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Vet Talk: Cushing’s disease in Dogs

Posted August 26, 2016


Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism in dogs is an endocrine disease resulting in a set of symptoms observed when the body is exposed to excess cortisone over a long period of time. It commonly affects middle aged dogs and the most common breeds affected are poodles, dachshunds, and beagles.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that are located on top of the kidneys.  Cortisol is stored in the adrenal glands and is released in times of stress where it helps our bodies prepare for a fight or flight situation.  It adjusts the metabolism to expect physical exertion by mobilizing fat and sugar stores and retaining sodium and water.  It puts us in a state of breakdown so that our stored resources can be used quickly.  However, if the body is exposed to this hormone on an ongoing basis instead of during short stressful periods only, the state of breakdown becomes debilitating.  This disease affects a number of bodily systems, and signs of the disease vary considerably between cases.  

The most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs that I see in my clinic include:

  • Drinking excessive amounts of water and urinating excessively
  • Increased hunger
  • Hair loss
  • Darkening of the skin and appearance of blackheads on the skin
  • Pot bellied abdomen and obesity
  • Urinary bladder stones and or crystals

There are three types of conditions that can lead to Cushing’s syndrome and it is important to know which one your dog has, since the treatments are different.

1) Pituitary Dependent Cushings syndrome– is an enlargement of the pituitary gland (85% of dogs have this type),

2) Adrenal dependent Cushings syndrome – is a tumor of the adrenal gland (15% of dogs have this type), and Iatrogenic (overuse of steroids medications in your dog).


It is important to visit your veterinarian if any of the above signs are seen in your dog- The above symptoms can mimic other endocrine or metabolic diseases.   A complete blood work up is recommended and specific Cushing’s disease tests are performed to diagnose Cushing’s disease in dogs. A low dose dexamethasone suppression test, and or high dose dexamethasone suppression test, and an adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) stimulation test. An abdominal ultrasound of the adrenal glands is helpful in differentiating between adrenal gland tumor versus pituitary dependent Cushing’s disease.

The most commonly prescribed medications to treat PDH Cushing’s disease include trilostaine, or lysodren.  Your veterinarian will know which medication will be best for your dog. However, you should be aware that there are side effects to the medications used for Cushing’s in dogs.  

Surgery is the most common treatment for adrenal gland tumors.

NHV Natural Pet Products does have a natural supplement called Supraglan, which may be beneficial in managing Cushing’s disease in dogs. Supraglan contains herbs like borage, astragalus and eleuthero, which may help support the adrenal gland. In addition to the Supraglan it is a good idea to use the Milk Thistle to help detoxify the liver. Both the Supraglan and the Milk Thistle can be used in conjunction with western medication or alone. Always consult your veterinarian before the use of supplements, and during use so that they may monitor your pet.

High levels of fish oils (you may want to try NHV PetOmega-3), antioxidants, and a good quality diet are also recommended.

I have also successfully used acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapies to improve management of Cushing’s disease.

Do you think your dog may have Cushing’s Disease? I am available for on-line consultations through NHV. Book here.

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