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What is Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

Cushing's disease is a serious threat to your dog's overall health and lifespan. Our Fremont veterinary team explains the causes of this serious condition, as well as potential complications and treatments, in today's blog.

Hyperadrenocorticism - Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Dependent Cushing's disease, also known as Hyperadrenocorticism, is caused by an excess of cortisone in your dog's body due to a tumor in the pituitary gland. This serious condition can put your dog at risk for a variety of other illnesses and conditions, including kidney damage and diabetes.

Symptoms & Complications of Cushing’s Disease

Because the symptoms of Cushing's disease are often vague, it's critical to see your veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any of them. Cushing's disease increases the risk of kidney disease, high blood pressure, blood clots, and diabetes in dogs. If your dog has Cushing's disease, they may show any of the following signs:

  • Hair loss
  • Excessive thirst or drinking
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Muscle weakness
  • Potbelly
  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Increased appetite

Diagnosing Dogs with Cushing's Disease

Your vet will only be able to use blood tests to diagnose Cushing’s disease. A urinalysis, urine culture, adrenal function tests (low dose and high dose dexamethasone suppression test, and possibly ACTH stimulation test), full chemistry panel, and complete blood panel are some of the tests used to diagnose the cause of your dog's symptoms.

At Newark Pet Clinic in Fremont, our vets are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of internal medicine conditions. We have access to state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods to identify and manage these issues.

In combination with a physical exam to look for signs of the disease, these tests can help your vet arrive at a diagnosis. Keep in mind that adrenal function tests can give you a false positive if you have another disease with similar symptoms.

While ultrasound can aid in the diagnosis of Cushing's disease, it's more useful in ruling out other conditions that could be causing your dog's symptoms. Tumors of the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, and chronic inflammatory liver disease are all diseases that can cause similar symptoms.

Because patient movement or interference from gas in the overlying intestine can affect test results, an ultrasound may not be able to detect adrenal enlargement. The majority of veterinarians prefer magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a cost-effective but time-consuming diagnostic imaging procedure that allows your veterinarian to examine your dog's adrenal glands.

Treating Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Cushing's disease in your dog can be treated with two different drugs. The insecticide DDT (drug names include Lysodren® and mitotane) can kill the cells in the adrenal glands that produce cortisone. Trilostane, for example, helps reduce the amount of cortisone produced by the adrenal glands. Inhibiting specific steps in the cortisone production process accomplishes this goal. Trilostane and mitotane are both effective in treating and controlling Cushing's disease symptoms.

Discuss which treatment option is best for your dog, and make sure to follow your veterinarian's instructions to the letter.

You must bring your dog to our clinic after the mitotane induction phase for an ACTH stimulation test, which "stimulates" the adrenal gland. This test can be done as an outpatient to assist your veterinarian in determining the appropriate starting dose for mitotane maintenance. The adrenal gland will not overreact to stimulation if the mitotane is working properly.

Although trilostane does not require an induction phase, dogs often require small dose adjustments early in treatment. Routine blood tests may reveal that other adjustments are required throughout their lives. Changes may be required depending on how well clinical symptoms of Cushing's disease can be controlled.

Whatever medication your veterinarian recommends for your dog, he or she will most likely be on it for a long time and may require dose adjustments regularly. Until we can control the excessive production of cortisone, he or she will need to come in for ACTH stimulation tests every month. Testing will be required regularly.

Is Cushing's Disease in Dogs Fatal?

Cushing's disease symptoms can be reduced with careful observation and long-term management. Medication for Cushing's disease can be very effective in treating the condition when given in the correct dosage. The wrong dose, on the other hand, can result in mild or severe side effects.

With blood test monitoring, it’s unusual for adverse reactions to appear. But if they do, they may include:

  • Lethargy or depression
  • General weakness
  • Stomach upset (Gastrointestinal symptoms - diarrhea or vomiting)
  • Picky eating or decreased appetite

If you spot any of these symptoms, discontinue the medication and call your veterinarian right away.

While Cushing's disease can be costly to manage due to medication costs and the need for frequent blood tests, diligent follow-up care and monitoring for adrenal function can lead to a good prognosis.

Pets who do not receive adequate monitoring and follow-up often experience relapses and severe illness or death, as a result of complications.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog is displaying severe signs of Cushing's disease contact us for more information and to schedule an immediate appointment.

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Newark Pet Clinic is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Fremont companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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