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Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Dog eating out of bowl

That Insatiable Appetite Might be More Than You Think

Have you noticed your dog being ravenous lately? Drinking more water than normal? Asking to go outside more frequently? Are they having urinary accidents in the house? Do they seem more lethargic? Or are they having skin issues? These are some of the signs of Cushing’s disease. The Internal Medicine department at MissionVet Specialty & Emergency could be able to help!

What is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s disease is a “catch-all” term for the signs caused by excess cortisol in the bloodstream. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by two small bean-shaped glands that sit near the kidneys called adrenal glands. Cortisol is secreted in times of stress to increase blood sugar – a source of fuel readily used by body tissues, thus, helping the body cope better with stress. Cortisol becomes a problem when produced in excess by the adrenal glands or when a pet or person (it can also affect humans) is receiving too much from an outside source. Some of these outside sources include common steroid drugs such as prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone and hydrocortisone among others. In excess, cortisol causes high blood sugar, depression of the immune system, increased thirst, increased hunger, muscle loss, panting, a pot belly, poor skin and many others.In addition to drugs, cortisol can be made in excess by the body as well. The most common way this occurs in dogs is from a small tumor in the brain, specifically on the pituitary gland that tells the adrenal glands to make cortisol. In a smaller percentage of dogs there is a tumor on the adrenal gland that is producing the cortisol excessively even when no more is needed. Cushing’s usually affects older dogs, therefore often the clinical signs can be confused with normal aging changes, as they can be slowly progressive. You may notice some of the following signs at home.

Typical Signs of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs:

  • Ravenous appetite

  • Increased thirst and urination to the point of having urinary accidents in the house

  • Weight gain

  • Pot belly appearance

  • Excessive panting

  • Thinning hair/fur

  • Thin, unhealthy skin

If you notice any of these signs, it is important to mention them to your family veterinarian.

Veterinary Diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease

If your pet’s veterinarian suspects Cushing’s disease, he or she might recommend a complete blood count, chemistry and urine analysis to evaluate the overall health of your pet. Additional tests to look specifically for Cushing’s may also be recommended. Obtaining a diagnosis is not always easy and, in some cases, an abdominal ultrasound can be a helpful tool in diagnosis.

Treatment for Cushing’s Disease

If your pet is found to have Cushing’s disease, therapy would likely include lifelong medications, as Cushing’s is not curable but, in most cases, can be medically managed. Be sure to discuss potential side effects from the medications with your veterinarian. Well managed patients with Cushing’s disease can live a normal life for years, however, close monitoring and frequent veterinary visits are needed.The Internal Medicine Department at MissionVet Specialty & Emergency frequently works with family veterinarians and their clients to help diagnose and manage dogs with Cushing’s Disease. If you suspect your dog may have Cushing’s Disease, be sure to speak with your family veterinarian or request an appointment with one of our specialists today.

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