the ultimate guitde to Cushing’s Disease in Dogs and Cats

Cushing’s Disease is a common disorder in dogs and cats. It’s caused when the pituitary gland produces too much of the hormone cortisol. This hormone causes the dog or cat to become overweight, develop a fatty liver, and have decreased energy levels. If left untreated, Cushing’s Disease can lead to serious health problems, including heart failure and diabetes. In this article, we’ll provide you with the ultimate guide to identifying and treating Cushing’s Disease in Dogs and Cats.

Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is caused by an excess of cortisol in the body. It is relatively rare in people, affecting between 10 and 15 of every million people each year. The problem occurs more commonly in the dog than in the cat.

Cushing’s Disease in Dogs and Cats

Cushing’s disease commonly affects middle-aged to older dogs,” says Dr. Jennifer Brinson, a veterinarian specializing in internal medicine at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital at Urbana. “It is most commonly seen in poodles, dachshunds, terriers, German shepherds, and golden retrievers.

“These animals typically present with symmetrical hair loss; excessive eating, drinking, and urination; lethargy; and a distended abdomen,” she says. “They commonly have other skin abnormalities and secondary urinary tract infections as well.

Three Types of Cushing’s Disease

There are three types of Cushing’s disease: adrenal cortical tumor, pituitary tumor, and iatrogenic (veterinarian-induced).

An adrenal cortical tumor-

a tumor of the cortisol-producing cells of the adrenal gland–causes excess production of cortisol. Although there are two adrenal glands, these tumors generally develop in one gland and will lead to one abnormally large adrenal gland and one abnormally small gland.


Pituitary dependent hyperadrenocorticism is due to microtumors in the pituitary gland in the brain that produce excessive amounts of a hormone that causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. In this form, both adrenal glands are enlarged.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s

Iatrogenic Cushing’s is produced by an excess of cortisol being given to a pet by a veterinarian, for example, to treat a skin disorder. The excess cortisol in the body signals the adrenal glands to decrease their normal production of cortisol, leading to a decrease in the size of the adrenal glands.

Cushing’s disease is first suspected with clinical signs, physical exam abnormalities, and blood tests that are suggestive of this disease. A definitive diagnosis is made using three-stage testing of adrenal challenge gland function.

The treatment for an adrenal tumor

The treatment for an adrenal tumor is surgical removal and supplementation of cortisol until the shrunken adrenal gland returns to normal function,” says Dr. Brinson. “It is uncommon for these tumors to recur on the remaining adrenal gland.

The treatment for pituitary

dependent Cushing’s is generally Mitotane® (O,P’-DDD), a chemical derivative of the pesticide DDT,” she says. “This drug destroys the zones of the adrenal cortex that produce cortisol. The drug is administered until a reasonable level of cortisol production is achieved and the pet is then maintained on the drug at that level for life, with periodic rechecks to adjust the dose.

The treatment for iatrogenic Cushing’s

The treatment for iatrogenic Cushing’s is slow withdrawal from the external source of cortisol,” continues Dr. Brinson. “It is extremely important that changes in the medication are not made without first consulting your veterinarian. Quickly withdrawing the source of cortisol before the adrenal glands can recover can lead to dramatic consequences, such as vomiting, diarrhea, vascular collapse, and death.”

The prognosis for this disease varies depending on the type. Surgery can cure an adrenal cortical tumor that has not spread to other areas of the body. However, about half the adrenal tumors are malignant and therefore may have already spread, in which case, there is a much poorer prognosis. Pituitary-dependent Cushing’s has a good short-term prognosis, as the microtumors do not generally cause other problems. Long-term, however, pets with Cushing’s disease are predisposed to other diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, urinary tract infections, kidney disease, hypertension, and pancreatitis. Iatrogenic Cushing’s disease has a good prognosis, if proper withdrawal times are maintained.

“It is important to remember two things about this disease,” says Dr. Brinson. “First, two of the most common signs of this disease are excessive drinking and urination. Excessive drinking and urination are also the most common signs of other serious diseases, such as kidney failure, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism (in cats), which need to be investigated prior to testing the adrenal glands. Second, other conditions, such as arthritis and itchy skin, may be masked by the excess cortisol production. These conditions are coincidental but may surface as the Cushing’s disease is treated and may require other forms of treatment.”

In this blog, we discussed the signs and symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs and cats. We also provided a few tips on how to spot the disease and some helpful information on treatments. We hope you found this blog informative and helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them in the comments section below. Thank you for reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of end stage Cushing’s disease in dogs?

Because CD induces intense thirst, a dog with the disease will consume a lot of water and urinate regularly. Dogs lose muscle and become weak as the condition worsens. On the flanks, neck, and perineum, owners may notice weakening of the skin, lesions, and hair loss.

What are the symptoms of Cushing’s disease in cats?

Excessive thirst is a condition in which a person is constantly thirsty. Urination that is excessive. Abdominal swell. Muscle atrophy. The coat is in bad shape.

What causes Cushing’s disease in dogs?

Trilostane: This drug inhibits the synthesis of cortisol for a short period of time. It is given to the pet once or twice a day for the rest of his or her life. Mitotane is a medication that kills cortisol-producing cells in the adrenal gland permanently.

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