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Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Hyperadrenocorticism, now that’s a mouthful, right? – is also known by its more common name – Cushing’s Disease.


Cushing’s Disease is a condition where your dog’s body produces too much of the hormone ‘cortisol’; it is common in middle aged and older dogs.


Dog’s affected by Cushing’s will most likely need to be on medication to manage their condition for the rest of their life.

What is Cushing's Disease?

Cushing’s Disease is a condition where your dog’s body produces too much of the hormone ‘cortisol’.

A dog’s body needs some steroids to function properly, these are produced by the adrenal glands (which are situated near the kidney). The adrenal gland receives a message by the pituitary gland (which sits at the base of the brain) which prompts the adrenal gland to produce the hormone, cortisol.

If a dog gets a growth on either of these glands, this can send the cortisol hormone production into overdrive leading to several symptoms.

The most common cause of Cushing’s Disease is a benign tumour on the pituitary gland. Adrenal gland tumours can cause this disease but are less common.

High level use of steroid medication which is usually used to treat immune disorders or severe allergies can cause what is known as “Iatrogenic Cushing’s Disease”.

Cortisol is the hormone which is released when we get stressed! It quickly tells our body it has to work quickly to avoid a cause of stress – this can often be known as the “fight or flight” mode. A dog’s body reacts to this by speeding up the metabolism and releasing energy in forms of sugar and fat and retaining water it thinks it may need later on. In a normal dog, this is a perfectly natural response to stressful situations.

Each time cortisol is produced, the dog’s body will react by releasing the energy it thinks it needs to overcome the stress. In a dog with Cushing’s, too much cortisol is produced, and long term this causes changes which can make the dog prone to heath problems such as skin changes and infections. They may be prone to Diabetes.

Signs of Cushing's Disease

In most cases symptoms can be mild, so getting a confirmed diagnosis may be challenging.


Signs your dog may have Cushing’s:

  • Drinking large volumes of water – this will then cause them to urinate more frequently especially at night.
  • Hair loss – This can be in patches or over their whole body
  • Panting
  • Weight gain
  • Abdominal Swelling which gives them a “Potbellied” saggy appearance
  • Changes to the skin’s appearance, black waxy skin, thickened skin, crusty lesions particularly to the ears and nose
  • Lowered immunity
  • Lack of energy

How Is Cushing's Tested for?

The symptoms of Cushing’s can be very similar to many other conditions that may affect dogs of the same age group, so it can take a while to get a positive diagnosis.

Dog’s with ongoing health problems are more likely to test positive, even though they do not have it.

It is important that you tell your vet everything you know about your dog’s history and it may be helpful to keep a log of all of the symptoms that they have been displaying to show your vet.

A full physical examination will be performed during the consultation and they will need to take a blood sample. Further tests may be required.

Diagnosis and Treatment

It is not always necessary to treat Cushing’s, and your vet will discuss what they advise is right for your dog’s treatment as treatment depends on the type your dog has.

Treatment in tablet form is used in most cases, as surgery is usually a very specialist option.

If your dog’s illness is due to a benign pituitary tumour, which is the most common, your vet may prescribe daily tablet medication which will help manage the disease. If the symptoms are mild, your vet may not start any medication at this time but will want you to monitor the symptoms closely for any changes.

Dogs with a growth on the adrenal gland will need a scan to see whether the tumour is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). If there is only one tumour, your vet may advise a course of medication to shrink the tumour. In some cases, further tumours may spread throughout the body and in severe cases, unfortunately, the disease may not be treatable.

Latrogenic Cushing’s Disease is caused by taking steroid medication for allergies or immunity issues long-term. Dog’s need to be slowly weaned off of these medications, as advised by your Vet. Stopping steroids too quickly can lead to further, potentially fatal, problems.

Disease Management

Whilst there is no cure for Cushing’s, it can be managed but can be costly to treat.

Medications will need to be given to your pet for the rest of his or her life, regular blood tests and visits to the vet will be required, as treatment without these can be dangerous.

Affectionately known as 'Ugly Betty', we introduce this sweet French Bulldog who we believe to be aged 8 years old.

Betty has been bred from, has an eye missing and also has Cushing’s Disease. She's now on medication (30mg Vetoryl at the moment) and will need regular blood checks to determine the dose is correct and that hormone levels are stabilised. She seems to be doing well so far.

Her character is steady and chilled. She doesn't particularly seek attention and isn't into being cuddly at the moment. But she has likely been feeling unwell with her condition since her arrival into foster care.

She loves the resident dogs in the foster home but hasn't really got the hang of playing yet. She does love to collect things and take them to her bed to 'look after'. Her foster mum is forever retrieving missing socks and flip flops from the safety of Betty's bed!

She definitely needs an adopter who is around a good part of the day, preferably with other friendly resident dogs. Direct access to a private secure garden is a must for her. She does need to pee a lot currently but does go to the door to let you know; at night she has used puppy pads. Hopefully once her medication kicks in fully this will reduce and go back to a normal level of toilet breaks.

Betty absolutely loves going out for a potter or a ride in the car, it's her most favourite thing! Despite her age and medical condition, she comfortably enjoys a 30 minute stroll with plenty of sniffing time (not when its super hot mind!).

It is a big ask to take on a dog with a medical condition, so please do ensure you have a read about Cushing’s. Ideally her adopter will be around for a fair part of the day, or perhaps she may be able to accompany you to work, depending on what you do, but she cannot be left long hours. Children must of secondary school age, she is not currently cat tested, we are planning to get this done.

If you feel you can offer Betty the life she deserves and can meet her needs, medically and financially (we will provide her first 3 months medication whilst she is stabilising) please do get in touch by completing our online form at the following link

Adoption fee and home visit apply.

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