Cushing's Disease in Cats: An Overview What is the Feline Cushingโ€™s Disease and How to Treat It

Cushing's Disease in Cats: An Overview Photo by Tomas Andreopoulos:

Cats with Cushing's Disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, have excessive cortisol production in their body. We discuss more of this here.

Cats who experience hypercorticism, also known as Cushing's disease, have excessive cortisol production in their systems. The adrenal glands, which are next to the kidneys and produce this hormone, are in charge of regulating the metabolism and the body's reaction to stress.

In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments for Cushing's Disease in cats, as well as tips for managing the condition at home.

Causes of Cushing’s Disease in Cats

Pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH) and adrenal-dependent hyperadrenocorticism are the two primary causes of Cushing's disease in cats (ADH).

A tumor on the pituitary gland, which is situated near the base of the brain, is the root cause of PDH, also known as pituitary-dependent Cushing's disease. This tumor drives the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol by causing the gland to produce too much of the hormone ACTH. PDH accounts for 85% of all cases of Cushing's disease in cats, making it the most prevalent type.

A tumor on one or both of the adrenal glands is the root cause of ADH, also known as adrenal-dependent Cushing's disease. These tumors, also known as adenomas or carcinomas, are responsible for the excessive production of cortisol. ADH is less common than PDH, accounting for around 15% of all cases.

Rarely, long-term usage of certain drugs like glucocorticoids, which are intended to treat other medical issues, can lead to Cushing's Disease.

However, Cushing's Disease is more commonly found in older cats and it's not contagious.

Clinical Symptoms

Cushing's Disease in cats can cause a wide range of clinical symptoms, some of the most common include:

  • Excess urination and thirst

  • Heightened appetite with loss of weight

  • A pot-bellied look brought on by abdominal bloating

  • Hair loss and thinning of the skin

  • Bruising easily

  • panting

  • Increased susceptibility to infections

  • Calcium oxalate bladder stones

  • Diabetes mellitus

Some of these symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions, so it's important to have your cat evaluated by a veterinarian if you notice any changes in its behavior or health. Imaging, blood testing, and clinical indicators must all be combined for a conclusive diagnosis of Cushing's disease. Your veterinarian may perform blood tests, urinalysis, and an ACTH stimulation test to diagnose the condition.

Most times, Cushing's disease is a chronic, progressive disorder that needs ongoing management and care. Many cats with Cushing's Disease can have a long, satisfying life with the right treatment.


Typically, a combination of clinical indicators, blood tests, and imaging is used to diagnose Cushing's Disease in cats. The most typical diagnostic exams are:

  • Blood tests: Blood tests are used to measure the levels of cortisol and ACTH in the blood. Cushing's disease is indicated by high cortisol and low ACTH levels.

  • Urinalysis: High levels of cortisol in the urine can also indicate Cushing's Disease.

  • ACTH stimulation test: In this test, blood cortisol levels are measured both before and after a synthetic ACTH injection. A normal response is an increase in cortisol levels after the injection, while a lack of response or a decrease in cortisol levels may indicate Cushing's Disease.

  • Ultrasound or CT scan: Imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scan can be used to visualize the adrenal glands and detect any tumors or abnormalities.

Once a diagnosis of Cushing's Disease is made, your veterinarian will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your cat's specific needs. This may include surgery, medication, or a combination of both.


Managing the underlying cause of the problem is often the first step in treating Cushing's Disease in cats. The two main types of Cushing's Disease, pituitary-dependent (PDH) and adrenal-dependent (ADH) require different treatment approaches.

  • Pituitary-dependent Cushing's Disease (PDH): The most common form of PDH treatment is surgery to remove the pituitary gland tumor. This surgery is called transsphenoidal hypophysectomy and it is performed by a specialist. The healing process might last for many weeks, and sometimes further therapy is required.

  • Adrenal-dependent Cushing's Disease (ADH): Treatment for ADH usually involves surgery to remove the tumors on the adrenal glands. This surgery is called an adrenalectomy and it is performed by a specialist.

  • Medical management: Medications such as Lysodren or trilostane can be used to decrease the production of cortisol by the adrenal gland. Also, methimazole may be prescribed to reduce overall hormone levels. These medications must be used under close veterinary supervision as they have potential side effects.

However, Cushing's disease must be managed and treated continuously because it is a chronic disorder. Your veterinarian will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your cat's specific needs and will monitor the cat's progress over time.

Regular check-ups, blood tests, and urinalysis are important to monitor the cat's condition and adjust the treatment plan if necessary. With proper care and management, many cats with Cushing's Disease can live a good quality of life for several years.

How to Prevent Feline Cushing’s Disease

These are a few ways to prevent your cat developing Cuching’s disease. 

  • Regular check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups are important to detect any potential health problems early on. This includes blood tests, urinalysis, and physical examination.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: For Cushing's Disease and other endocrine diseases, obesity is a risk factor. It's important to feed your cat a balanced diet and provide them with regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Also, supplements may be prescribed for your feline friend.

  • Limiting exposure to toxins: An increased risk of endocrine problems has been connected to specific poisons and substances. It's important to limit your cat's exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and other toxins by keeping them indoors and providing a clean and safe environment.

  • Avoiding unnecessary medication: Long-term use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids, can increase the risk of Cushing's Disease. It's important to avoid giving your cat unnecessary medications and to only use them under the guidance of a veterinarian.

  • Genetic screening: Some breeds of cats are more prone to develop Cushing's Disease and other endocrine disorders. If you're considering adopting a cat or getting one from a breeder, it's a good idea to research their breed and to consider genetic screening for inherited diseases.

Recall that Cushing's Disease is a complex condition that is not fully understood, and there is no guaranteed way to prevent it. However, by following these steps, you can reduce your cat's risk of developing Cushing's Disease or other endocrine disorders.

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