Sick dog wrapped in a blanket
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6 symptoms of Cushing ’s Disease in dogs

By Dawn Parrish Content Writer

Updated on the

Cushing’s disease is a disorder that is very difficult to diagnose in dogs. It is often very challenging to identify as the many symptoms mimic other diseases.

What is Cushing’s disease?

The overproduction of excess hormones by the adrenal glands is also known as hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s disease.

Named after the human neurosurgeon, Harvey Cushing. He was the first medic to label this disorder of the endocrine system that affects the adrenal glands. These 2 tiny glands, situated in front of each kidney produce hormones that are crucial to the dog’s important body functions. In a dog diagnosed with Cushing’s, too much cortisol is present, a hormone produced by these adrenal glands.

As a result of the hormone imbalance, illness strikes and sometimes horrific symptoms appear.

Breeds more at risk of Cushing’s disease

This illness typically affects older dogs, generally over the age of 8 years. It is also diagnosed more frequently in certain breeds of dog:

As with many canine health conditions, the illness may be rather challenging to diagnose. Above all, early detection, identification and medication are all massively important. Here are some symptoms of Cushing’s in dogs to look out for:

An increase in thirst and urinating

One of the first visible clues to Cushing’s disease is your dog’s extreme thirst and need to urinate frequently. First of all, you will probably notice how much more frequently you refill his water bowl. As a result of his increased water intake, he will need to go outside more often. In addition, your house-trained dog may begin to have accidents inside.

An increase in thirst is a symptom of Cushing's in dogs© Pixabay

As these symptoms, especially in an older dog, mimic those of a urinary tract infection, diagnosis can be problematic. Kidney disease together with more frequent thirst are also symptoms of kidney disease. You can see how important it is to have diagnostic tests for definite confirmation.

Any weight gain and increase in appetite can be a symptom of Cushing’s disease

Your pet’s appetite will increase as a result of the higher cortisone levels. He will eat more and consequently gain weight. This weight increase means that he is no longer as flexible and able to climb the stairs or jump up onto the furniture. An increase in cortisone also impacts the dog’s abdominal ligaments and liver. Because of these hormonal imbalances, the dog can have a pot-bellied appearance. These are similar symptoms to arthritis, so a medical diagnosis is very important.

Skin that feels thin when touched

The skin of a healthy dog, on his abdomen, should feel quite plump. Another symptom of Cushing’s disease in dogs is skin that feels very thin, or that may bruise very easily.

Panting more than normal

If your dog is feeling hot, is stressed or has exerted himself, it is quite normal for him to pant. However, if he pants excessively or continuously, combined with any other symptoms that could be Cushing’s disease, it’s time to get him checked out.

Hair loss on both sides of the dog’s body

If your dog has Cushing’s disease, it is likely he may lose some fur. Typically, the fur on his head and legs will remain, whereas the midsection of his body can drop hair. You will notice that the loss of hair is symmetrical, almost equal on both sides of the dog’s abdomen. Likewise, fur may disappear from the neck, flanks and area around the dog’s rectum and genitals.

Changes in the dog’s behaviour

In addition, other symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs are behavioural changes. Your pet may begin to be more aggressive than before and certainly not as calm as normal.

Dog aggression is a symptom of Cushing's disease © Pixabay

Cushing’s disease is not to be confused with other illnesses

The majority of the signs and symptoms mentioned here can also be attributed to other dog ailments, particularly in an older pet. Some other illnesses that have very similar complaints to Cushing’s:

  • An increase in thirst is also linked to the onset of diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism also presents as symmetrical hair loss
  • A bloated stomach can also be detected with gastric dilation and gastric torsion (both of which can be fatal if left untreated)
  • A constant need to urinate is linked to both urinary tract infection and senior dogs

Prognosis of a dog with Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease in dogs is certainly being diagnosed more often. The majority of dogs will require medical treatment, but most will live contentedly for several years.

Selecting The Best Treatment Option for a Dog with Cushing’s syndrome

Sara Galac of Utrecht University reports on the various treatments available: Both pituitary-dependent and adrenal-dependent hypercortisolism can be treated either surgically or medically and pituitary macro tumours can be treated by radiotherapy.  In order to determine the best treatment, factors such as the patient’s age, concurrent Diseases, and general health should be considered.

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