Cushing’s disease in dogs – How to spot it and how to treat it

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Has your dog been exhibiting any of the following: excessive hair loss on the body but not the head and legs, increased appetite and an increase in drinking along with an increase in urination, a pot-bellied appearance, its skin appears thinner, difficulty breathing, or your dog bruises easily?

If your pooch is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it might very well be that your dog is suffering from Cushing’s disease. If this is the case, you should take your four-legged friend to the veterinarian as soon as possible for a complete diagnosis.

What is Cushing’s disease? According to Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is the overproduction of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands that are located in the belly near the kidneys. Cortisol affects the function of many organs in the body, so the signs of Cushing’s disease may be varied.”*

Is there a specific age a dog can experience Cushing’s disease? Typically, signs of Cushing’s disease will appear when a dog is 6 years or older. However, it has been known to occur in younger dogs.

Where does Cushing’s disease occur? Pituitary-dependent and adrenal-dependent Cushing’s are the two forms of Cushing’s disease. The area most commonly affected is the pituitary gland (which is located in the brain). When it affects the pituitary gland, Cushing’s disease creates an overproduction of a hormone which then forces the pituitary gland to produce an excessive amount of cortisol. This form of Cushing’s disease is called adrenal-dependent Cushing’s. Adrenal-dependent Cushing’s is not as common and it occurs when a tumor forms in the adrenal glands.

How does Cushing’s disease affect a dog’s health? A dog’s immune system is compromised due to the overproduction of cortisol. Typically, your dog will develop a bacterial infection in its bladder.

How is Cushing’s disease diagnosed? If Cushing’s is suspected, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and a series of blood and urine tests. Indicators of Cushing’s are a high white blood cell count, an increase in a liver enzyme, an elevated blood sugar count, increase in cholesterol levels and evidence of dilution in the urine. In the case of adrenal-dependent Cushing’s, x-ray results will show an enlarged liver, or enlargement of one or both of the adrenal glands.

How is Cushing’s disease treated? Pituitary-dependent Cushing’s is treated by administrating oral medications throughout your dog’s lifespan. To date, Vetoryl is the only “FDA-approved animal drug that contains trilostane as the active ingredient.”**  Trilostane has been proven effective in the treatment of pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease.  Your veterinarian might also recommend lysodren, or ketoconazole . If your dog has adrenal-dependent Cushing’s surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland is the preferred method of treatment.

To sum it up: Cushing’s disease usually occurs in dogs 6 years or older. Symptoms include body hair loss, increased appetite, increased drinking, increase urination, a pot-bellied appearance, its skin appears thinner, difficulty breathing, or the dog bruises easily. Cushing’s disease occurs in two areas of a dog’s body. Pituitary-dependent Cushing’s causes the pituitary gland to produce an excessive amount of cortisol. A tumor in one or both of the adrenal glands causes adrenal-dependent Cushing’s. If a dog with Cushing’s is left untreated its immune system will be compromised and most likely will develop a bacterial infection in the bladder.  If the dog has the former, the recommend treatment is through oral medications such as Vetoryl. For adrenal-dependent Cushing’s the removal of the affected adrenal gland is the preferred method of treatment.

*Source: Cushing’s Disease. (2016, January 18) http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/ClientED/cushings.aspx#top  Accessed on 3/9/2016.

**Source: VETORYL (trilostane) Capsules – Veterinarian (2016, February 25) http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm182038.htm  Accessed on 3/10/2016

 

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