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Your Guide to Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

cushing's disease in dogs

At Michelson Found Animals, we try to cover everyday stuff like runny noses, but we also write about less common health issues like Addison’s Disease. This article is about a health issue that can occur in the endocrine system called Cushing’s Disease. So what is Cushing’s Disease? How is it treated? Here’s your guide to Cushing’s Disease in dogs.

What Is Cushing’s Disease in Dogs?

Cushing’s Disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is a problem in the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a group of glands that make and secrete hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol has several uses in a dog’s body, such as regulating stress and the immune system. Cushing’s Disease in dogs occurs when a pooch’s body produces too much cortisol. 

Hyperadrenocorticism is more likely to occur in middle-aged and senior pets. It is commonly caused by taking corticosteroid medications or by the occurrence of pituitary or adrenal tumors. In these cases, pituitary tumors are usually benign. Adrenal tumors causing Cushing’s Disease usually have an equal chance of being benign or malignant.

Symptoms of Cushing’s in Dogs

Symptoms of Cushing’s in dogs vary and to confirm the disease, a veterinarian will have to perform a range of tests. Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in dogs include:

  • Darkening of the skin
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Fatigue
  • Increased eating
  • Excessive panting
  • Scaly patches of skin that are hard and white
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fat pads on the shoulders and neck
  • Increased drinking and peeing
  • Peeing at night or bathroom accidents
  • Swollen belly
  • Infertility
  • Hair loss
  • Bruising

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

Treatment of the Disease

Diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease will take several tests as no one test will procure a definitive diagnosis. Then how your veterinarian will proceed with treatment will depend on the cause of your canine Cushing’s Disease.

If your dog’s Cushing’s Disease came about from heavy use of corticosteroid medication, then simply slowly weaning off those meds will help address the issue. Only do this under a vet’s supervision though, as cutting down on the medication too quickly can be life-threatening. Other treatments include close monitoring of the condition, medication or surgery.

What can you expect during treatment of Cushing’s Disease? You need to know that treatment will probably last your pet’s entire lifetime. You will also need to be on the lookout for negative effects of any medications, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulty walking

If you notice any of these medication side effects, talk to your veterinarian. They will likely take your dog off the meds, but only under their supervision. And since side effects are common, it’s generally advised to “under-treat” Cushing’s Disease in dogs rather than over-treat it. Lastly, expect many vet appointments. You’ll probably visit the vet several times a year to monitor the disease.