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Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Cushing's disease in dogs can pose a serious threat to your pooch's health and longevity. Here, our Los Angeles County vets list the causes of this serious condition, in addition to the complications that can arise and potential treatment options. 

What Causes Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

Does your dog have a tumor in their pituitary gland? This can cause an excessive concentration of cortisone in the body, leading to Dependent Cushing's disease or Hyperadrenocorticism. With this serious condition, your dog may be at risk for several other serious conditions and illnesses that require the care of a vet well-versed in internal medicine. 

What are Some Common Complications of Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

Dog's with Cushing's disease are at increased risk for diabetes, blood clots, high blood pressure and kidney damage. 

Does Cushing's Cause Breathing Problems in Dogs?

The lungs can become blocked by blood clots. This condition is called thromboembolism, and it can cause your dog to have difficulty breathing. Dogs with Cushing's disease face an increased risk of developing this condition and suffering from life-threatening issues with their lungs and heart. 

Symptoms & Complications of Cushing’s Disease

Because symptoms of Cushing's tend to be somewhat vague, it's imperative to visit your vet right away if you notice any, since numerous complications can arise. If your dog is suffering from Cushing's, they may exhibit any of the following symptoms:

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

How is Cushing's Disease Diagnosed in Dogs?

Blood tests are used to diagnose Cushing's disease. Specifically, these tests may include but are not limited to a urine culture, urinalysis, adrenal function tests (low-dose and high-dose dexamethasone suppression test, and potentially ACTH stimulation test), a complete blood panel and full chemistry panel. 

At Animal Hospital of Redondo Beach, our vets are experienced in diagnosing and treating dogs for a wide range of veterinary internal medicine conditions. We leverage state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods to identify and manage these issues. If required, we can also refer you to an internal medicine veterinarian near Los Angeles County. 

These tests are paired with physical exams to check for signs of the disease to help your vet make a diagnosis. Remember that adrenal function tests may result in false positives when another disease with similar clinical signs is present. 

Though an ultrasound may help diagnose Cushing’s disease, it’s more valuable in helping to rule out other conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms. Other diseases that may cause similar symptoms include tumors in the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease.

An ultrasound may not be able to detect adrenal enlargement, since patient movement or interference due to gas in the overlying intestine can influence test results. Most vets prefer magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - an effective but expensive diagnostic imaging procedure that allows your vet to assess your dog’s adrenal glands.

What are the Medications for Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

There are two main drugs that can be used to treat your pup's Cushing’s disease. A form of the insecticide DDT (drug names include Lysodren® and mitotane) can destroy the cells that produce cortisone in the adrenal glands. Also, medications such as trilostane help decrease the amount of cortisone that the adrenal glands produce. This accomplishes this goal by inhibiting specific steps in the cortisone production process. Both trilostane and mitotane can effectively treat and control the signs of Cushing’s disease.

Discuss which may be the most effective treatment for your dog, and follow your vet's instructions diligently. After the induction phase with mitotane, you will need to bring your dog to our clinic for an ACTH stimulation test, which “stimulates” the adrenal gland. This test can be done on an outpatient basis to help your vet determine the starting point for a mitotane maintenance dose. If the mitotane is working, the adrenal gland will not overreact to the stimulation.

Though you won’t need an induction phase for trilostane, dogs often require small adjustments to trilostane doses early in treatment. Over their lifetime, routine monitoring of blood tests may indicate that other adjustments need to be made. How well clinical symptoms of Cushing’s disease can be controlled can also mean changes are required.

No matter which medication your vet feels is best for your pooch, your dog will likely be on it for the long term and may require periodic adjustments in doses. He or she will need to come in for ACTH stimulation tests as often as monthly until we can control the excessive production of cortisone. Regular testing will be needed.

Could My Dog Have Adverse Reactions to Treatment for Cushing's?

Symptoms related to Cushing’s disease can be minimized with diligent observation and long-term management. When provided in the proper dosage, medication for Cushing’s disease can prove very effective in treating the condition. However, the wrong dose can cause 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 medication costs and the need for frequent blood monitoring can make Cushing’s disease expensive to manage, diligent follow-up care and monitoring for adrenal function can make for 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. 

Is your dog exhibiting symptoms of Cushing's disease? Contact our Los Angeles County veterinary hospital today to book an appointment. We can help your pet feel better. 

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