Cushing’s Disease and Your Dog

Cushing’s Disease and Your Dog

Few things are worse than noticing a change in your dog’s health and not being sure whether to worry or not.  Fortunately, you can lessen your anxiety by learning more about some of the most common ailments affecting dogs.

One of the most frequently seen endocrine disorders in older dogs is Cushing’s disease (aka Cushing’s syndrome).

The endocrine system is made up of the glands that provide the body with hormones that regulate activities such as digestion and reproduction. Cushing’s disease causes your dog’s endocrine system to produce too much of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is crucial in maintaining your dog’s health by helping him effectively respond to stress, fight infections, and preserve optimal levels of blood sugar.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease

The following are some of the symptoms to look for when Cushing’s disease is suspected:

  • Clear increase in hunger
  • Clear increase in thirst along with increase in urination
  • Clear increase in heavy panting
  • Low energy level
  • Obesity
  • Shrinking of testicles (male dogs) or absence of heat cycle (female dogs)
  • Increase in skin infections

Since Cushing’s disease displays symptoms which are the same as other disorders, diagnoses can be difficult. It is important for you to provide your vet with a list of any changes in your pet that you have noticed.

Types of Cushing’s Disease

There are two main types of Cushing’s disease affecting dogs:

Pituitary – This most common form affects some 80 to 90 percent of the dogs with Cushing’s disease. The problem appears to be triggered by the presence of a tumor in the pituitary gland.

Adrenal – Occurring in around 15 to 20 percent of dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, this form arises when there is a tumor in the adrenal glands.

dandelion (image from Wikipedia)

Regions where Cushing’s Disease originates in dogs
(symptoms display elsewhere).

Diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease

Unfortunately, there is no completely accurate technique for diagnosing Cushing’s disease. Therefore, your vet will do a combination of tests to get a better idea of what is causing your dog’s symptoms. If there are indications of Cushing’s disease, your vet will proceed to hormone-screening procedures like the following:

ACTH Stimulation Test – This procedure measures the reaction of the adrenal glands to the hormone ACTH, which normally triggers the production of cortisol. Following a shot of ACTH, your vet will take a sample of blood for a measurement of the hormone’s effect.

Low Dose Dexamethasone Suppression (LDDS) Test – This test examines ways in which your dog’s system is interacting with dexamethasone, an artificial form of cortisol. An examination before and after the shot helps your vet determine the cause of problems.

As a follow-up to the tests, the vet may conduct an ultrasound of your dog’s belly to detect a possible tumor on the adrenal glands.

Treatment for Cushing’s Disease

If there is a tumor on the adrenal glands, the vet is often able to remove it during surgery and cure the problem. However, surgery may not be possible if the tumor has traveled to other parts of the body. In such cases, most dogs with Cushing’s disease can live a normal, active life by regularly taking medication.

There are also natural and homeopathic treatments to normalize your dog’s production of cortisol. Here are some of the best:

  • Dandelion – Works to stabilize adrenal function as well as reducing inflammation of the body and providing vitamins and minerals needed for hair growth.

  • Burdock – This cleansing herb purifies tissues and removes undesirable substances from the body. Burdock is also useful in the maintenance of proper levels of blood sugar and prevention of diabetes.
  • Astragalus – This root not only boosts your dog’s immune system but helps support adrenal balance as well as controls blood sugar levels and blood pressure.