Battling Cushing's Disease in Dogs
Hi, My name is Cookie Doe.
It was just after Thanksgiving on year when our neighbor called to see if we needed another dog. "I found two of them living in the abandoned house next door," the neighbor told us. He and his wife take care of a large group of dogs and cats rescued from the roads where we live.
Cookie, who seemed to be about a year old, was malnourished to the extent that her whiskers no longer grew and her front legs were bowed. Our three dogs, each one a former stray, accepted her with welcoming paws.
Rescued from a Street Gang
Skin Conditions and Allergies
Throughout her life, Cookie has suffered chronic skin conditions. Different veterinarians diagnosed them differently, sometimes treating them as allergies, other times with antibiotics. Whatever the doctor has called the outbreaks, they continue to cause intense itching, chewing and licking to the point where bleeding sores developed on her body.
We bought the recommended expensive, canine allergy shampoo which was impractical during the cold winter, it only provided temporary relief. When her coat developed greasy looking areas of baldness seemingly overnight, the vet told us she had Microsporum gypseum, a form of contagious ringworm that can be transmitted to humans.
The Treat Zone
The three most common fungal species that may cause ringworm in dogs are Microsporum canis, Microsporum gypseum and Trichophyton mentagrophytes. These three species of ringworm are zoonotic, meaning they can also infect humans.— VCA Animal Hospitals
Why Vets Have Difficulty Diagnosing Skin Conditions
Over the years, our vets have treated Cookie's skin conditions, some of which are among the first signs of Cushing's Disease.
According to T. J. Dunn, DVM, on MyPetMD, veterinarians have a difficult time diagnosing skin conditions in dogs because there are a hundred-sixty (160) different types of skin disorders. The key to getting past the "Let's try these medications for a while" type of approach requires a substantial financial commitment and extensive testing to determine the root cause.
When itchy skin or pruritis results in excessive scratching, chewing and licking in dogs, finding out the exact reason may be hard to do. Hot spots are identified where one particular area of intense itching occurs. Pets often continually rub their faces on the carpet or other surfaces.
Finding out the exact cause of this requires a microscopic examination of the skin obtained by scraping an area with a razor blade to collect a specimen, then, sending it off for a variety of tests. Allergy testing may also be necessary to determine if the pet is allergic to certain substances, whether it's food related or environmental issues, like grass or pollen.
Even with extensive testing and blood work, removing some of these factors may be hard to do, for example, if the animal has grass allergies.
Cureable Skin Disorders
Poor quality diet, Allergies, Food Sensitivities
Overactive or underactive immune system
Fungal (ie. Ringworm)
Parasites, Fleas, Mites
Topical creams, Antibiotics
Traditional Medications for Cushing's in Dogs
Treating Skin Conditions
The treatment that worked best to combat her intense scratching and licking was corticosteroid injections every three to four months. The problem with this treatment is it may add to the onset of Cushing's Disease, which involves an overproduction of steroids in the body.
Bald patches in the fur, excessive licking, scratching and chewing are also symptoms of the disease, beyond a specific skin infection, fungus or parasite infestation. This is what may complicate the diagnoses.
There are three different types of this illness each caused by different things. To determine the specific type of tumor and treatment, CBC blood work and bi-weekly testing of the ACTH levels of the blood are needed. Sonograms of the abdomen and kidneys would also be necessary. This testing can become extremely expensive.
As Cookie's blood indicators rose over the years, our veterinarian suspected that she may have developed an adrenal dysfunction such as Cushing's. Before starting a specific treatment, he suggested we monitor her water intake taking note of how much she drank every day. At her advanced age, we didn't want to put her through either high-risk brain surgery or the chemotherapy type drugs that would have been prescribed should her tests prove positive for the disease.
What is Cushing's Disease? How is it Treated?
To combat Cushing's Disease in our dog, we first read online testimonials from a selection of five hundred stories from people whose dogs suffer these same symptoms: excessive thirst and hunger, unexplained anxiety, hair loss, frequency of urination, accidents in the house where none had happened in the past and severe itching and scratching.
After reading about how dogs responded to the natural medicine as opposed to traditional medicine including chemotherapy type drugs, we decided it was worth a try. Within a couple of weeks we noticed significant improvement in Cookie's behavior. She had reached the point of needing to go outside several times an hour. After beginning treatment, she was able to wait a couple of hours between visits. After finishing two bottles, each one lasts about a month, she's able to sleep through the night most of the time. She's on her third bottle now.
Her symptoms have not completely gone, nor is this a cure for the disease. There is no guaranteed cure even with high risk surgery to remove the benign or malignant tumor on either the pituitary gland or the adrenal glands. The side effects of standard prescribed medications are reportedly difficult on the animal. The ACTH levels in the blood require continual monitoring (every two weeks) which can get very expensive as well as invasive.
We weren't sure the product was working until we ran out for a few days and within that time frame, her skin took on a reddish appearance, her fur started to fall out in spots and her thirst became even more excessive than before. Her continual panting, listlessness and excessive appetite returned and her discomfort was obvious. When we resumed treatment, all these indications reduced in intensity, including the urination frequency.
The product, Adrenal Harmony Gold, is manufactured by Pet Wellbeing company and is given in the dog's food twice daily as liquid drops. It's made from a variety of herbal ingredients including Ashwaganda root, Holy basil leaf, fresh Tumeric rhizome and other herbs and roots including Milk Thistle. She seems to enjoy the taste and licks the drops left in her bowl after eating her kibble.
We told our veterinarian and he looked for more information for another dog with the same symptoms. His homeopathic vet friends told him the remedy actually does provide benefits. Unfortunately, they said the improvement drops off after about a year of use.
At nearly fifteen years old, we can only hope for more time with our beloved Cookie who now requires continuous company to avoid anxiety attacks and a bit of support to steady her on her walks.
Cushing's Syndrome in Humans
- My pet MD.com
- ASPCA https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/skin-problems
- Healthy Pets, Dr. Mercola, http://healthypets.mercola.com/
- VCA Animal Hospitals, http://www.vcahospitals.com/main/pet-health-information/article/animal-health/ringworm-in-dogs/922
- Pet Education dot com, Drs. Foster and Smith
© 2015 Peg Cole