Cushings Disease In Dogs
Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

'Cushings disease in dogs is quite common, but do you know what to look for in your middle age or older dog? This article will teach you what you need to know in order to help become a strong advocate for your beloved dog.

Two Forms Of Cushings

Cushing's disease in dogs can be exhibited in two forms. The first is pituitary dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH) and the second is adrenal-based hyperadrenocorticism.

It is very important you know both in order to become aware of certain changes in your dogs behavior. . . such as:

  • Eating and scavenging for anything to eat
  • Excessive water drinking
  • Changes in skin and fur, and
  • Frequent urination (especially in the house)

80% of dogs with Cushing's will go to extremes in hunting for any types of food to eat.

For example, one case involved a Cocker Spaniel that jumped up on the kitchen counter and pulled down a loaf of sourdough walnut raisin bread to the floor and ate the whole thing.

Walnuts and raisins are both poisonous to dogs. His owners noticed the dog drooling and the extended belly and immediately phoned their vet.

This Cocker Spaniel ended up at an emergency pet hospital where he was put on IV fluids for 48 hours to flush out the toxins. He survived due to the owners' quick action and their vet's expertise in treating dogs with Cushing's. The dog went on to live to the age of 14.

Cushing's disease is non-discriminatory as it affects male and female dogs. And, unfortunately, there are no preventative measures you can take to keep your dog from getting Cushings.

Causes of Cushings Disease In Dogs

What are the causes of Cushing's disease?

Cushings is a very complicated disease with older, geriatric dogs. There is an excess level of cortisone being produced in the elder dog's body and three reasons can be the cause:

  • 1. Pituitary gland tumor, the most common cause. The tumor causes an overproduction of ACTH or adrenocorticotropic hormone which will stimulate the adrenal cortex causing more production of cortisol. These tumors are benign but cause big problems. Below picture shows approximate location of the pituitary gland (large black dot).

Illustrations of two dog portraits
drawing of arrow pointing to the left
  • 2. Adrenal gland tumors are less common than the pituitary gland tumor. The adrenal gland tumor is located in (one or both of) the two small adrenal glands in front of the kidneys. The hormone located here regulates water balance and electrolytes. The cause of tumors in this area can be due to injury, infection, or autoimmune deficiencies.
illustration of dog showing location of  adrenal gland
  • 3. Medication-caused Cushing's. Allergy medications can cause Cushing's disease in dogs and this condition can be fully reversed. The dog will be prescribed steroid medication that will be tapered off. Recovery should take a few months. Diagnosis by your vet should be arranged if your dog is experiencing any of the symptoms discussed.

Important Diagnostic Tests

While your vet will no doubt want to run several diagnostic tests, here are some very important ones to bring up for discussion during your visit with him/her:

  • A complete blood count (CBC)
  • Urinalysis and bacterial culture of urine
  • Urine cortisol-creatinine ratio
  • Abdominal ultrasound exam and xrays
  • MRI of the brain
  • ACTH stimulation test

Cushing's Symptoms

Learn the following symptoms of Cushings disease in dogs, but also be aware that your dog might only show one or two of these signs:

  • Extreme water consumption followed with excessive urination (in the house as well as outside).
  • Appetite is severely increased raids garbage in the house or out; pulls foods down off kitchen counters.
  • Pot belly appearance (abdominal enlargement)
  • Sores or lesions developing on body - take note if your dog requires frequent grooming.
  • Hair loss or thin skin.

Talk to Your Vet About Treatment

Cushing's disease in dogs, if not treated properly can cause:

  • Diabetes
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Pancreatitis
  • Eye infections
  • Ear infections
  • and/or Heart disease.

Once you discover your dog has the disease, talk to your vet about a plan of treatment.

Conventional treatment by your vet will likely involve Lysodren which limits the glands ability to produce excess cortisol. Make sure you put on gloves when touching the Lysodren to avoid absorption through the skin.

You may even wish to consult with a Homeopathic Veterinarian to consider this approach. But, it may be prudent to note that homeopathic remedies should be used with caution as the debate continues on their dilution and effectiveness.

Diet For Cushing's Disease In Dogs

Managing a diet for Cushing's disease is another aspect of helping your dog. Work with your vet on diet suggestions. But stay away from commercial dog foods because they contain too many preservatives.

One diet you can use could be raw chicken with cooked white rice. Or, you can boil the chicken and mix with the cooked rice. You can also add cooked carrots. The Cocker Spaniel referred to in the beginning of this article was placed on a high protein, rice diet for his remaining years.

Conventional drug treatments work for Cushing's disease in dogs when regulated by your vet. Almost all of the negative side effects eventually disappear and your dog will return to good health.

Be An Informed Pet Parent

Lastly, the sooner dog owners recognize dog illnesses - especially serious ones like Cushing's - and implement treatment, the better chance their pet has of beating a disease and returning to good health.

I recommend all pet owners obtain a copy of Natural Health For Dogs and Cats by Dr. Richard Pitcairn, which is a top notch reference.

It includes information about numerous dog health issues and their treatment options, useful home remedies, plus advice about which dog illnesses need a prompt consultation with a pet professional.

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