend some medications to manage Cushing's disease. As long as the cortisol levels stay in the normal range, your dog can live a near-normal lifespan and enjoy an optimal quality of life. According to a Forbes article, the life expectancy of a dog suffering from this disease is nearly 2-2.5 years after the initial diagnosis. On the other hand, it may be shorter if the dog has a large tumor on the pituitary gland.

What are the three stages of Cushing’s disease in dogs?

According to Dr. Mondrian Contreras, D.V.M. and owner of Carol Stream Animal Hospital, dogs struggling with Cushing's disease go through four stages. In stage 1, your pet experiences modest signs such as more thirst and frequent urination. Stage 2 is characterized by weight gain and hair loss. In stage 3, the disease progresses, leading to evident signs of muscle wasting. You may also see your pet taking on a “pot-bellied” appearance. Stage 4 is the advanced state of the disease, causing weakness, stiff gait, and walking issues. Also, your dog may develop calcinosis cutis, a skin condition with lesions or hard lumps on the skin. Paying heed to early signs and seeking medical intervention can help limit the progression of the disease with the best possible treatment. 

How can I treat my dog with Cushing’s naturally?

Canine Cushing's disease can be managed naturally with a combination of melatonin and lignans. If you want to take this approach, you will also have to adopt a healthy lifestyle and implement some dietary changes. Cushing's disease often causes an increase in appetite and lowers the dog’s metabolic rate, making it hard to maintain an optimal weight. Since most dogs with the disease have excess body fat, they should be fed food lower in fat and moderate in crude fiber. However, these foods may not be apt for an underweight dog with Cushing’s disease. Additionally, look for products with highly digestible proteins and low sodium content. The latter helps maintain a normal blood pressure level.

Is Cushing’s disease painful for dogs?

Lynda Kunzler, a former vet tech, notes that Cushing’s disease is often manageable. However, some cases may be more complicated than others. An expert can give the right opinion on the dog’s quality of life to decide whether euthanasia would be the right option. The good thing is that most dogs do not experience pain and discomfort, as symptoms can be managed through medication. On the other hand, you may have to opt for surgery if your dog’s tumors are aggressive.

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. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

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