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Canine Cushing's Syndrome in Dogs

Updated on October 17, 2012

Canine Cushing's Syndrome in dogs is quite rare, but it's good as a dog lover to know the signs and symptoms of this life debilitating condition that can affect your dogs.

Cushing's Syndrome is more accurately known as hyperadrenocorticism, which is an over-production of the cortisteroid hormones by the adrenal gland.

Just as humans can develop Cushings's syndrome, so can dogs.

The difference is that humans can talk and explain how they are feeling, and your dog can't.

This is why it is a vital importance for all dog owners to know what signs and symptoms to look out for in your dog.

Canine Cushing's syndrome actually has very similar symptoms to human Cushing's syndrome, which includes hyperactivity, weight loss, hair thinning and increased appetite.

Sometimes dogs can display symptoms similar to Cushing's Syndrome when being given costisteroid treatment such as prednisone for other conditions. In those cases a simply reduction in dosage will solve the problem.

dog with cushing's syndrome
dog with cushing's syndrome

Signs and symptoms of Canine Cushing's Syndrome

If your dog displays the following symptoms, contact your vet.

  • Increased drinking
  • increased appetite
  • excessive urination
  • panting
  • hair loss
  • pendulous abdomen
  • skin thinning
  • lumpy skin
  • increased skin infections
  • decrease in activities due to muscles wasting

Unfortunately, many older dogs display many of those symptoms as a normal result of ageing and many owners do not seek veterinary advice until the drinking and urinating becomes a problem.Older dogs tend to get Cushing's Syndrome more than younger dogs.

the typical pendulous belly of Cushing's syndrome
the typical pendulous belly of Cushing's syndrome

Further Symptoms of Canine Cushing's Syndrome that your Vet will look for

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • weakening of heart and skeletal muscles
  • nervous system disease

Confirmation of Cushing's Syndrome in Dogs

Your vet will be able to make a diagnosis by a blood test which will show elevated levels of costisteroids in your dog's blood stream. Confirmation is made by taking a blood sample from your dog in the morning. This reading will be the base level. Then an injection is given of a substance called dexamethasone.

Another blood sample is taken from your dog 8 hours later. Normally dexamethasone will suppress levels of corstisone in your dog's blood stream, but with Cushing's Syndrome, this doesn't happen.

location of the pituitary and adrenal glands in dogs
location of the pituitary and adrenal glands in dogs

Causes of Canine Cushing's Syndrome

Sadly, in 85% of cases of Cushing's Syndrome in dogs, the cause is cancer of the pituitary gland at the base of the head. A further 15% is caused by cancer of the adrenals glands which are situated above the kidneys.

The pituitary gland controls the adrenal glands and so either could be the primary cause of hyperadrenocorticism.

Cortisteroids are released by the adrenal glands.

Your vet has further blood test he can carry out to determine which gland has been affected.

Treatment of Cushing's Syndrome in Dogs

Treatment depends entirely on the primary area of the cancer.

If it is cancer of one the adrenal glands, and specialist tests involving X-rays and scans can pinpoint the affected area, then the adrenal gland can be removed. This is a specialist procedure and your veterinary surgeon may refer your dog to a specialist treatment center.

Cancer of the pituitary gland is not operative in dogs. Your dog cannot be cured of cancer of the pituitary gland, but there are many palliative treatments available to relieve his symptoms.

This includes:

  • Lysodren works by killing the outer layer of the adrenal glands where cortisteroids are produced. To work out the exact dosage, many repeat blood tests will be required because killing too many cells will result in your dog developing Addison's disease which is a result of too little cortisteroids circulating in the body.
  • Ketaconazole works by suppressing the production of costisteroids by the adrenal glands. This treatment is expensive and doesn't work in up to 25% of cases. It also required daily monitoring to ensure costisteroid levels remain within normal ranges. Unlike Lysodren, the effects of Ketaconazole are completely reversible.
  • Anipryl┬« is a newer treatment that seems to work by normalising the brain's chemistry and this in turn relieves the dog's symptoms. So far, it seems to be successful in treating 70% of dogs with Cushing's Syndrome.

If you suspect your dog has the symptoms of canine Cushing's Syndrome, it is better to get an early a diagnosis as possible, so please see your vet straight away.

Left untreated, your dog will develop congestive heart failure, diabetes, liver and kidney failure, and a whole host of nasty infections guaranteed to make him feel miserable.

The sooner treatment is started, the sooner you can bring some happiness back into the life of your dog.

Dogs can become almost like family members, but pleased be warned that dogs diagnosed with a pituitary tumor rarely live longer than 2 years after the initial diagnosis, but you can make those years comfortable for your dog.

Cushing's Disease in Dogs

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    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      6 years ago from UK

      I am sorry to hear it, Winter, my best wishes go to you, your family and your dog at this time.

    • Winter Maclen profile image

      Chris 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      IzzyM - Thanks. Our dog received his diagnosis Saturday and your article is very helpful. At least it's taken some of the panic away.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      7 years ago from UK

      Thanks :)

    • MarloByDesign profile image

      MarloByDesign 

      7 years ago from United States

      I voted this up. Very informative!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      7 years ago from UK

      Sorry to hear that Eileen. Your vet will guide you best as the most appropriate treatment - sorry I can't help more than that.

    • profile image

      eileen jessop 

      7 years ago

      OUR BOXER AGED 12 YRS SEEMS TO HAVE ALL THE SYMPTOMS OF CUSHINGDISEASE. sHE HAS BEEN TO THE VET TODAY WHO SAYS SHE HAS LIVER DAMAGE. sHE IS GOING BACK TOMORROW FOR MORE TESTS TO CONFIRM OR EXCLUDE CUSHINGS BUT i DON'T THINK THE VET HAS MUCH DOUBT. tHIS IS A VERY INFORMATIVE ARTICLE. dOES THIS MEAN BECAUSE SHE IS i KNOW AT THE LATER END OF HER LIFE THAT SHE IS GOING TO SUFFER. wE CANT BEAR TO LOSE HER BUT ALSO CANT BEAR TO SEE HER SUFFER.tHANKS

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Informative and appreciated.

      Flag up!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      7 years ago from UK

      I have actually mentioned Addison's disease in this hub - under the drug treatment Lysodren - because it is the exact opposite of Cushing's Syndrome though I dare say the symptoms are similar. I am pleased your dog survived to live a full and happy life. I bet you miss her still.

    • Aiden Roberts profile image

      Aiden Roberts 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      To be honest it was odd, it did take some diagnosing but we got there eventually, the vet initially thought it was Addisons disease which I understand is similar (new hub for you). Thankfully the medication stableised her and she lived a full and happy life.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      7 years ago from UK

      So glad to hear she was correctly diagnosed and treated. It must have been quite worrying when she was licking walls!

    • Aiden Roberts profile image

      Aiden Roberts 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Izzy this is a brilliant and important article. Many years ago I had a fit and healthy rough collie, one day she was drinking excessively and then started licking the cold wall. She kept doing this as if she was unable to quench a thirst, £100's of pounds later she was diagnosed with Cushins disease. She was an expensive dog as the medication at the time cost me £50 per month, she lived to 14 years of age but she repaid me in love and devotion.

      Great hub.

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