Feline Cushings Disease

Feline Cushings disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is characterized by the presence of a tumor on the pituitary or adrenal glands. Most cases of feline Cushings disease are due to pituitary tumors. While it is a rare disease in cats, and far more common in females when it occurs, Cushings disease can be life-threatening if left untreated. In most cases, surgery will be the most viable option for treatment.

What Causes Feline Cushings Disease?

The exact cause of the development of the tumors that cause Cushings disease is unclea.  Most often, a tumor presents itself on the pituitary gland at the base of the brain, which accounts for roughly 85% of all cases of Cushings disease. When a tumor attaches itself to the pituitary gland, an overproduction of the hormone cortisol is produced. Because the pituitary gland tells the adrenal gland how much cortisol to produce, the system is broken down in the case of a tumor. Likewise, if the tumor is present on the adrenal gland, the overproduction of cortisol is uncontrolled because the tumor inhibits the ability of the adrenal gland to function properly.

Signs of Cushings Disease

Being proactive about noticing some of the symptoms associated with Cushings disease can help to save your cats life. While being a proactive cat owner is important, it is equally important to remember that not all cats will show signs. However, some of the signs to look for include:

  • Poor coat appearance
  • Increased thirst and appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Decreased muscle capability
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Weight gain

The most obvious sign may be a drastic change in the mood, activity and personality of your cat. Anything of that nature may be indicative of a problem.

Diagnosis of Cushings Disease

Because Cushings disease is a serious disease, a full set of diagnostic testing is crucial for an accurate diagnosis to be made. In most cases, cats with Cushings disease are also insulin-resistant, meaning that they are diabetic. That should always be a red flag in further exploring the possibility of Cushings disease. Some or any of the following tests may be performed:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays of the abdomen
  • CT scan of the abdomen
  • Urinalysis

Treatment of Cushings Disease

A medication called metyrapone can sometimes be given to cats in an attempt to treat Cushings disease. While it is a medication that cats respond more effectively to, it is not always able to cure Cushings disease. Because of that, surgery is sometimes the only effective option. Surgery will consist of the removal of one or both of the adrenal glands.

Because any surgery to the brain or adrenal glands is considered risky, it is best that the surgery be performed by a specialist who specializes in those types of operations. To ensure optimum care of your cat during this process, the specialist should be able to provide an environment that will entitle your cat to around the clock care during and after the surgery.

Because the adrenal glands have been removed, your cat will require medication indefinitely to replace the hormone production that can no longer occur naturally. Once your cat is home, follow-up laboratory testing is required to make sure that all systems are functioning properly. The good news is that, in most cases, surgery can cure your cat of Cushings disease.