Recognizing Signs of Cushing's Disease in Dogs

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Cushing's disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is caused by the presence of too much of the hormone cortisol or less commonly other hormones circulating throughout your dog's body. Cortisol is primarily produced by the adrenal glands. Overproduction of cortisol most typically occurs when a tumor in the pituitary gland over stimulates the adrenal glands or by a hormone-secreting tumor within an adrenal gland itself.

In some cases, the overuse of corticosteroid drugs can also lead to Cushing's disease. Middle-aged to older dogs are most frequently diagnosed with hyperadrenocorticism. This condition is the opposite of Addison's disease, or hypoadrenocorticism.

"If you think your dog has Cushing's disease, take him to the veterinarian."

The Signs of Cushing's Disease

Cortisol is a stress hormone. It is very useful during short periods of high stress, but when the body is constantly bathed in cortisol, problems start to develop. Typical symptoms of Cushing's disease include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Poor coat quality
  • Skin problems
  • Recurrent infections
  • Panting
  • Muscle weakness
  • A pot-bellied appearance

Cushing's Disease Veterinary and Home Care

If you think your dog has Cushing's disease, take him to the veterinarian. Routine blood work and urine testing may support the diagnosis and help rule out other diseases that cause similar symptoms, but one or more specific laboratory tests (e.g., an ACTH stimulation test or low dose dexamethasone suppression test) and possibly an abdominal ultrasound will have to be run to reach a definitive diagnosis and to determine what the underlying cause of the disorder is.


If an adrenal tumor is to blame, surgically removing the affected adrenal gland may be possible, which effectively cures a dog of the disease. The pituitary gland is surrounded by the brain, which makes removing or destroying tumors in this area more challenging. Therefore, dogs with the pituitary form of the disease are usually treated with one of several different pet medications like Anipryl (selegiline) or drug combinations that suppress adrenal function. Life-long therapy is necessary in these cases, and dogs must be closely monitored for potential side effects of treatment.

If a dog being treated with corticosteroids develops the symptoms of Cushing's disease, he will need to be slowly tapered off of these medications.

Hyperadrenocorticism is a potentially fatal disease, but with appropriate treatment, many affected dogs can go on to live long and happy lives.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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