Dogs are just like people in that they also have health needs. After all, they can get sick too.
For example, they can be infected with parasites such as heartworms. Left alone, it can easily damage their internal organs.
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Other common conditions include kennel cough, rabies, parvovirus, and diabetes. It’s also worth mentioning that some conditions, such as Cushing’s disease are more often seen in middle-aged to older dogs.
What is Cushing’s disease in dogs? Is it treatable? What are some of the symptoms? Find out by reading the rest of the post!
What Is Cushing’s Disease In Dogs?
Cushing’s disease (sometimes called Cushing’s syndrome) is a condition in which there’s too much cortisol in the body. This is due to the overactivity of the adrenal glands, which sits on top of the kidneys.
What is cortisol? It’s a hormone that regulates various body functions such as the inflammatory response and stress response. Too much of it, however, can cause a number of problems.
Early symptoms are usually non-specific. For this reason, Cushing’s disease may be difficult to detect at the beginning.
For example, you may notice that your dog is hungrier or thirstier than normal. In addition to that, they may pant a lot or have thinning hair or skin; fatigue and inactivity are common as well.
Some dogs may also develop a big, round belly. If anything, that’s one of the telltale signs of the disease.
Types of Cushing’s Disease
There are three main types that can affect canines:
Pituitary-dependent: This type of Cushing’s disease is the most common—that is, it affects approximately 85% of all dogs who are diagnosed with the condition.
Put it simply, it’s due to a small tumor in the pituitary gland—a pea-sized gland located a the base of the brain. This causes it to overproduce a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.
Adrenal-dependent: This type is less common and represents approximately 15% of all diagnosed cases. Basically, it’s caused by a benign or malignant tumor in the adrenal glands, a set of paired glands that produces steroid hormones in the body.
Iatrogenic: This type is caused by prolonged use of steroid medications. For example, it may affect a dog who is taking oral steroids to treat bone and joint pain.
Generally speaking, it tends to affect toy and small breed dogs. With that said, large breed dogs may also develop the condition.
Diagnosing Your Dog
Unfortunately, there’s no test that’s 100% accurate for diagnosing Cushing’s disease. With that said, there are things that your vet can do to rule out other conditions.
Generally speaking, they’ll start by conducting a blood and urine test. That will allow them to see whether or not there are any issues with their enzymes, something that’s often seen in those with Cushing’s.
Once they’ve done that, they may opt for a low dose dexamethasone suppression test or an ACTH stimulation test. The former examines how well the body is able to react to dexamethasone, a man-made version of cortisol whereas the latter measures how well the adrenal glands respond to ACTH.
If the results are consistent with the condition, the vet may proceed with an ultrasound to see if there’s a tumor on the adrenal glands.
Different Treatment Options
The type of treatment depends on the type of Cushing’s your dog has.
There are a couple of medications that can be used to treat this type of Cushing’s disease. Basically, they work by preventing the adrenal gland from producing excessive cortisol hormone.
While they’re not curative, they can be effective at managing the symptoms.
These types of tumors often require surgery. If the procedure is successful (assuming that it isn’t malignant), there is a high chance that the dog will regain normal health.
For those who can’t undergo surgery, symptoms can be managed with medication.
Iatrogenic Cushing’s Disease
This type of Cushing’s require that the steroid medication be stopped. To prevent complications, it’s crucial that you do this in a gradual manner.
Unfortunately, that also means that the disease being treated by the steroid will likely come back.
Note: Alternative therapies exist as well. For example, you might want to read about natural treatment for Cushings in dogs.
What to Know If Your Dog Is Taking Medication
The most important thing is to follow the treatment plan given to you by your veterinarian. Be sure to follow the guidelines closely as it can affect the medication’s efficacy.
Follow-up blood tests will also be necessary to ensure that your dog is receiving the right dose.
Prognosis For Dogs With Cushing’s Disease
The only way to cure the disease is to remove the tumor, assuming that it’s adrenal-dependent and that it isn’t malignant. With that said, most cases are treated with medication due to the risks of surgery.
And while they can’t cure the condition, they can control it for many years, assuming that the tumor is small.
If the tumor is large, however, the prognosis will be less favorable.
Understanding Cushing’s Disease
Hopefully, that answers the question of, “what is Cushing’s disease in dogs.” As you can see, there are a few different types of the condition, all of which have their own treatment options.
Interested in reading more dog-related posts? Then check out the rest of our blog!