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What is Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

Cushing's disease is a serious threat to the overall health and lifespan of your dog. In today's blog, our Douglasville veterinary team discusses the causes of this serious condition, as well as potential complications and treatments.

Hyperadrenocorticism - Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Dependent Cushing's disease, also known as Hyperadrenocorticism, is caused by an overabundance of cortisol in your dog's body as a result of a pituitary gland tumor. This serious condition puts your dog at risk for several illnesses and conditions, including kidney damage and diabetes.

Symptoms & Complications of Cushing’s Disease

Because the symptoms of Cushing's disease are frequently ambiguous, it is critical to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any of them. In dogs, Cushing's disease increases the risk of kidney disease, hypertension, blood clots, and diabetes. If your dog has Cushing's disease, he or she may exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • Hair loss
  • Excessive thirst or drinking
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Muscle weakness
  • Potbelly
  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Increased appetite

Diagnosing Dogs with Cushing's Disease

To diagnose Cushing's disease, your veterinarian will only be able to use blood tests. A urinalysis, urine culture, adrenal function tests (low and high-dose dexamethasone suppression tests, as well as possibly an ACTH stimulation test), full chemistry panel, and complete blood panel are some of the tests used to determine the cause of your dog's symptoms.

At Kay Animal Hospital in Douglasville, our vets are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of internal medicine conditions. We have access to state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods to identify and manage these issues.

These tests, when combined with a physical exam to look for signs of the disease, can assist your veterinarian in making a diagnosis. Keep in mind that adrenal function tests can be misleading if you have another disease with similar symptoms.

While ultrasound can help with the diagnosis of Cushing's disease, it is more useful in ruling out other conditions that may be causing your dog's symptoms. Cancers of the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, and chronic inflammatory liver disease can all cause similar symptoms.

An ultrasound may be unable to detect adrenal enlargement because patient movement or interference from gas in the overlying intestine can affect test results. The majority of veterinarians prefer magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a time-consuming but cost-effective diagnostic imaging procedure that allows your veterinarian to examine your dog's adrenal glands.

Treating Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Cushing's disease in dogs can be treated with two different medications. DDT (also known as Lysodren® and mitotane) is an insecticide that can kill cortisol-producing cells in the adrenal glands. Trilostane, for example, aids in the reduction of cortisol production by the adrenal glands. This is accomplished by inhibiting specific steps in the cortisol production process. Trilostane and mitotane are both effective in treating and controlling the symptoms of Cushing's disease.

Discuss which treatment option is best for your dog, and make sure to strictly adhere to your veterinarian's instructions.

After the mitotane induction phase, you must bring your dog to our clinic for an ACTH stimulation test, which "stimulates" the adrenal gland. This test can be performed as an outpatient procedure to help your veterinarian determine the appropriate starting dose for mitotane maintenance. If the mitotane is functioning properly, the adrenal gland will not overreact to stimulation.

Although there is no need for an induction phase with trilostane, dogs frequently require small dose adjustments early in treatment. Routine blood tests may reveal that they will need to make additional adjustments throughout their lives. Depending on how well clinical symptoms of Cushing's disease can be controlled, changes may be required.

Whatever medication your veterinarian prescribes for your dog, he or she will almost certainly be on it for a long time and may require dose adjustments regularly. Until we can control the excessive cortisol production, he or she will need to come in every month for ACTH stimulation tests. Testing will be required regularly.

Is Cushing's Disease in Dogs Fatal?

Cushing's disease symptoms can be reduced with close monitoring and long-term treatment. When given in the correct dosage, medication for Cushing's disease can be very effective in treating the condition. The incorrect dose, on the other hand, can cause mild to severe side effects.

With blood test monitoring, it’s unusual for adverse reactions to appear. But if they do, they may include:

  • Lethargy or depression
  • General weakness
  • Stomach upset (Gastrointestinal symptoms - diarrhea or vomiting)
  • Picky eating or decreased appetite

If you spot any of these symptoms, discontinue the medication and call your veterinarian right away.

While Cushing's disease can be expensive to manage due to medication costs and the need for frequent blood tests, diligent follow-up care and monitoring for adrenal function can result in a favorable prognosis.

Pets who do not receive adequate monitoring and follow-up often experience relapses and severe illness or death, as a result of 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.

If your dog is displaying severe signs of Cushing's disease contact us for more information and to schedule an immediate appointment.

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At Kay Animal Hospital, we can't wait to welcome you and your four-legged friend into our veterinary family. Learn more about the services we offer and the difference our care and compassion make by booking your first appointment today!

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