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Cushing's Disease in Dogs - Cause, Complications & Medications

Cushing's Disease in Dogs - Cause, Complications & Medications

If your dog is diagnosed with Cushing's disease they will need ongoing management of the condition in order to avoid complications that can lead to serious concerns or even death. In today's post, our veterinary team in Perry talks about the causes of Cushing's Disease in dogs and the potential complications if not properly medicated and managed.

Cushing's Disease in Dogs: How serious is it?

Cushing's disease in dogs is caused by an overproduction of a hormone named cortisol. This usually occurs when there is a tumor in the dog's pituitary gland leading to Dependent Cushing's disease or Hyperadrenocorticism. This condition may cause other issues for your dog as well, some of which can be serious.

What are the complications that can occur in dogs that have Cushing's?

Dogs that are suffering from Cushing's disease can also experience severe complications such as blood clots, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney damage. 

Will my dog experience breathing issues if they have Cushing's?

Some breathing issues may occur as blood clots can occasionally develop, blocking the blood vessels in the lungs. This condition is called thromboembolism and may cause difficulties with breathing. Dogs with Cushing's disease are at increased risk of developing this condition which can cause heart and lung issues that can be life-threatening.

What are the symptoms of Cushing's disease in dogs?

The symptoms of Cushing's are not always specific to this one condition and so you should contact your vet right away if you notice any of the associated symptoms. As indicated above, dogs with Cushing's disease face an increased risk of other diseases such as diabetes and kidney damage, in addition to high blood pressure and blood clots. These are some of the symptoms most commonly seen if your dog has developed Cushing's disease:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Thinning of the skin 
  • Hair loss 
  • Excessive thirst or drinking 
  • Potbelly
  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Increased appetite

How is Cushing's disease diagnosed in dogs?

Your vet will only be able to use blood tests to diagnose Cushing's disease. The tests used to diagnose the cause of your dog's symptoms can include but are not limited to, a urinalysis, urine culture, adrenal function tests (low dose and high dose dexamethasone suppression test, and potentially ACTH stimulation test), full chemistry panel, and complete blood panel.

At Perry Animal Hospital in Perry, our vets are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of internal medicine conditions. We have access to state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods to identify and manage these issues.

In combination with a physical exam to look for signs of the disease, these tests can help your vet arrive at a diagnosis. Keep in mind that adrenal function tests can result in false positives when another disease with similar clinical signs is present.

Though an ultrasound may help diagnose Cushing's disease, it's more valuable in helping to rule out other conditions that could be causing your dog's symptoms. Other diseases that may cause similar symptoms include tumors in the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease and chronic inflammatory liver disease.

An ultrasound may not be able to detect adrenal enlargement, since patient movement or interference due to gas in the overlying intestine can influence test results. Most vets prefer magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - an effective but expensive diagnostic imaging procedure that allows your vet to assess your dog's adrenal glands.

What medications are used to manage Cushing's disease in dogs?

If your dog is diagnosed with Cushing's disease then your vet will recommend one of two possible medications to help manage the condition. A form of the insecticide DDT (drug names include Lysodren® and mitotane) can destroy the cells that produce cortisone in the adrenal glands. Also, medications such as trilostane help decrease the amount of cortisone that the adrenal glands produce. This accomplishes this goal by inhibiting specific steps in the cortisone production process. Both trilostane and mitotane can effectively treat and control the signs of Cushing's disease.

Your vet will discuss the recommended medication with you and offer instructions on how to properly use it to manage your pup's condition.

After the induction phase with mitotane, you will need to bring your dog to our clinic for an ACTH stimulation test, which "stimulates" the adrenal gland. This test can be done on an outpatient basis to help your vet determine the starting point for a mitotane maintenance dose. The adrenal gland will return to functioning as it should if the medication is performing properly and not causing any adverse reaction.

Though you won't need an induction phase for trilostane, dogs often require minor adjustments to trilostane doses early in treatment. The vet will likely request that you bring your dog in for routine blood testing throughout their lives and you may need to make some changes in order to ensure the efficacy of their treatment.

No matter which medication your vet feels is best for your pooch, your dog will likely be on it for the long term and may require periodic dose adjustments. He or she will need to come in for ACTH stimulation tests as often as monthly until we can control the excessive production of cortisone. Regular testing will be required.

Are there any concerns that may occur throughout my dog's treatment?

Your dog's symptoms will be able to be managed with medication and observation in order to counteract any symptoms before they begin to cause complications. When provided in the proper dosage, medication for Cushing's disease can prove very effective in treating the condition. One potential concern is that your dog may be given an incorrect dose of medication which might lead to side effects.

With blood test monitoring, it's unusual for adverse reactions to appear. Some of the potential signs of an adverse reaction include:

  • Lethargy or depression
  • General weakness
  • Stomach upset (Gastrointestinal symptoms - diarrhea or vomiting)
  • Picky eating or decreased appetite

If you notice any of the symptoms listed above you should contact your vet right away to schedule an examination.

While medication costs and the need for frequent blood monitoring can make Cushing's disease expensive to manage, diligent follow-up care and monitoring for adrenal function can make for a good prognosis.

Pets who do not receive adequate monitoring and follow-up often experience relapses and severe illness or death, as a result of complications.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your pup showing the concerning signs of Cushing's disease? Contact our vets in Perry today to make an appointment for your dog. 

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