Have you been worrying about your dog’s health and wellbeing lately? Has he been exhibiting any symptoms such as an increase in appetite and thirst, hair loss, weight gain, and low energy levels? These are some of the symptoms that can indicate the presence of Cushing’s Disease in dogs. It’s important to bear in mind that not all symptoms will become apparent in all canine patients. In fact, many of the signs of Cushing’s disease in dogs could be associated with a host of other diseases as well. To determine if your dog has Cushing’s disease, your veterinarian will have to look at his symptoms and at several different diagnostic test results too. That being said, read on to learn more about the history, symptoms, treatments, and what is Cushing’s Disease in Dogs.

History of Cushing’s Disease

Before we get into causes, symptoms, and treatments of Cushing’s disease in dogs, let’s first explore a little bit of basic history on the subject. Although it was originally diagnosed in humans, it was later found that dogs and other animals can contract the disease as well.

1912 – Dr. Harvey Cushing

Cushing’s disease itself is associated with increased cortisol secretion and was first described in 1912 by its namesake, Dr. Harvey Cushing, who was an American neurosurgeon. He was, at that time, presented with a very unique case of this particular disease when a 23-year-old woman complained of symptoms including abnormal hair growth, amenorrhea, cerebral tension, hydrocephalus, and painful obesity.

Report Published in 1932

That particular combination of symptoms as a medical disorder had never been described by anyone at the time. Dr. Cushing was quite confident that those symptoms were caused by a pituitary gland dysfunction. They also bore an uncanny resemblance to the symptoms associated with adrenal tumors. Based on that conviction, and Dr. Cushing’s in-depth knowledge of anterior pituitary cell types, he hypothesized that a pituitary disorder could explain the combination of symptoms. After numerous case reports and experimental evidence had been compiled, Dr. Cushing published a report on the subject of pituitary basophilism being the actual cause of Cushing’s disease in 1932.

Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

So, now we know how the disease originally got its name but what is Cushing’s disease in dogs? Well, for starters, let’s start with the endocrine system, which is the collective gland system responsible for producing and secreting hormones in a canine body.

Cortisol

One of the hormones secreted by the endocrine system is cortisol. When cortisol levels are normal, the cortisol can perform a number of quite useful functions, which includes helping your dog to respond to stress while modulating his or her immune system. On the other hand, however, too much cortisol in your dog’s body can result in a lot of damage. This condition is referred to as hyperadrenocorticism a.k.a. Cushing’s disease in dogs. It’s also at the top of the list of common canine endocrine disorders.

A Natural Steroid

According to a veterinarian in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine named Ann Stohlman, V.M.D., cortisol is a natural steroid in the body and a normal amount helps the body when it needs to adapt during times of stress. It also helps with regulating proper body weight, skin condition, tissue structure,  and other good health features. However, excess production of cortisol results in a weakened immune system and it leaves the body vulnerable to other infections and diseases.

Hyperadrenocorticism

Cushing’s disease in dogs starts developing when his/her own body causes overproduction of cortisol (hyperadrenocorticism) This is a very serious canine medical condition and it should be monitored accordingly. Cushing’s disease can cause dogs of all ages to suffer from overactive adrenal glands. The result is excessive cortisol (cortisone) levels.

Fluctuating Cortisol Levels

In healthy dogs, the cortisol levels fluctuate constantly for the express purpose of keeping their systems in balance. It usually helps their bodies with responding to stress, and it also has an effect on many of the normal functions of your dog’s body. Those functions include regulating blood sugar levels, immune system responses, skeletal muscles, and much more. Cortisol secretions usually occur because of:

  • Infections
  • Pain
  • Stress
  • Temperature fluctuations
  • Trauma

Fight or Flight

Cushing’s disease is a condition where your dog’s body produces excess amounts of cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Producing this hormone is something that takes place in the two small glands above his kidneys and they’re called adrenal glands. During times of stress, those adrenal glands start releasing the cortisol.

It’s also well-known for being the “fight-or-flight” hormone. It’s actually is a healthy survival mechanism that’s been serving animals well for a long time when they’re faced with any kind of a dangerous situation while living in the wild. However, when a dog is plagued by chronic stress, the cortisol gets released in amounts that are excessive and that can strike a devastating blow to your dog’s health.

Dogs & Stress

It could be separation anxiety, going to the veterinarian, dealing with a conflict with another pet in the home, or even just the mailman’s daily visit. Stress can cause a very serious problem for many dogs. When a dog is nervous or high-strung, he often exhibits higher amounts of chronic stress that are capable of contributing to Cushing’s disease development over time. Dogs who suffer from this disease can develop a wide range of symptoms. There are a number of chemical treatments available for treating these symptoms, however, long-term use of them can come with health risks and potential side effects.

Description of Common Symptoms

Symptom #1: Weight Gain

When cortisol levels rise, they can cause an increase in appetite in a dog who has Cushing’s disease. A bigger appetite paired with increased fluid retention can cause unnatural weight gain. If your dog starts looking like he has a potbelly appearance, but at the same time, muscle shrinkage in his legs, then you should take him to the vet as soon as possible. Although it might not even turn out to be Cushing’s, it could be some other disease that may also be serious.

Symptom #2: Increased Thirst (polydipsia) & Excessive Urination (polyuria)

In the event that you find the need to consistently replace the water in your dog’s bowl and it seems like he’s urinating or even having more incontinence issues than usual, it could be time to check for other signs that could possibly point to Cushing’s disease in dogs.

Symptom #3: Hind Leg Weakness

A dog with Cushing’s disease can experience some level of muscular atrophy in his hind legs. This can decrease his hind leg function and movement. In this case, supplements for joint support could be helpful. Your veterinarian could start by recommending glucosamine or an alternative that offers some added benefits, like eggshell membrane joint supplements.

Symptom #4: Personality Changes and/or Low Energy Levels

A change in personality can be a very sad symptom of Cushing’s disease in dogs. Many pet parents have reported that their dog just isn’t himself lately. They might also say that their dog has lower energy levels. Either of these symptoms could be a sign of Cushing’s disease, and visiting your vet visit is highly recommended.

Symptom #5: Sparse Hair/Hair Loss

Although hair loss can be attributed to a number of different issues, hair loss that is symmetrical (i.e. occurring on both sides of your dog’s body) can be a key indicator of Cushing’s disease in dogs. It’s also a good idea to start watching for skin sensitivity on his flanks or his trunk.

Symptom #6: Increase in Appetite (polyphagia)

Dogs with Cushing’s disease are called Cushingoid dogs and they are generally uncommonly hungry. They usually want to eat bigger meals, more treats, and a whole lot more frequently. Your dog could also start suffering from what is commonly known as “dietary indiscretion”. What that means is that he might try to eat stuff that he shouldn’t and normally wouldn’t, such as feces, dirt, rocks, grass, wood, or even metal. It’s up to you to stop him from doing any of that since it could obviously be quite harmful.

Other Symptoms Include…

  • Pot-bellied abdomen
  • Bruising
  • Fat pads on shoulders and neck
  • Increased panting
  • Infertility
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nocturnal urination (nighttime accidents)
  • Scaly patches on elbows and skin
  • Skin darkening
  • Thin skin

What Causes Cushing’s Disease in Dogs?

Cushing’s Disease in Humans

A number of endocrine diseases that occur in humans have also been known to similarly affect some dogs, although with certain variations. This includes conditions like adrenal cortex, thyroid hypofunction syndromes, and diabetes as well. In fact, these syndromes in dogs often exhibit numerous similarities to their human counterparts.

Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Most of Cushing’s disease in dogs is naturally occurring and is either adrenal-dependent or pituitary-dependent. A certain variation of the disease, called Iatrogenic Cushing’s disease, is caused by Corticosteroid Medications. The specific type of Cushing’s disease that your dog has could determine which treatment will be prescribed. Your veterinarian will run certain blood tests to diagnose the type of Cushing’s disease your dog might have.

Pituitary-Dependent

The pituitary is a pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain and it makes several hormones, which includes adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). A pituitary tumor will cause ACTH overproduction, which then travels to the adrenal glands via the bloodstream, stimulating them so that they produce more cortisol than needed by the body. 

The most common cause of Cushing’s disease in dogs is a benign pituitary tumor, which is a non-spreading tumor. In rare cases, however, a pituitary tumor could be malignant. Approximately 80–85 percent of cases are pituitary-dependent. The condition is described as pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH) if the disease develops due to pituitary gland problems. That means that they’re triggered by a pituitary gland tumor.

This strain of Cushing’s disease in dogs doesn’t always necessarily require treatment. The ultimate goal of treatment is an improvement in the canine patient’s quality of life quality while also fortifying his bond with his pet parent. Therefore, if he’s not experiencing problems with symptoms, treatment may not be indicated.

Adrenal-Dependent

Adrenal gland tumors (adrenal-dependent hyperadrenocorticism/ADH) have been found to be responsible for the remaining 15 to 20 percent of cases. Although not as common, a tumor that is producing corticosteroid could grow on either one or both of the adrenal glands. Note that adrenal tumors have a 50/50 chance of being either malignant or benign. Your veterinarian might use an ultrasound to help with detecting an adrenal gland tumor. The tumor, whether benign or malignant, will release hormones that are continuously stimulating the dog’s adrenal glands corticosteroid production. 

Corticosteroid Medications

Excessively administering high-doses or long-term corticosteroid medications are also a common cause of canine hyperadrenocorticism. These medications are commonly used for treating certain types of cancer, immune disorders, and allergies, as well as to reduce inflammation, or simply as a replacement therapy for abnormally low cortisone levels. What is known as Iatrogenic Cushing’s disease can be reversed by reducing the medication or totally stopping it.

What your Veterinarian Is Looking For

In spite of the fact that your dog is exhibiting some those symptoms, there is still a chance that he does not have the disease itself. That’s why taking him to the vet is so important to be certain and to seek proper treatment if necessary. Here’s what vets generally look for:

  1. Blood Clots: These are one of the most worrisome symptoms when it comes to Cushing’s disease in dogs.
  2. High Alkaline Phosphatase Levels: This is one of the main symptoms requiring testing. This issue is often the result of the increase in cortisol levels and higher blood sugar levels often occur in many cases,
  3. Multiple Symptoms:  When dogs exhibit a number of Cushing’s warning signs, there’s a high possibility that they have Cushing’s Disease.
  4. Increase in Cortisol Levels: This symptom is, of course, the most reliable Cushing’s disease indicator and can almost always either prove or disprove the presence of Cushing’s in a diagnosis.
  5. Increase in Sex Hormones: Atypical Cushing’s disease can show normal cortisol levels, however, the sex steroids (i.e. aldosterone, estradiol, and progesterone) levels may be elevated.

Diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease Dogs

Recognize the Signs

Your first step to ensure that your dog receives appropriate care is recognizing the early signs. Now that you know what is Cushing’s disease in dogs, you can look out for the symptoms and take your dog to the vet if there is anything that appears abnormal.

For diagnosing Cushing’s disease in dogs, your veterinarian will first be taking your dog’s comprehensive health history. Then, he or she will be performing a complete physical exam along with some basic lab work such as a complete blood cell count, blood chemistry profile, urinalysis, and fecal examination. If Cushing’s disease is suspected as the most likely cause of the symptoms your dog is experiencing, there will be more tests aimed at definitively diagnosing the condition.

Diagnostic Tests

Here are some of the tests that could be administered in order for your vet to reach a diagnosis:

Urine Cortisol: Creatinine Ratio Test

The first test will usually be urine cortisol: creatinine ratio test. If your dog’s test results come back normal, then he probably doesn’t have Cushing’s disease. However, in the event that your dog’s urine cortisol: creatinine ratio is high, then further testing could be necessary as there are actually a number of conditions could lead to that particular test result.

LDDST

The low-dose dexamethasone suppression test is a common test for the diagnosis of Cushing’s disease in dogs. It requires taking a blood sample for the purpose of measuring your dog’s baseline cortisol level. Then, your dog will receive an injection of just a small amount of dexamethasone. His blood cortisol levels will then require measuring at four and eight hours following the injection. In normal dogs, the injection will inhibit the secretion of a hormone which will stimulate cortisol secretion. This will lead to decreased circulating cortisol levels. In dogs who have Cushing’s disease, the cortisol will not be suppressed.

No One Definitive Diagnostic Test

Unfortunately, there isn’t any single diagnostic test that can be administered for achieving a definitive diagnosis of Cushing’s disease in all of the cases. Your veterinarian might need to perform an abdominal ultrasound and/or run an ACTH stimulation test for determining if your dog has Cushing’s. In addition, he must determine whether ADH or PDH is responsible for it. Chest X-rays and an abdominal ultrasound could also be quite useful to determine if a tumor may have spread and whether it is malignant or benign.

Treatment

In the event that your dog is diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, it’s important to remember that in spite of the fact that it’s not curable (except via expensive and risky adrenal gland or brain surgery), it is a highly treatable disease. Proper care and treatment can help with managing the symptoms and improving your best friend’s quality of life. Cushing’s is a disease that is well-documented and has numerous treatment options. Plenty of research is available to aid the determination of the best health regimen for your dog.

Once you and your vet have done thorough research and are in complete agreement regarding the optimum treatment option for your pet, you can proceed with the next steps.

Treatment for Mild Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease

If your dog has only mild symptoms that are associated with Cushing’s disease that is pituitary-dependent, he may not require any immediate treatment. However, he or she but should definitely be monitored very closely for determining when some form of treatment would be beneficial. Generally speaking, that treatment should begin when your dog starts developing symptoms that could prove to be potentially dangerous and/or troublesome for his pet parents. This could include exercise intolerance, a urine protein: creatinine ratio that has increased, high blood pressure, recurrent infections, evidence of any kidney damage, urinary accidents, and/or excessive panting.

That All-Important Decision

Making the all-important decision about whether or not to start treating your dog’s Cushing’s disease, requires careful consideration of the symptoms. For example, if your dog is drinking excessively but isn’t urinating inside your house, it may not necessarily be a problem. However, if he suffers from recurring skin or bladder infections, urinary protein loss, high blood pressure, or gets so hungry that he’s always heading to the kitchen and begging for more food, then proper treatment is a must. Once he has been diagnosed as having Cushing’s Disease, you must decide to go with what treatment you feel most comfortable with.

Natural Treatments for Dog Cushing’s Disease

The conventional treatments tend to be a great deal more aggressive and expensive than natural or homeopathic remedies. Those traditional treatments could include chemotherapy drugs whose main goal is the destruction of the outer cortex of a Cushingoid dog’s adrenal gland for slowing down cortisol production. It usually requires expensive testing to prevent the drugs from causing damage to more of the adrenal gland than what is necessary. If excess damage ends up occurring because of this treatment option, then the cortisol production could be stopped completely. This, in turn, could cause Addison’s disease which will require Addison’s treatment for the remainder of his life.

Traditional vs. Natural

Although traditional veterinary treatment is usually more well-known for treating Cushing’s disease in dogs, there are also a number of herbs and supplements that can also be extremely helpful. These include magnolia bark, fish oil, and dandelion, just to name a few. Diet is, of course, very important in treating this disease. Did you know that Cushing’s disease is a condition that hardly ever affects dogs who are living their lives in the wild? That particular fact has lead to the assumption that Cushing’s disease itself can somehow be blamed on human intervention such as medicine and diet.

Lignans for Treatment

Both flaxseed lignans and HMR lignans work equally well as the natural treatment of choice for dogs with Cushing’s disease, however,  they’re derived from different natural sources. HMR Lignans are derived from the Norway spruce tree while flaxseed lignans are from flaxseed hulls. Flaxseed lignans contain fiber whereas HMR lignans do not. Both are considered to be helpful in the treatment of Cushing’s because they are both capable of inhibiting the two enzymes necessary for producing cortisol. Lignans work in a similar manner as melatonin treatment, however, they do it by inhibiting different enzymes.

Important to Note

Lignans also provide phytoestrogenic activity and compete with estradiol that is normally occurring but with a gentler and less biological effect. Lignan treatment can also inhibit aromatase enzyme and 3-beta HSD enzyme by lowering both estradiol and cortisol. Note that you should not use flaxseed oil or whole flaxseed for treating your dog because they contain a very low lignan content can cause increased triglycerides.

Improvement in 85 Percent of Cases

Many surveys over the past couple of years have shown that both flaxseed lignans and HMR lignans have the potential for working equally well for treating Cushing’s. In fact, in 85 percent of cases, reports from lignan users showed improvement in one or more of the Cushings symptom over an average of about two months. In some cases, lignan treatment showed an improvement in all of the Cushing’s disease symptoms in the same time frame of two months. Some pet owners said that it required as much as four months of treatment s for improvement while others reported a reduction in symptoms in only two weeks.

Lignan Benefits Include

  1. The return of your dog’s normal weight and a healthy appetite
  2. Restoration of your dog’s energy
  3. Reduction in his cortisol levels via inhibition of the 3-beta HSD Enzyme as well as reducing the estradiol via inhibition of the aromatase enzymes
  4. New hair growth

Lignans are a natural treatment remedy but Cushing’s disease won’t just disappear since any tumors that were responsible for causing the excess cortisol production will still exist. However, natural lignans and melatonin treatment can help by inhibiting the excess cortisol production that was responsible for many of the symptoms, thereby helping your dog to live more comfortably.

Suggested Dose

1-2 mg of lignan per pound of weight daily. Lignans only need to be administered once a day or, if preferred, you can split up the dosage.

Melatonin for Treatment

Melatonin is another effective Cushing’s treatment that works by inhibiting the enzymes that are necessary for cortisol production. The inhibition of these enzymes reduces cortisol levels. It’s important to ensure that you’re using the correct kind of melatonin and that you are keeping melatonin at a constant level in your dog’s body.

Recommended Dosage

It’s not recommended to use timed-release or rapid-release melatonin. The recommended dose for dogs weighing in at under thirty pounds is 3 mg every 12 hours. For bigger dogs, 6 mg every 12 hours is the recommendation. For small dogs who weigh less than 10 pounds, the majority of vets recommend only 1 mg every 12 hours.

Not Just For Sleeping

Some people have been thinking that melatonin is given to dogs who have Cushing’s just for helping them to sleep better. Although it may work that way in some cases, melatonin’s primary function is as an effective treatment option for reducing cortisol levels. This, in turn, helps with improved management of elevated stress hormones for dogs suffering from Cushing’s.

Melatonin & Activity Levels

In several studies aimed at determining if dogs on melatonin (for treating Cushing’s) were experiencing reduced, heightened or just the same level of lethargy, most of the participants reported that their dogs were less lethargic. However, it all depends on what stage of the disease that the dog is in. Concentrating on getting cortisol levels back within the normal range is more important than worrying about whether your dog is a bit sleepier than usual. The majority of dogs become acclimated to the melatonin usually in a couple of weeks or less, then return to normal activity levels and sleep patterns. It is recommended to consult your vet to determine whether the benefits of stress and cortisol reduction outweigh the problem of lower activity levels.

Other Reasons for Using Melatonin and Lignans

Both melatonin and lignans are often administered to dogs with Cushing’s as a first treatment due to the fact that they:

  • Are gentler for use on aging dogs,
  • Don’t have any side effects,
  • Cost much less than conventional treatments,
  • Don’t require ongoing testing,
  • Are not harsh like other treatment options,
  • Can be used in cases where the disease is not yet diagnosed.

Herbal Medicine for Adrenal Support

It’s true that nature’s medicine cabinet contains many herbal remedies that can be effective in treating Cushing’s disease in dogs, including:

  • Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha(Withania somnifera) is an important part of Ayurvedic medicine to strengthen the body and improve overall health. It’s known to improve bodily response to environmental stressors and enhance immune function and energy levels. Studies have also shown that it has abilities to protect and support healthy liver function.

  • Astragalus

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is a substance used for many centuries in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is said to be responsible for imparting energy, strength, and vitality. It’s also considered to be a tonic adaptogen because regular use balances and strengthens the adrenal glands. It has traditionally been a big help with relieving cases of excessive thirst and frequent urination. Another added benefit of Astragalus use is the stimulation of the immune system.

  • Arsenicum

This could help your dog by improving excessive thirst (polydipsia), which is one of the common symptoms in dogs with Cushing’s. It can also help with the side effects caused by certain medications used for treating Cushing’s disease. Arsenicum can also be used in combination with other listed compounds.

  • Burdock

Burdock(Arctium lappa) nourishes the liver. In Cushing’s disease, the liver can become overburdened. It is consumed as a vegetable for its blood-purifying properties and amazing nutritional value. In addition, it is also used for aiding in the relief of some skin disorder symptoms like dryness, scaliness, and irritation.

  • Dandelion

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has been traditionally used for nourishing the adrenal glands, kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. It’s actually a very gentle food-grade herb containing a very wide range of vitamins and minerals as well as sterols that are quite beneficial to the adrenal glands for encouraging healthy function. It also contains nutrients well-known for benefiting the healthy growth of hair and skin.

  • Ginseng

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is a substance used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for supporting good health. It’s also known as one of the best available adaptogenic herbs. Studies have shown its considerable benefits on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. And, with consistent use, it has also been shown to aid in supporting healthy blood sugar and energy levels, muscle strength, and stamina.

  • Horsetail

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) offers a variety of minerals, including calcium, silica, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Horsetail’s diverse combination of minerals is known to benefit digestive health, hormonal balance, and the nervous system.

  • Licorice

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine that offers a broad range of exceptional health benefits. Herbalists often prescribe licorice to help balance adrenal function in the presence of elevated cortisol levels. This makes it the optimum candidate to give to dogs who suffer from Cushing’s disease. It also benefits the immune system, liver, and skin.

  • Silica

Silica is a substance used in forming connective tissue, hair, and skin. Adequate amounts of silica can be responsible for ensuring a full coat of fur, as well as healthy skin.

Other Supplements for Helping Your Cushingoid Dog

When your dog has Cushing’s disease, his liver enzymes become elevated and his liver overworked. Supplements that can help with supporting his liver can be a beneficial treatment option. These are supplements that you may have already heard of as being healthy supplements for human liver support. Consult your veterinarian for appropriate dosage.

  • Milk Thistle

This is a natural compound used to help with liver problems. Veterinarians often prescribe Denamarin for dogs. It’s a blend of SAMe and milk thistle. The truth is, however, Denamarin is much costlier than simply buying the supplements individually. In fact, a two-month supply of milk thistle and SAMe usually can be bought anywhere for the price of only a month’s supply of Denamarin.

  • SAMe (S-Adenosyl L-Methionine)

This is another substance that is naturally occurring in the body. It is produced in a dog’s liver for normal liver function. It is used up very quickly in an overworked liver. In Cushingoid dogs, the liver becomes over-stressed when it is trying to handle the excess cortisol. Supplementing with SAMe can be extremely helpful.

  • Joint Support

Joint support supplements could be recommended if your Cushingoid dog is suffering from hind leg weakness. When dogs have Cushing’s disease, they could be experiencing muscular atrophy in their hind legs. This often results in a reduction in the overall functioning of their hind legs. Veterinarians often recommend glucosamine or a glucosamine alternative for promoting joint stability and health.

Medication

Two common medications for managing Cushing’s disease include Lysodren® and Trilostane (under the brand name Vetoryl®).

  1. Lysodren: Traditional Therapy (aka Mitotane)

This drug works by limiting the adrenal gland’s activity. It is used also widely used for treating adrenal cancer. Many veterinarians are prescribing Lysodren for dogs with Cushing’s disease because of its unique effect on the proper functioning of the adrenal gland.

  1. Trilostane Treatment (Vetoryl)

Following the decision to start treating your dog’s pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease, your vet will probably prescribe Trilostane (Vetoryl). This is a drug that can have some serious side effects, so your dog should, of course, be closely monitored. Trilostane can interact with certain common medications, so be sure to have an in-depth discussion with your vet regarding all medications and supplements that your dog currently takes.

If your dog is undergoing treatment with Trilostane (Vetoryl) for his Cushing’s disease, you should be prepared for continuing treatment for the rest of his life. You’ll also need to be vigilant about watching out for any adverse reaction to the powerful medication.

Typical adverse reaction signs can include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Weakness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty walking

Contact Your Vet

Should your dog start suffering from any of those side effects, immediately contact your vet while also discontinuing the medication but only under the veterinarian’s supervision. Your vet will also want to schedule regular follow-ups for monitoring your dog for any adverse effects of the medication for Cushing’s disease and for ensuring that your dog is continuing to receive the proper dose. You should also take your dog to see your vet several times yearly after your dog reaches the maintenance phase of his therapy.

Cushing’s Disease Diet for Dogs

A dog with Cushing’s disease definitely shouldn’t be eating regular dog food. Dogs who are suffering from Cushing’s disease should be on a special diet. Natural foods are highly recommended. His diet should be made up of high-quality protein like eggs, which offer the perfect amount of amino acids for keeping his kidneys and liver properly regulating.

High Protein

Remember, your dog’s diet should be one that is made up of all-natural real food. It should be high-protein, low-fat, low-fiber and have low levels of purines. The best natural protein source is, of course, meat. It’s important to remember that commercial kibble products really don’t contain much real meat. That means that, in most cases, the protein levels are off by quite a bit.

Low Fat

Food for your dog should come from natural whole food source like real raw meaty bones. Keeping the fat content as low as possible is also an important factor, however, don’t forget that your dog requires fat for energy.  Lean meat with veggies added can keep Fido’s fat levels at minimal levels while still being adequate for both nutrition purposes and for satisfying his appetite for good food. You may find that locating low purine foods can be a little more challenging. Why? Because there are purines in all protein sources but they’re not all created equal.

Moderate purine foods include:

  • Beef (non-organ meat)
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Tripe
  • Rabbit

Remember, organ meats are considerably higher in purine than non-organ meats (except tripe)

Foods to Avoid

  • Liver – both beef and pork
  • Kidney
  • Sardines
  • Some fish

In general, if your dog has Cushing’s disease, you should avoid giving him most seafood and organ meats. Whether your dog has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease or is just starting to show some symptoms, a raw natural diet is really the best option.

Dog Treats

All dogs, young and old, large and small, love dog treats. But, some are good for dogs with Cushing’s disease while others really aren’t. For a comprehensive list of the beneficial treats, it’s best to ask your vet. You will, of course, be looking for treats that follow the same guidelines as for your cushingoid dog’s diet.

Untreated Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Left untreated, Cushing’s can lead to other problems such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, pancreatitis, and seizures as well as some other disorders. The Cushing’s symptoms are often chalked up to a dog’s natural aging process. A bloated belly, a bony appearance in his head, muscle weakness, or skin hyperpigmentation may be noticed. These are all possible signs of the disease and they should not be ignored or simply attributed to the “symptoms of old age”.

Is it Always Fatal?

No, not always. It is definitely a chronic illness, no doubt about it, and Cushing’s disease in dogs can have a very rapid and certainly severe effect on your pup’s overall quality of life unless it is treated properly. It can also result in a wide range of more serious health problems, which in some cases, can bring on fatal complications. However, being able to understand both the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for the disease could literally end up saving your dog’s life.

Life Expectancy

Cushing’s Disease in Dogs Prognosis

In the majority of cases, Cushing’s disease mainly affects older dogs. If the disease is correctly diagnosed at the early stage, and the appropriate treatments are administered, those senior canines can have a normal life expectancy. Treatment should include changes in diet as well as appropriate supplements and prescription meds from your vet if applicable.

How Long Does a Dog Live with Cushing’s Disease?

Questions that loving pet parents often ask usually include, “My dog has Cushing’s disease how long will she live?”, as well as, “How do I know when to put a dog down with Cushing’s disease?”, and, “How high is the percentage of dog Cushing’s disease deaths among senior dogs? What about younger dogs?” These are all good questions but unfortunately, they can only be answered definitively by your veterinarian.

Asking them is the first step. Don’t just imagine the worst. Get an expert veterinary opinion to put you at ease or prepare you for what is to come for you and your dog. Most importantly, never give up. Remember, there are new treatments coming to light every single day and one of them could help your beloved pooch.

Keep checking back with your vet. Don’t be afraid to mention a new treatment that you may have heard or read about. After all, your dog’s life could depend upon being on top of the latest developments in treating Cushing’s disease in dogs.    

The Ongoing Health of Your Dog

When choosing a Cushing’s disease therapy for your dog, you should take into account a number of things. They include cost, dosing schedule, efficacy, monitoring schedule, and possible side effects. Somewhere in the future, there will more than likely be surgical options for dogs with Cushing’s disease just like there are for people. If, after reading this, you have further questions and concerns about your dog’s ongoing health, be sure to consult your veterinarian for selecting a viable treatment option.