Cushing’s Disease In Dogs

cushings disease

Cushing’s Disease is also known as Hyperadrenocorticism. This illness causes an overproduction of cortin, a mixture of hormones. These hormones include cortisol and cortisone. The overproduction of these hormones causes a range of effects on the body that have both short term and lasting repercussions.

What Symptoms are Common?

A variety of symptoms are associated with the disease, although many pet owners do not recognize them as warning signs. Instead, these symptoms mimic the process of aging, making people believe their dog is simply getting older, and the problems are to be expected.

Symptoms include joint troubles, urinary incontinence, increased thirst, weight gain, and a sagging belly.

Are There Uncommon Symptoms?

Dogs with this disease may start to see a loss in muscle mass. They may appear bony and fragile. Some take to excessive panting and become lethargic and unable to move.

Calcium lumps may appear on the skin, and the coat may appear dry and dull. Some dogs may even experience hair loss, with balding spots and a difficulty to regrow new hair.

Others are more susceptible to infections and can develop a range of other problems, such as seizures, pancreatitis, and diabetes.

Another thing to look out for is the disappearance of previously had illnesses. If a dog once had trouble with allergies, or even arthritis, and now appears to be fine, it could be due to the excessive levels of cortisone flowing through the body. It may cause other problems, but fix initial issues the dog was dealing with.

What Causes Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

Cushing’s disease is most often caused by a tumor beginning to grow on the pituitary gland. This gland is responsible for producing the Adrenocorticotropic hormone. This hormone then helps to regulate levels of cortisol. When both the hormone and the levels of cortisol are being overproduced, this wreaks havoc on the dog’s system.

A tumor on the adrenal gland can also cause the disease to take place.

Sometimes, the disease is brought on by the overuse of certain medications. Dogs with chronic allergies may be prescribed medication that overflows the dog’s body with glucocorticoid. It may help the allergy problem, but can cause turmoil for the adrenal gland.

Older dogs are the more common receivers of this disease. This is because they are more likely to require medication to cure allergy problems, and also have a higher likelihood of developing tumors, both of which are typical causes of Cushing’s. The average dog with Cushing’s is 10 years old.

Certain dog breeds are more likely to develop the disease. It is also easier for smaller dogs to get it. These breeds include the poodle, beagle, terriers, and dachshunds.

Is Cushing's Disease Contagious?

Cushing’s Disease is caused by internal imbalances of hormones, often because of a tumor sitting on a gland that is important for regulation of hormones within the body. This means the disease only plagues those with these increased hormone levels or tumors. It is not something that is contagious and can be passed to others.

What is the Diagnosis?

Due to the fact that there are so many varying symptoms that may be exhibited, diagnostic testing is necessary to determine if Cushing’s is in fact the culprit.

Blood work is typically needed to determine levels of glucose. It can also be checked for liver enzymes and cholesterol.

A urine analysis is another common option. This will check for high protein levels.

It is also wise to perform an x-ray to determine if the liver is enlarged, or if glands are bigger or smaller than average. It will also show any signs of tumors that are present, which one of the main causes of Cushing’s in the first place.

A Urine Cortisol/Creatinine Ratio Test will help those looking to rule out Cushing’s. This test evaluates the ratio between cortisol levels in the urine, and creatinine levels. Higher levels of cortisol found in the urine are often indicative of high levels within the blood.

What is the Prognosis?

Dogs with Cushing’s can be treated. Many believe that their dogs are aging and have little time left, while in reality they are just plagued with this disease. Once treatment begins, a dog’s coat, skin, and joints will start to improve. The dog’s life will not necessary be prolonged, however, as dogs suffering from this disease are usually already in their old age. It will improve the dog’s overall quality of life though.

How is Cushing's Disease Treated?

Tumors are the main culprit of many Cushing’s cases. Having surgery to remove this tumor is one of the main ways to treat the symptoms of the disease. Oftentimes, the tumor is small enough to be removed safely. Other times though, the tumor has already grown and spread to other parts of the body. In these cases, surgery is not a safe option.

In other instances, chemotherapy may be the best solution. Lysodren therapy is one option, as well as Ketoconazole. Anipryl is yet another choice. Each helps to decrease the size of any tumor present, and reduce the amount of symptoms experienced.

Living with Cushing's Disease

Many dogs with Cushing’s Disease for years before it is ever discovered. Their overall quality of life significantly decreases, unable to control many functions of their body. With proper treatment, these symptoms can be reduced so a better quality of life is experienced.

Dogs with this disease can have it treated, but it usually does not go away entirely. Regular chemotherapy sessions may be needed, along with medication to control pain.

Prevention Suggestions

There is no true way to avoid Cushing’s Disease altogether. Tumors sometimes develop unexpectedly, at no fault to anyone.

Avoiding certain medications that are known to increase glucose levels and cortisone will help prevent this disease as much as possible. It is also important for owners to have their dogs seen by a veterinarian as soon as any signs are exhibited. While they may seem like simple signs of aging, they could be an underlying issue of something else.

Having the dog examined regularly will help to catch the onset of the disease so treatment options can be administered right away. This can prevent further symptoms and increased damage to the dog’s body and overall well being.