Canine Cushings Disease Symptoms

Canine Cushings disease (hyperadrenocorticism) occurs when a dog's body produces too much glucocorticoid. ACTH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. This hormone tells the adrenal glands to produce glucocorticoid (a natural blood cortisol), which helps to metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats. If there is a problem with either the pituitary or adrenal gland, too much glucocorticoid is produced. The body is overwhelmed with cortisol, impacting blood sugar levels and other metabolic processes.

Up to ninety percent of cases of Cushing's syndrome occur as a result of a benign pituitary tumor and it is most likely to occur in mid-life. Untreated, it can cause more serious neurological disorders, diabetes and heart or liver failure.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to the condition:

  • Miniature Poodles
  • Dachshunds
  • Boxer
  • Boston Terriers
  • Beagles

Symptoms of Canine Cushings Disease

  • In the dog, Cushing's disease starts gradually. You may notice panting and increased water consumption. Your dog will begin to urinate more frequently.
  • As the condition progresses, your dog may develop a pot-bellied appearance. Her appetite will increase significantly and she may gain weight.
  • Other signs of Cushing's disease include hair loss, thinning of the skin, bruising and heat intolerance.

Diagnosing Cushings Disease in Dogs

Laboratory tests are required for an accurate diagnosis but Cushing's disease can be difficult to diagnose-several other diseases may cause a false-positive result. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, however, further tests will be conducted to determine the cause. Both the pituitary and the adrenal glands will be evaluated using x-rays, CT scans and MRIs.

Cushings Disease Treatment

In most cases, a small, benign tumor on the pituitary gland is the cause of Cushing's. In the less likely event of an adrenal gland tumor, surgery may be indicated. In rare cases, radiation treatments targeting the pituitary gland may be used.

Mitotane is a drug that causes the adrenal glands to produce less cortisol. Your dog will need to be monitored for cortisol levels while on this drug; signs that cortisol levels have decreased too much include reduced appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.

Other drugs such as Lysodren, Trilostane, Ketoconazole and L-deprenyl (Anipryl) are all used to treat Cushing's disease. These drugs require careful monitoring and lifelong use.

Cushings Disease Diet

Many commercial pet foods contain ingredients that irritate your dog's digestive system and promote allergic reactions. In response, your dog's body produces excess cortisol-the stress hormone. Increasing cortisol levels may cause metabolic imbalances.

  • When shopping for dog food, read label ingredients carefully. Choose a brand that lists a high-quality protein as its first ingredient.
  • Avoid foods that contain corn, soy and wheat which are common allergens.
  • Dogs with Cushing's may have blood sugar regulation problems so limit grain (carbohydrate) intake.
  • Avoid foods that are preserved with chemicals such as as Ethoxyquin, Propyl gallate, BHA or BHT. Choose foods that are preserved with Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) or Vitamin C instead.
  • Avoid foods that are high in purines such as beef liver and kidneys.

Because Cushings disease may be accompanied by other medical conditions, you should work with your veterinarian to determine the best combination of food, medications and supplements for your dog.