Cushing's Disease


What is Cushing's disease?

Cushings disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is a disease where the body produces too much of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland, in response to signals from the pituitary gland in the brain. A tumour in either of these glands can result in too much cortisol being released. This causes a number of clinical abnormalities. Cushing's disease can occur in any breed at any age, but is most common in small breeds and middle-aged dogs. It tends to have a gradual onset.

What are the signs of Cushing's disease?

A dog with Cushing's disease may show some or all of these signs:

  • Increased drinking and increased urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Pot-belly appearance
  • Weakness, lethargy
  • Skin abnormalities, such as thin skin, increased pigmentation, blackheads and
  • pimples
  • Obesity
  • Increased panting
  • Poor wound healing and increased bruising

How can we diagnose Cushing's disease?

If we suspect that your dog may have Cushing's disease, the first thing we will do is run a full general blood and urine panel. This will give us further clues as to whether Cushing's disease is likely. If we are still suspicious, we will need to run specific tests to try to find out whether the pituitary and adrenal glands are functioning normally. Usually we will need to keep your pet in hospital for the day to run these tests. Sometimes, we may need to do further tests such as chest x-rays and/or abdominal ultrasound to work out the exact cause and extent of the disease.

How is Cushing's disease treated?

What we use to treat Cushing's disease will depend somewhat on the exact cause. Usually we treat Cushing's disease with a type of chemotherapy drug that kills off some of the cells that produce cortisol, hence bringing the cortisol level in the body down to a more normal level. Long-term monitoring is required to make sure we are using the correct dosage of chemotherapy.

What is the prognosis for dogs with Cushing's disease?

With proper monitoring and commitment, most dogs that undergo treatment for Cushing's disease have good quality of life for many years.