Cushings Disease in Dogs

Veterinarion with DogCushings disease is the third most common disease and the most common hormone related disease in dogs.  It is the result of excess Cortisol in the animal’s body.

Cortisol, or hydrocortisone as it is known scientifically, is a steroid hormone that the body uses to deal with stress.  Cortisol stimulates the production of gluconeogenesis which protects against stress and inflammation.  However, when excess amounts of Cortisol are produced by the body over time, it can cause problems such as Cushings Disease.

While Cushings disease can be caused by the natural over-production of Cortisol in the adrenal glands, it can also be caused by long-term use of Cortisol based medicines.  These are sometimes prescribed to deal with other diseases in dogs.

By far the majority of dogs diagnosed with Cushings disease result from the over-production of Cortisol in the adrenal glands where the source of the problem is found in the pituitary gland (a gland at the base of the brain bout the size of a pea).  The pituitary gland plays a role in managing the adrenal glands, typically by sending hormones which stimulate the adrenal glands to produce excess Cortisol.

A much smaller percentage of dogs produce excess Cortisol due to tumors in the adrenal glands which can result in the over-production of Cortisol.

The condition can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system which can then lead to other conditions if not managed carefully.

Symptoms of Cushings Disease in Dogs

It is most commonly found in middle aged to older dogs.  Some breeds seem to be more susceptible.  These include:

  • Poodles,
  • Boxers,
  • Daschunds,
  • Beagles, and
  • Boston Terriers.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Excessive thirst – dogs with Cushings disease tend to drink a lot of water,
  • Excess urination – sometimes it’s first noticed when they begin urinating indoors,
  • Hair loss and bald patches – these begin to appear on the dog’s coat, and
  • Panting – inability to cope with hotter days and this can be seen in the abnormal amount of panting.

hair loss due to cushings disease in dogs daschund with extended stomach poodle with big stomach and loss of fur

Sometimes the dogs behaviour changes.  They might be lethargic and less friendly than usual towards people.

Treatment Options

Cushings disease is a long term condition and unless cured through surgery, will require on-going treatment.  Dogs can live a long and happy life if they are monitored and treated regularly.

Surgery is not common for treating the majority of dogs; i.e. those effected by pituitary gland problems.   This is because surgery is complicated and risky.  In most of these cases the condition is treated with medicines.

The only way to cure Cushings disease in the adrenal glands is by surgically removing the tumor.  Success depends to some extent on how much the tumor has spread.

A more recent and less invasive approach is to treat dogs with photonic therapy; similar to acupuncture except that a special red light is used to stimulate acupuncture points rather than using needles.  Pioneered by a leading Veterinary Surgeon in Australia about 20 years ago, this approach is gaining attention because it can be administered by the dog owner at home and there’s no cost (after a kit is bought).  It’s also a natural therapy with no side-effects.  You can learn more about photonic therapy on this web site.

One of the negative aspects of medicating is the long-term side effects that may occur.  Consult your Vet to understand the side-effects of any medication prescribed.

Long Term Prognosis

There’s no reason why your dog can’t life a long and happy life with Cushing’s disease.  It’s important to monitor the condition and keep up the treatment.

As Cushings disease can affect the immune system, it pays to be vigilant for signs of other conditions.

You can care for your dog by making sure it doesn’t get too hot, making sure there’s a ready supply of water and maintain a healthy diet and exercise.