Cushing’s Syndrome in Dogs

What is Cushing’s Syndrome?

If you’ve heard of Cushing’s Syndrome or Cushing’s Disease, you may be wondering just exactly what it is. Cushing’s Syndrome is a disease that can be found in both dogs and cats, even humans. It is more common in dogs than cats and has become a more increasingly popular disease dogs and their owners are facing today. 

Cushing’s Syndrome in dogs is when too much cortisol is being produced. Cortisol is responsible for several important functions within your dog’s body. It helps them respond to stress, fight off illness and infections, maintain blood sugar levels, and it also helps regulate their weight. 

That’s a lot of important functions that when not properly performing can really alter a dog’s overall health and lifestyle. Knowing what Cushing’s Syndrome is, how it’s diagnosed, and best treatments can help you get your dog the help he or she needs. 

Most Common Types of Cushing’s Syndrome Found in Dogs

The two major types of Cushing’s Syndrome that are typically found in dogs are caused by tumors pressing on one of two important glands within your dog’s body. A third type most commonly found in dogs is caused by the use of steroids over a long period of time. 

Pituitary Dependent Cushing’s Syndrome

The most common type of Cushing’s Syndrome found in dogs is when a tumor is present in the pituitary gland, which is found at the base of the brain. This is the trickiest of the three to treat as full removal of the tumor can prove difficult due to the location. 

Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s Syndrome

The other type of Cushing’s Syndrome that is usually found in dogs is when a tumor is found in the adrenal glands, which are located right above the kidneys. This variation is less common but can be fully treated if major abdominal surgery is a possibility.

If you’re wondering if your dog has Cushing’s Syndrome or if you already know they have it, this guide will help you understand the signs, diagnosis, and treatments to help ensure your pet maintains a healthy life. 

Common Symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome

While Cushing’s Syndrome is more commonly found in dogs that are six years of age or older, it doesn’t mean that it’s not possible for a younger pup to be diagnosed with the disease. It’s just less common. It’s also possible for your dog to slowly show symptoms over time, making it difficult to diagnose early on. Typical signs of Cushing’s Syndrome in dogs include:

  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Increased urination with accidents
  • Hair loss or slow growth
  • Swollen or enlarged abdomen 
  • Thinning skin and/or skin infections
  • Lethargy, lack of energy
  • Increased panting

It’s very important to note that while your dog may display these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean he/she has Cushing’s Syndrome as these can be signs of other possible issues affecting your dog. 

Diagnosing Cushing’s Syndrome in Dogs

If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose the cause as these symptoms are found in a variety of diseases and illnesses. Diagnosing Cushing’s Syndrome can be a little tricky and usually starts by your vet ruling out other potential diseases and illnesses that share the same symptoms. A series of tests may include taking a sample of their urine, drawing blood, and possibly even taking an MRI to observe adrenal gland function. 

It’s important that you take note of all of your dog’s unusual or new behaviors, including any of the symptoms listed above. Sharing as much information with your dog’s vet as possible can help them make a quicker and more accurate diagnosis. 

Treating Cushing’s Syndrome in Dogs

After your vet has run the appropriate tests to diagnose your dog with Cushing’s Syndrome, treatment is necessary. If left untreated, it can be fatal. Treatment usually consists of medications, radiation, and in some cases surgery. 

If your dog’s Cushing’s Syndrome is caused by a Pituitary tumor, surgery is typically not an option due to the gland’s location at the base of the brain. Usually your vet will describe medication to help manage symptoms and may even recommend radiation to try to reduce the size of the tumor. 

If your dog suffers from Cushing’s Syndrome due to an Adrenal tumor, surgery is typically recommended to try to remove as much of the tumor as possible. If the tumor is non-cancerous and is able to be fully removed, your dog may be able to return to a healthier state without the use of lifelong medications. 

The best way to treat Cushing’s Syndrome as a result of steroid usage is to gradually wean off the steroid being used. An alternative treatment plan will need to be provided by your vet that doesn’t involve steroid usage going forward.

While Cushing’s Syndrome can sound a little terrifying between the symptoms and treatment options, many dogs are able to fully recover and manage their symptoms with guidance and an effective treatment plan provided by a qualified vet.

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