Most commonly found in dogs that are eight years and older, Cushing’s disease is a condition that affects your aging pet’s pituitary and adrenal glands. Unfortunately, the symptoms are sometimes mistaken for regular signs of aging—but they can have much worse consequences.
Located at the base of your dog’s brain, the pituitary gland releases the adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and communicates with the two adrenal glands positioned in front of the kidneys. Working in tandem, the pituitary and adrenal glands are responsible for the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cushing’s disease (CD) develops when a problem is present and excess cortisol is released from your dog’s adrenal cortex.
There are three types of CD that are found in dogs. Pituitary-dependent CD, the most common form of the disease, occurs when a tumor grows on a dog’s pituitary gland. If a tumor grows on one of the adrenal glands in the adrenal cortex, the dog is suffering from adrenal-dependent CD.
Although the disease is usually a naturally occurring condition, a third type of medication-induced CD, called iatrogenic Cushing’s disease, could also develop when a pet has been receiving high doses of steroids for an extended period of time. While steroids are often used by veterinarians to treat allergic reactions, inflammatory issues and immune diseases, reducing the dosage or administering them less frequently will usually eliminate this form of the disease.
Symptoms of Cushing’s disease
The symptoms of CD are usually the same, regardless of the type of the disease your dog succumbs to. Unfortunately, because many of CD’s symptoms mirror the common signs of aging, it can be difficult to tell that your dog is suffering from the condition right away.
However, if you are well-acquainted with your pet’s normal activities and behaviors, you should be able to detect some of the early indicators that something more serious is wrong. Here are the three most common CD signs owners should pick up on:
- Increased urination: Because of the increase of the hormone cortisol, your furry friend will likely be hungrier and thirstier than usual. As a result, they will need to urinate more often. If your housebroken dog is having more accidents around your home or has suddenly developed a persistent need to go outside to urinate during the middle of the night, CD may be the cause. Recurring urinary tract infections are also common in dogs with CD.
- Change in activity level: You may also notice a lack of energy, and your pet may no longer have the desire to engage in their favorite activities throughout the day. When your dog slows down and exercises less, they could begin to lose muscle mass and may become overweight as a result.
- Physical changes: Visible changes in your dog’s appearance may also indicate that something is wrong. If your pup’s fur and skin seem to be thinning, or you have noticed recently formed lesions and or frequent skin infections, be sure to get them to the veterinarian right away for an examination.
Treating Cushing’s disease in pups
Although it may be difficult to figure out just what your dog is battling from home, your vet will be able to run urine and blood tests to determine if your dog has CD, and which form they may have. If CD is detected based on the vet’s preliminary analysis, additional tests will be conducted. Ultrasounds can also be used to confirm if a tumor is present and where it is located.
The best course of treatment will be based on the type of CD your dog has. While tumors in the pituitary gland are often benign and can be removed surgically, many dogs are first treated with Trilostane, which methodically deteriorates a portion of the adrenal complex to keep cortisol levels normal. Although your pet may need to continue taking the medication for the rest of their life to keep the condition under control, they should be able to live a normal, happy life once you begin the treatment plan.
The more aggressive form of the disease, adrenal-dependent CD, often requires surgery for tumor removal, as about half of these tumors are malignant and can spread quickly. Unfortunately, the surgery is complex, and if the tumor has begun to metastasize, it is unlikely to be curative. The same medications administered to dogs with pituitary-dependent CD are used to treat adrenal-dependent CD if surgery is no longer an option.
Adrenal-supporting supplements may also be used—on their own or in tandem with conventional treatments—to support your pup’s health. Be sure to speak with your vet if your dog is on medication for CD, first, though.
No dog lover wants to watch their pet suffer. Thankfully, with a little proactive action and daily monitoring of your pup’s condition, your family’s best friend will still be able to enjoy a happy, healthy and active life.