Treatment For Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Cushing’s disease in dogs can lead to serious symptoms and complications and even threaten your canine companion's longevity. Our Mooresville vets explain the causes of this serious condition and the common treatments for Cushing's disease in dogs.

Causes of Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism) in Dogs

A tumor in your dog’s pituitary gland can lead to an excessive concentration of cortisone in his or her body.

This can cause pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease (also referred to as hyperadrenocorticism), a clinical condition that can leave your dog at risk for several serious illnesses and conditions, from diabetes to kidney damage.

Symptoms & Complications of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

For dogs, the most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease include:

  • Panting
  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Excessive thirst or drinking
  • Think skin
  • Hair loss
  • Potbelly

Signs of Cushing's disease in dogs can be vague, it’s important to book an examination your veterinarian right away if your dog begins displaying any of the above symptoms.

Dogs with Cushing’s disease have an increased risk of blood clots, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney damage.

Diagnosing Cushing's Disease in Dogs

At Lake Norman Animal Hospital, our veterinarians are trained to diagnose and treat many internal diseases and conditions. We have access to diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods to effectively identify and manage these issues. If we discover that your pet needs expertise or a procedure that we do not offer, we can refer you to an experienced internal medicine specialist. 

To diagnose Cushing’s disease, your veterinarian will need to perform a physical exam and take blood tests to diagnose Cushing’s disease. Tests may include but are not limited to a full chemistry panel, complete blood panel, urine culture, urinalysis and adrenal function tests (low-dose and high-dose dexamethasone suppression test, and potentially ACTH stimulation test). Note that adrenal function tests can result in false positives when another disease with similar clinical signs is present.

While ultrasound may help diagnose Cushing’s disease, it’s more useful in helping to identify other conditions that may be causing your dog’s symptoms. Other diseases that can cause similar symptoms include gastrointestinal disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease, bladder stones, gallbladder disease and tumors in the liver or spleen. 

Adrenal enlargement can be difficult to detect with an ultrasound since the results can be influenced by patient interference or movement due to gas in the overlying intestine. Most veterinarians prefer an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) — an effective but expensive diagnostic imaging procedure — to assess your dog’s adrenal glands. 

Treatments & Medication for Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

There are two main drugs used in the treatment of Cushing’s disease in dogs. A form of the insecticide DDT (drug names include Lysodren® and mitotane) can destroy the cells that produce cortisone in the adrenal glands.

Other 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.

Speak to your vet to find out which may be the most effective treatment for your dog, and follow your vet's instructions diligently.

After the induction phase with mitotane, your pooch will need to see your vet 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. If the mitotane is working, the adrenal gland will not overreact to the stimulation.

Though you won’t need an induction phase for trilostane, dogs often require small adjustments to trilostane doses early in treatment. Over their lifetime, routine monitoring of blood tests may indicate that other adjustments need to be made. How well clinical symptoms of Cushing’s disease can be controlled can also mean changes are required.

No matter the medication, your dog will likely be on it throughout their lifetime and may require periodic adjustments in doses. They 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 needed.

Adverse Reactions & Prognosis

Diligent observation and long-term management are absolutely essential in order to minimize the symptoms of Cushing’s in dogs. That said, when provided in the proper dosage, medication for Cushing’s disease can prove very effective in treating the disease.

Incorrect dosages of medication can lead to mild or even severe side effects, but with regular blood test monitoring, it’s unusual for adverse reactions to appear.

If your dog's medication needs to be adjusted you may notice symptoms including:

  • Lethargy, depression or weakness
  • Gastrointestinal (stomach) upset - diarrhea or vomiting
  • Picky eating, eating slowly (taking longer than normal to eat or leaving food), or decreased appetite

If you detect any of these symptoms, discontinue the medication and call your veterinarian right away.

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.

If you think that your dog has a fever it's time to head to the vet. Contact our Mooresville vets today to book an examination for your dog. Our vets are experienced in the diagnoses and treatment of illnesses that lead to fever in dogs.

Increased thirst can be a sign of Cushing's disease in dogs, Mooresville vet

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