What Is Cushing’s Disease In Dogs (Symptoms, Prognosis & Treatment)?

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Dog with cushing's disease on vet tableCushing’s disease is a lifelong, uncommonly cured, condition in dogs. There is treatment to help your dog live more comfortably, but it will not prolong your dog’s life. Find out how you can help your dog live contently with Cushing’s disease.

Article Overview

What Is Cushing’s Disease In Dogs?

Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, occurs when the body produces too much cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced and stored by the adrenals, which are two small glands that are above the kidneys. Cortisol helps the body during times of stress, regulates appropriate body weight, skin condition and tissue structure. However, too much cortisol can weaken the immune system.

Two Types Of Cushing’s Disease

The type of Cushing’s your dog has determines the treatment prescribed. Blood tests are used to diagnose Cushing’s to help differentiate between the 2 types. An ultrasound may also be used to detect a tumor on an adrenal gland.

Pituitary-Dependent

80% to 85% of Cushing’s falls within the pituitary-dependent type. This means a tumor triggers it on the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.

The pituitary gland produces hormones including the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The tumor causes the pituitary to overproduce ACTH which is then dispersed throughout the bloodstream to the adrenal glands causing them to produce more cortisol.

Adrenal-Dependent

The remaining 15% to 20% of Cushing’s cases involve a tumor located in one or both adrenal glands causing them to produce excess cortisol.

Symptoms

  • Commonly found in middle-aged to older dogs
  • Drinking more
  • More frequent urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Decrease in activity
  • Excessive panting
  • Fragile skin
  • Hair loss
  • Skin infections
  • Enlarged abdomen (potbellied appearance)

Treatment

Treating Cushing’s disease in dogs takes careful monitoring and regular checkups with the vet. However, dogs can live a good, happy life if you are responsible with your dog’s care.

Medications

Medication is commonly used to help manage the symptoms of both pituitary and adrenal types of Cushing’s disease. Your dog’s vet will schedule regular appointments and conduct blood tests to monitor your dog’s response to treatment. The veterinarian may adjust the dose to help improve your dog’s reaction to medication.

  • Vetoryl (trilostane) is the only drug approved by the FDA to treat both types of Cushing’s. This prescription stops the production of cortisol in the adrenal glands.
  • Anipryl (selegiline) is FDA-approved to treat uncomplicated, pituitary-dependent Cushing’s in dogs.
  • Lysodren (mitotane) is often used to treat dogs with Cushing’s. It is a chemotherapy drug for humans that destroys the layers of the adrenal gland that produce cortisol. This prescription is “off-label,” meaning vets can legally prescribe human drugs to animals and at different dosages than those listed on the label.

Natural Remedies

  • Dandelion is known to normalize adrenal functions1
  • Burdock is good at cleansing unwanted substances from the body1
  • Arsenicum treats excessive thirst1
  • Hepar Sulph heals irritated skin1
  • Sulfur improves skin health1
  • Melatonin hinders 2 enzymes needed to produce cortisol, which reduces cortisol levels2
  • Lignans impede 2 enzymes (different from melatonin) required to produce cortisol, which decreases cortisol levels2

What Is The Recommended Diet For Dogs With Cushing’s?

Ask your vet about the best dog food to give your dog if they have Cushing’s disease.

Is There A Cure?

The only cure for Cushing’s disease is to remove the adrenal tumor if your dog is adrenal-dependant and the cancer hasn’t spread elsewhere. However, this can be difficult and risky, so most cases of Cushing’s disease are treated with medication. Pituitary-dependent dogs do not commonly have surgery because techniques are still under development.

Prognosis

Medication can control small Cushing’s tumors for many years. However, for larger tumors that affect the brain, the prognosis isn’t as good. If your dog has a malignant adrenal tumor, the prognosis is poor. The life expectancy for a dog with pituitary-dependent Cushing’s is 2 years.

What If You Don’t Treat A Dog With Cushing’s Disease?

A dog untreated for Cushing’s disease can live just as long as a dog with treatment. However, the dog without treatment will experience more symptoms; therefore, having a lower quality of life. This is something we suggest discussing with your veterinarian if you are considering treating or not treating your dog’s Cushing’s disease.

When To Put Your Dog With Cushing’s Down

First of all, we’re so sorry you have to consider this. We can’t imagine the pain you are feeling nor how difficult of a decision this is. We recommend speaking with your vet about signs to look for in your dog that may show the time may be approaching.

When the time does come, you may find this article helpful. It discusses grieving the loss of your dog.

Is your dog suffering from Cushing’s Disease? What treatment has helped? 

Sources: [1] Holistic Pet Info, [2] Cushing’s In Dogs, [3] Cushing’s Disease Dogs

About The Author:

Kimberly received her Bachelor of Arts in multimedia journalism from Simpson College. She has been writing about dogs since 2014, covering subjects such as dog insurance, training, health, accessories and more. Her natural curiosity helps her research as she seeks the truth when learning about, comparing and personally testing canine products and services. With every piece she writes, her goal is to help our readers find the best fit for their unique needs.

Kimberly grew up in a family that loved Labrador Retrievers and remembers running and playing in the yard with them as a child. In 2017, she and her husband adopted their Coonhound mix, Sally, from a local shelter. Kimberly's research was put to good use since Sally faced some aggression issues with other dogs and needed some training to be an inside dog. She worked daily with Sally and sought help from professionals to help Sally become the happy pup she is today.

One of Kimberly's favorite pastimes is spoiling Sally with new toys, comfy beds and yummy treats (she even makes homemade goodies for her). She tries to purchase the safest products for Sally and knows that each canine has their own specific likes and dislikes. Kimberly is passionate about dogs, and knows the bond between humans and canines is like no other.

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Barbara Braim
I’m taking my Bichon to the Vet this week. She has all the Symptoms of Cushing’s. Pot belly, vomiting, always thirsty, hungry all the time, grumpy, having lots of accidents, diabetes, lost of hair, panting a lot, no energy, and now her normally pink skin is turning black. She has every symptom, of Cushings. I have told her vet that I suspected cushings for the last few years, but he has ignored me on this. And when she was Diagnosed with diabetes, I thought that was what was causing her symptoms. When her skin started turning black, this week, I was afraid she might have cancer. I looked it up and again it was a sign of Cushings! Sophie is 12 going on 13. I’m thinking I’m not going to treat her. I love her like she is my child, but from what I’ve read, she will have the same life span that she would if she was on medicine. I’ve also read that the medicines can have very adverse reactions. The thought of losing her is unbearable.
Brenda Nigrelli
My Dixie is showing signs of cushing disease. She had a very increased appetite and water. Until today she lost interest in her food. Extremely week in her hind quarters. Has one more test in 2 wks. Hoping she won’t be to week. We hsve no proper diagnosis. Her liver enzymes are high. Liver is large no mass in liver. Her adreanal glands are on the large side of the scale. But not esscessively large
Missy
I just got back from the vet and they are thinking that it could be cushings disease. I am going to call tomorrow to make the appointment for the 8 hour blood test. She has always had a big belly just thought she was a big girl. Had one accident in the house which she never does and the last 4 days drinking excessively so I thought it was diabetes and had her tested for that. She is only 7 years old and I’m freaking out a bit. They are talking about an ultrasound depending on the blood work. I guess I just have to wait for all these tests to be completed. She is a dalmation/boxer mix and I see that boxers are prone to this disease! Ugh
Mary
Because of vomiting, bloody diarrhea…I had tests done for my almost 14 year old goldendoodle. Blood work and xrays which revealed that normal count was 200 and my dog was 1600. A symptom for Cushings disase. No tumors revealed. Vet felt further tests would be required but I declined due to expense. I said I would try the antibiotics first… which worked. My only concern was if my dog was in pain. Vet unsure said cushings is not like cancer. dogs can live with it and many times it is not diagnosed. I did change his diet to salmon, rice and chicken. Salmon for DHA.. Give him probiotics and melatonin and glucosamine for joints. This has helped his digestive issues. No accidents in house since. He does not have a bloated belly. He does drink a lot and needs to go out frequently. He has a very poor appetite. Hard to tell what’s just old age related and Cushings related. He seems relatively content. I spoke to vet about WHEN should I consider putting him down. Her prognosis was maybe a 8 months to a year…. So I will do my best to see that he is well taken care of. Ive only had 2 dogs in my adult life, both living over 14 years….Decision to put down my previous dog for a large inoperable tumor was heartbreaking but pumping my dog full of painkillers and antibiotics was just too selfish and his prognosis was only 3 months with a mediocre quality of life. I cried for 2 days but knew I did what was best for Max, will do the same for Champ when time comes. Love your dog but be merciful and unselfish….
lUCIA
My 14 year old border collie mix; Roxy started having diarrhea and vomiting after leaving her a weekend with a pet sitter. Having loose stools after leaving her has happened before but she was never this sick. I took her to the vet yesterday and she was given medicine,special food to take home, an injection, fluids in her back, fecal test, blood test and me a hefty bill. The only thing that showed up was the likelihood of cushings disease but would need to do more blood work to know for sure. She started doing better last night. After reading about the symptoms I’m certain that is whats wrong with her and I think she has had it at least a year. After reading the pro’s and con’s about treatment I don’t think treating it is the option for me. She has had a good life and I think I will know when the time comes to let her go. Thank you all for sharing your experience.
margaret thompson
My ten year old rescue dog Charley is going to be tested for cushings disease, he has all the classic symptoms, insatiable thirst, and all that entails, ravenous appetite a pot belly and he’s lost most of his coat.He also barks a lot and I can’t leave him for any length of time because he becomes very distressed. He has also lost one of his hind legs after being attacked by another dog. In fact he hasn’t had a lot of luck, but despite all this, he still has a good quality of life, he’s very sociable and loves his walks. But I don’t want him to suffer unnecessarily, what are the chances of him leading a comfortable life and will he get his coat back? This isn’t for vanity reasons but to protect him from the sun and cold.
Monica Salem
My 8 1/2 year old yorkie looks like he has cushings disease. I took him to the vet yesterday because he had a pot belly and wanted to make sure he didn’t have a tumor. They are going to do a test on him next week to diagnose for sure. He is such a good pup and hoping that medicine will help him live a lot longer and continue to have a good quality of life.
Lorraine Cook
Hi I have a 13.5 year old staffie who has been suffering from increased appetite, always drinking, bloated belly and behaviour change of constant barking , being woken up twice during the night to be let out but then still barking when indoors. Vet did various test for cushings including a scan on liver has readings were high
The blood test came back very high for liver and the scan showed a very unusual liver. Our dog is still eating and drinking but is very lethargic. Vet says this could still be cushings therefore a big test will.now be needed. Any ideas.on this please lorraine
vicki slawich
my 14 yr old beagle was diagnosed with Cushings…it is a very expensive disease to treat..my Molly hasn’t responded well to treatment, so the vet said I didn’t have to treat her anymore. she is drinking more and is hungry all the time, but she always did have a ravenous appetite. she actually seems better since I stopped treatment…quality of life is what I’m shooting for now…good luck and be wary of addisons crisis when treating with Vetoryl…
Angelica
This is what my vet just recommended for my going on 15 Jack Russell….no treatment. You’re right it is expensive with all of the blood tests etc. I’m hoping she will be ok without any treatment. Even though I want her to live forever, I don’t want her to be constantly sick from meds. How long has your beagle gone without treatment?
Wendy
Our vet didn’t feel the meds were a good choice for our dog because of the adverse effects. He’s a 12 year old pappillon mix. We went with lignans and melatonin for almost 6 months and it helped a lot with the frequent urinating. But now he is declining. He was sleeping a lot with the melatonin but has recently started choking and severe coughing on and off. We were prescribed antihistamines and cough suppressants but they haven’t helped. No one in the house is sleeping, including the dog as it’s on and off all day and night. He was still having intermittent good days where he seems spunky, but those are getting less and less. I do not want him to suffer. We are struggling with the decision if it’s time to let him go.
Corlis Vernon
I have two Bichons (12yrs & 11yrs) that have been diagnoised with Cushings,they are both taking Vetoryl, different dosages. Their ALT levels(liver values) are 900 to 1300, they are also taking Ursadiol, for the increased ALT levels. Its sad for us to see them sleeping all the time. We also have another Bichon(14yrs) that has Copper Loading disease, which is bad in itself, ALT is 1700, on multiple meds and more meds to take those meds. We are seeing specialists to manage this, but who helps manage us?
Angelica
My dog, a Jack Russell, turning 15 this year was diagnosed a few months ago (pituitary). I have tried Vetoryl, but my dog was having adverse reaction to the medication. My dog has a pot belly, excessive thirst, and a huge appetite. Her liver levels are also in the 600 range (she is taking Denamarin for this and it is helping). We are now testing Anipryl 5 mg on her. I have not noticed any difference with one month of treatment. Hopefully, with two months treatment we will notice a difference. Other problems she currently has are a dry nose and a sebaceous growth by her ear.
I was wondering what other treatments has anyone tried that they have seen yield positive results with minor side effects? Has anyone else used Anipryl? I have found the Anipryl to not have any side effects so far, and has actually increased alertness in my dog. She now is back to being at the door when I come home!

Any feedback someone has would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Norma
My dog a 14 year old 20 lb dachshund was just diagnosed Feb 19, 2019. He too had an adverse reaction to the Vetoryl- he quit eating and he became weak and very lethargic. We stopped the meds. (30mg) for a few days to clear his system and started him back but on the 10 mg. capsule. He got this once a day for two weeks and now we have been giving him it twice a day for a couple of weeks and he is doing awesome! So 20mg per day is apparently what he needed. One 10 mg capsule with breakfast and one 10 mg capsule with dinner. Even his one oozing lumpy growth on his back has stopped oozing! You may want to try lowering the dose :).
Angelica
Thank you for the reply Norma. We did try to lower the Vetoryl to the 10mg dose. She still had a bad reaction. Unfortunately, after 90 days on Anipryl she started to have side effects: wobbly legs, lethargic, anorexia, and vomiting. We are now going to try no treatment and see how it goes. I really thought the Anipryl was going to help! Thanks again for your response!
DeeDee Lazik
What is the adverse reaction?
Angelica
Lethargic, wobbly legs, anorexia, vomiting. I thought she was going to die!
Mary Nelson
My Ben is 13 and he has Cushing.hes on vetorol they seem to help Ben.. he seems very good as past few months.he has it a year now.
Hope
My little girl is 13 now and was diagnosed in 2017. She’s no eating much at all not drinking much water. I’m bside myself what to do. She did eat from My hand some dinner chicken we had today. I willContinue to try to feed her. Vet said chicken broth. So I’ll Try again
Katie
I had a dog that was a Dachshund Jack Russell since she was a puppy. I just lost her to this disease and she was only 16 of my God I cried for days says I don’t want to let her go but we had to because she was in dippers and couldn’t control her bladder anymore.she was in condeient
Leslie
So so sorry
alice
How long did she live after she was diagnosed? My Pomeranian was diagnosed 3 years ago and still handling her disease well. She also has a heart murmur. 🙁
Catherine Schure
Are you treating your dog for Cushing s?
Dail Davis
I have a 6yr Old Maltipoo since she was 9 months. She does drink a lot of water and can’t seem to get enough to eat. Her weight is 22# we’ve already spent over 5000$ on her knees years ago. The vet mentioned Cushioning disease. My husband wants me to put her down because now she has torn meniscus and another 2500$ surgery. I don’t know what to do. Need advice
DeeDee
Sorry you are going through this. I bet someone would take her before you put her down….
Connie Paine
I have 13 year old pom. He has had pot belly for a bit. Elevated labs. They are pushing us to get ultrasound to diagnose Cushing. I am thinking why? I just don’t know??? They already put him on K/D food. Was eating, now isn’t. Worried about his weight gain. I’m worried he’s not eating not that he has gained. And treatments just sound so maybe this maybe that. I want him happy
Olivia
Where did you get your dog nappy’s from to fit a Cushings dog with distended belly?
Amy Bakay
She said her dog was half jack Russell half dachshund. Those are both fairly small types of dog. So, she could have easily gone up a size to fit her dog.
Dail Davis
I have a Maltipoo age 6. She’s always drank a lot of water. But she’s not really pot bellied. After she eats she wants more food. She weighs 22# as of this morning. We’ve spent approximately 2500$ each knee years ago. Now she has a torn meniscus left rear leg and that means another 2500$. I can’t afford the test or the meds if positive for Cushings. He surgery is scheduled for April 3rd. My husband wants me to have her put down. I’m at a lost. She was given to me because of a bad injury I received at work and come near death. An 8 yr old boy told me God told him I needed this dog to help me and it did. Mia is only 6. Am I jumping the gun to even think of putting her down. She has been in continent one time but she could have been dreaming. Need words of encouragement
Pam
Hi, my mom has a dachshund that is 13 and would not be able to go through the tests it takes to positively test for it. I have been buying Lignans from Amazon for 6 months and they are working great!! You can also get food grade dandelion. He didn’t do well on the melatonin but yours may. Try other things first. Then, know more water more times outside.
Wendy
I heard that you have to give dogs with Cushing’s all the water they want. I have pee pads all over my house because of my dog has Cushings. He has had it for 8 1/2 years! He is starting to not eat or drink so im getting very worried. I took him to the vet and she said he has a UTI and gave him a shot that is supposed to stay in his system for 2 weeks. She said in 2 weeks he may go back to not eating or drinking and that is probably when im going to have to make a decision. Ive never had to put a dog down before and he is my baby! Hes been on Vetoryl for 7 years. I love him so much! I am besides myself on this!
Kasey
If he doesn’t seem like he is in pain or suffering than maybe try some of the home remedies or take your baby to another vet. Follow your heart..
Wendy Kaye McAttee
Mickey has gone back to 60 mg of Vetoryl and was doing great until now. He cant hardly walk and he is crying all the time. Its like his back is humped up and he can’t lay his head down.
Teresa
Wendy , I feel your pain my baby girl just got diagnosed with Cushing that is why I am on this site I myself a struggling with this my baby is 12 years old but when it gets to the point of her not eating and starving and crying we have to think of them instead of our
Selves and believe me I will be heartbroken also , I truly am sorry for your Mickey ,
Freda
My Molly, Cockapoo, 11 yrs old. Just had diagnosis of Cushings. So far she also has had only one night time …pee pee incident. Today I bought diapers and pads for night time mattress protection. I am playing it by ear. It is difficult to think ,of but from the discussions I read here I am not alone. We all will have to face a final decision one day…. and it will be the right choice when we make that decision.