Canine Cushing's Diseaseby Deborah Lundin
Canine Cushing’s disease is a disorder affecting the endocrine system that causes excess cortisone levels. It's the most common endocrine system disorder seen in dogs. Treatments are available to treat Cushing’s and allow your dog to live comfortably with the disease; however, regular veterinary visits and blood tests are necessary to monitor care.
Cushing’s disease is broken down into two different varieties based on the location in the endocrine system. Between 80 to 85 percent of all canine Cushing’s cases are known as pituitary-dependent. They're the result of a tumor located on the pituitary gland that causes an increased production of adrenocorticotropic hormone. This overproduction causes the adrenal gland to produce more cortisol, resulting in Cushing’s. The remaining 15 to 20 percent of cases are the result of a tumor on one or both of the adrenal glands, causing excess cortisol production. In both cases, the tumors are usually benign, though malignant tumors are possible.
Cushing’s typically affects middle-aged and older dogs. Symptoms are the same for both types of Cushing’s and include increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, excessive panting, thinning of the skin, hair loss, loss of energy and muscle weakness. A characteristic symptom is an enlarged abdomen that looks similar to a pot-bellied pig's. Female intact dogs may experience a loss of estus.
Breeds with Increased Risk
Cushing’s does not discriminate and all breeds are at risk. Certain breeds, however, have shown a higher incidence of Cushing’s diagnosis. These breeds include Boston terriers, boxers, dachshunds and poodles. While development of the disease typically occurs in older dogs, dogs of any age can be diagnosed.
While some cases of adrenal-dependent Cushing’s can be treated with surgical removal of the adrenal tumors, most cases are treated with regular medication. Anipryl is an FDA-approved medication designed to treat pituitary-dependent Cushing’s in dogs. The only other FDA-approved Cushing’s drug for dogs is Vetoryl, which is approved for both adrenal and pituitary conditions. Often, veterinarians go “off-label” and use human-approved medications to treat canine Cushing’s. While Lysodren, a human chemotherapy drug, does work to treat canine Cushing’s, it can have severe side effects.
Living with Cushing’s
When your dog receives a Cushing’s diagnosis, prepare yourself for frequent veterinary visits and follow all medication prescriptions closely. Talk to the veterinarian about all prescribed medications and the possible side effects. Know what to do when side effects occur, as some may require a visit to the veterinarian immediately.
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