What I need to know about Cushings disease in dogs

Updated: Feb 23



What is Cushings

Cushings is caused by a pituitary tumor (non-cancerous) that triggers excessive levels of cortisol. A normal amount of cortisol helps the dog's body to adapt in times of stress. Cortisol also helps regulate proper body weight, tissue structure, skin condition, and other features of good health.

More than 90% of all cases are stemmed from a small tumor (often benign) in the pituitary gland which is located at the base of the brain.

The small percentage of dogs with Cushing's disease have a tumor located in the adrenal glands (on top of each kidney) which may or may not be cancerous.

Many dogs have the advanced form of Cushings before the owner even recognizes a problem exists because the symptoms are often mistaken for common signs of aging.


This is a serious disease that will likely put you in the situation of euthanasia but they will not die immediately. Bostons that come to MABTR's care that are tested positive for Cushings are placed in hospice care.


Symptoms

-Extreme thirst

-Increased urination, urine light in color and larger amounts than normal

-Increased appetite

-Muscle weakness and reduced activity

-Thinning of hair and skin / fragile and dry skin

-Sores on the body (calcinosis cutis)

-Urinary or respiratory infections from a suppressed immune system

-Potbellied appearance from liver enlargement


Diagnosing

Diagnosing Cushings is not easy and can be quite expensive depending on how far you go for answers. To determine if the dog has cushings you need to leave your dog at the vet for the day as blood is drawn frequently while dog is administered hormone injections. The blood is sent out for results as no vet can determine results in-house.

This will inform you if the dog is positive or negative, NOT where the tumor exist. If you want to know where the tumor is that is where it gets expensive. Remember more than 90% of tumors are in the pituitary gland by the brain.


Treatment

Unlike humans the surgical technique to remove the pituitary tumor is not an option. There is NOT a cure or treatment but ways you can control the symptoms. Before your vet will provide medical assistance, your dog will undergo an extensive workup.

The most common medication for Cushings is Trilostane, marketed under the name Vetoryl. Once on medication careful monitoring is required to ensure that the drug/s don't destroy all of the cortex and that the cortisol stays at a defined level. You also take the risk of other side effect (this list is long and needs to be discussed with your vet).

"Treating" Cushings is a balancing act. Dogs with the disease can live a good life if they are monitored closely by a veterinarian and the owner is diligent about bringing the dog in for blood work, checkups, watching for side effects and giving the medication as directed.

As the signs and symptoms worsen, the patient's overall health will deteriorate.


When MABTR was introduced with our first case, we researched and asked around to those that used medical assistance to only learn if they were given the option to do it all over again 9 out of 10 owners said NO. They would not do it again. MABTR does not medically treat these dogs but keep them comfortable and monitor their overall quality of life til the time comes to let them go in peace.