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Cushing's Disease in Dogs - Causes, Complications, & Medications

Cushing's Disease in Dogs - Causes, Complications, & Medications

Cushing's disease can lead to severe health issues in dogs. In this article, our veterinarians in Babcock Ranch will talk about Cushing's disease in dogs, covering potential problems and the use of medication for treatment.

What Is Cushing's Disease?

Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a serious health condition where the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol (cortisone) in a dog's body. When dogs have excess cortisol, it can be life-threatening and put them at a higher risk for several severe illnesses and conditions, such as kidney damage and diabetes.

In many cases, Cushing's disease is due to a tumor in the pituitary gland, a small gland at the base of the brain. Sometimes, the tumor can be in the adrenal glands, which are on top of the kidneys.

Using steroids for an extended period can also lead to excess cortisol, known as iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome.

Signs of Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Here are the most common symptoms of Cushing's disease in dogs:

  • Lethargy
  • Panting
  • Excessive thirst or drinking
  • Increased appetite
  • Frequent urination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Enlarged abdomen (potbellied appearance)

Dogs with Cushing's disease will exhibit at least one of these symptoms; however, it's not common for dogs to develop all these symptoms.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, please get in touch with our veterinarians at Babcock Ranch or the nearest emergency animal hospital right away. Dogs with Cushing's disease are more likely to experience kidney problems, blood clots, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Diagnosing Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Your vet will perform a physical examination and conduct several diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your pup's symptoms and rule out other health issues. The tests can consist of, but are not limited to, urinalysis, urine culture, complete blood panel, and/or full chemistry panel.

Your vet may run adrenal function tests, testing adrenal low-dose and high-dose dexamethasone suppression. However, adrenal function tests could cause false positives when another disease with similar clinical symptoms is present.

An ultrasound could help rule out other problems that may be causing your dog's symptoms. Other diseases that can display similar signs include tumors in the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, and chronic inflammatory liver disease.

The most effective diagnostic testing for Cushing's disease is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which lets your vet assess your dog's adrenal glands. However, this testing method can be costly.

At Animal Hospital at Babcock, our vets are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of internal diseases and conditions. We have access to diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods that might be able to help identify and manage these problems.

Treatment for Dogs With Cushing's Disease?

Veterinarians often use medication to treat Cushing's disease. These medications help reduce the cortisone produced by the adrenal glands. The only way Cushing's disease can be treated is to remove the tumor. However, due to the complexity and risks of the surgery, most cases are treated with medication.

The treatment your vet chooses depends on the specific type of Cushing's disease your dog has.

Pituitary tumor. Treatment of pituitary-dependent Cushing's disease is the most complicated. Often, Two drugs, trilostane and mitotane, are used.

Adrenal tumor. Major abdominal surgery is usually needed to treat an adrenal-dependent Cushing's disease. If the entire tumor can be removed and isn't malignant, there is a good chance your dog will regain normal health.

Iatrogenic Cushing's disease. Treatment requires gradual discontinuation of the steroid, usually resulting in a recurrence of the disease that was being treated by the steroid.

After starting the medication treatments, your dog will need to see the vet regularly for ACTH stimulation tests until the excessive production of cortisone is controlled.

Over your pet's lifetime, routine monitoring of blood tests and medication adjustments need to be made.

The Fatality of Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Careful and consistent observation, along with ongoing management, can reduce the symptoms of Cushing's disease in dogs.

Most dogs can be successfully treated with few medication side effects. However, the wrong dose can result in mild or severe side effects. Therefore, your pup needs to be carefully monitored. Follow-up blood tests are also essential.

Dogs not properly monitored and given follow-up care often face relapses and can become seriously ill or even die due to complications.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog exhibiting signs of Cushing's disease? Contact our Babcock Ranch vets to book an appointment.

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Animal Hospital at Babcock is welcoming new patients. Our team provides compassionate care to you and your animal companions. Book your appointment today!


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