Canine Cushings FAQ

Canine Cushings is a condition that is caused by an excessive production of corticosteroids or cortisol. The adrenal gland produces these hormones. If you suspect that your pet has Cushing’s disease, you should find out more about this condition.

What Is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s disease also known as hyperadrenocorticism or pituitary dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH) and is a condition when the dog’s body produces too many corticosteroids or cortisol, hormones produced by the adrenal glands in the body.

Cushing’s syndrome occurs in 15% of hyperadrenocorticism and has different causes than the Cushing’s disease. Also, in the case of Cushing’s only cortisol is produced in excess.

There is a non spontaneous type of Cushing’s disease known as the Iatrogenic Cushing’s.

What Are the Causes of Cushing’s?

The cause of Cushing’s syndrome is a tumor that is located on the adrenal gland; this will lead to an excess of cortisol.

Cushing’s disease occurs in the majority cases of hyperadrenocorticism and is caused by a tumor that grows on the pituitary gland; the tumor will cause an excessive production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone is in charge with the stimulation of corticosteroid production; an excess of adrenocorticotropic hormones leads to an excess of corticosteroids.

The Iatrogenic Cushing’s occurs due to an overdose of corticosteroids such as prednisone or prednisolone.

What Are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of Cushing’s will include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Increased appetite followed by weight gain
  • Enlarged abdominal cavity
  • Weakness in the back legs muscles resulting in the difficulty to move or perform certain actions
  • Hair falling out (alopecia)
  • Thinning skin
  • Hyperpigmentation of the skin
  • Skin lumps, often calcified
  • Chronic infections (skin infections, urinary tract infections or staph infections)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Lethargy
  • Panting
  • More sleep hours during day, more activity during nighttime
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest in playing and activities

How Is Cushing’s Diagnosed?

The diagnostics of Cushing’s disease involves a complete blood test which will reveal a high level of white blood cells, elevated liver enzymes and high cholesterol.

A dexamethasone test may also be performed to measure the levels of cortisol.

The ACTH stimulation test may show conclusive results in pets affected by Cushing’s.

A urine test will reveal an unusual cortisol and creatinine ratio.

How Is Cushing’s Treated?

Cushing’s disease may be treated with drugs; the vet must establish whether the disease is caused by an excess of cortisol or corticosteroids. However, in both cases, the vet may prescribe Lysodren. This drug affects the adrenal cortices (the external part of the adrenal glands) and will also control the activity of the pituitary glands.

The drug must be dosed according to the dog’s weight and the severity of the disease.

The tests indicating the cortisol and corticosteroids must be repeated twice per month to establish if the medication is effective. Once the levels of cortisol or corticosteroids are normal, the vet will recommend a maintenance therapy (drugs administered twice per week).