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Does Your Dog Have Cushing’s Disease?

senior poodle

Have you noticed your older dog going to their water dish more frequently, and needing to go outside for potty breaks more often?  Are they also losing hair or panting a lot? 

There are a few medical reasons this could be going on, one of which is Cushing’s Disease, also called hyperadrenocorticism. 

When your dog has Cushing’s Disease, their body is producing abnormally high amounts of a substance called cortisol, which is a stress hormone. There are many ways to help care for your dog with Cushing’s Disease, and help them to live a happier, more comfortable life.

What Causes Cushing’s Disease in Dogs?

Cushing’s Disease is most often caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, or occasionally on one of the adrenal glands. 

The adrenal glands produce cortisol, and the pituitary gland produces a substance that tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This hormone helps your dog’s body regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels and stress responses, as well as fight inflammation. 

An issue with either of these glands, like a tumor, can disrupt your dog’s normal cortisol levels, leading to issues in other areas of your dog’s body. 

Cushing’s can also be triggered by your dog having long-term treatment with steroid medications.

Cushing’s is most common in middle-aged and older dogs, but there are breeds that seem to be more susceptible.  These include:

  • Poodles
  • Dachshunds
  • Boxers
  • Boston Terriers
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Staffordshire Terriers

Despite these breeds being more susceptible, it can occur in any breed.

Senior Boston Terrier

Diagnosing Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

If your vet suspects your dog may have Cushing’s Disease, there are different diagnostic tests they will recommend. 

They will likely first do a physical exam, complete blood panel, and urinalysis to rule out another condition that could be causing your dog’s symptoms.  If those results are normal, there are more specific tests to check for Cushing’s.  

The first is called a Low Dose Dexamethasone Suppression test.  With this test, your dog’s blood sample will be drawn, then your vet will give them an injection of a steroid called dexamethasone. After a few hours, another blood sample will be drawn. 

A normal result will show cortisol levels dropping because the steroid suppresses production of it.

A second test that’s often used is called an ACTH stimulation test. ACTH is the substance mentioned earlier that lets the adrenal glands know to release cortisol.  

As with the LDDS, your dog will have a preliminary blood sample taken.  They’ll then be given an injection of synthetic ACTH, wait a period of time, and have a second blood sample taken. 

If your dog has Cushing’s, the result of the second sample should show a significant increase in cortisol levels.

bloodwork being taken

Treatment Options for Dogs with Cushing’s Disease

If your dog is diagnosed with Cushing’s, there are treatments that can help manage it. 

Your vet might recommend an ultrasound before starting treatment to see where the problem-causing tumor is located.  Adrenal tumors are uncommon but can sometimes be surgically removed. Radiation treatment for tumors may be an option also.

If long-term steroids are the reason for the illness, your vet can help you reduce the dose and hopefully resolve the problem.

Medication is the most often used treatment for Cushing’s Disease. Trilostane, or Vetoryl, is a commonly used medication, as it has fewer side effects than the medication Mitotane (Lysodren).  

While on medication, your pup will need periodic checkups and bloodwork to make sure the treatment is working as it should.


What to Do if Your Dog Has Cushing’s Disease

If you suspect that your dog may have Cushing’s Disease, it’s important to contact your veterinarian right away. 

While an in-person vet can perform the necessary blood diagnostic tests, a virtual vet appointment can help answer your questions and offer next steps for your dog. 

Book an appointment today to get expert advice from a licensed veterinarian on your schedule.

If you’re consistent with medication, watch for symptoms, and work with your veterinarian on monitoring this condition, Cushing’s Disease can be managed and keep your dog (and you) happier.

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