What is Cushing’s Disease?

Posted: November 17, 2010 by at K9 Health & Fitness

If your dog has thinning hair, a pot belly and is constantly drinking his water bowl dry, he may have Cushing’s Disease. This disease occurs when your dog has too much of the hormone cortisol in his body.

This hormone is amongst several hormones produce by your dog’s adrenal glands, which sit right next to his kidneys. Cortisol is involved in helping his body react appropriately to stress.

Your dog may develop Cushing’s disease if he is treated with a group of drugs called corticosteroids. These drugs are important in treating severe allergies or immune mediated diseases, but they can have side effects. One of them is Cushing’s Disease.

The other cause of this illness in dogs is a tumor on either the adrenal gland itself, or the part of the brain that regulates the gland’s production of cortisol. Either way, the result is too much hormone, and the typical symptoms of Cushing’s Disease.

These symptoms include excessive thirst, hunger and lethargy. Your dog will be weak, and develop patches of hair loss particularly on the sides of his torso. This disease doesn’t just show up overnight; symptoms are slow to appear and may not be noticeable until they are severe.

Diagnosis is usually very straightforward. Although the symptoms are very suggestive, a blood test is needed to obtain a definite diagnosis.

If your dog’s Cushing’s Disease is due to medication, then this needs to be gradually withdrawn over a period of weeks. This can lead to its own challenges as you will need to find alternatives to corticosteroids to treat his other medical conditions.

Chemotherapy is used to treat Cushing’s Disease that is associated with an adrenal gland tumor. Drugs are given by mouth to kill off the cells that are responsible for the production of cortisol. It is a fine line though; if too many cells are killed off, then the result is a shortage of cortisol, and there are problems associated with that too. Medication usually needs to be continued for life, and your dog will need blood tests at regular intervals to make sure his cortisol levels are normal.

In Summary – Cushing’s Disease takes a great deal of owner commitment and finances to properly manage, but it’s possible for your dog to enjoy life in spite of his illness.