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Cushing’s Disease in Dogs: 5 Ways to Avoid Euthanasia

Cushing’s Disease is common in older dogs. In fact, sometimes the signs are mistaken for common signs of aging. The aging process tends to slow down metabolism which can cause things like weight gain.

Other signs of aging in dogs can include some hair loss, accidents in the house (urinating or defecating), fatigue, vision problems, and sometimes hearing problems.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in dogs can appear gradually over time. You might think it’s just a normal part of aging. The longer it goes undiagnosed, the worse it gets.

Treating Cushing’s Disease is the best way to improve your dog’s quality of life and potentially extend your dog’s lifespan.

If your dog has Cushing’s Disease and the symptoms are getting worse, you need to read this post. Whether you suspect something is wrong or you know something is wrong, this post is going to help turn things around.

Deciding on when to euthanize a pet is heartbreaking. But what if you didn’t have to do that? What if there were a few things you could try to improve your dog’s health?

How Cushing’s Disease Affects Dogs

Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, occurs when the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol (cortisone) in the dog’s body. Too much of this hormone can cause further illness, kidney disease, diabetes, and other serious conditions.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are small, triangular shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. Their function is to produce hormones that regulate metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress, and other essential functions.

Cortisol (a glucocorticoid hormone) helps the body use fat efficiently, controls the body’s use of proteins and carbohydrates, suppresses inflammation, regulates blood pressure, increases blood sugar, and decreases bone formation.

Cortisol is Kind of a Big Deal

Too much cortisol in the body can put a dog at risk of serious disease and can be life-threatening.

The adrenal glands have two parts. One part is called the cortex. The other part is called the adrenal medulla. Each of these produce different hormones. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex.

The adrenal medulla is actually located inside the adrenal cortex and produces stress hormones, including adrenaline.

What Causes Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

There are three types of Cushing’s disease in dogs. Each type has its own treatment and expected outcome or prognosis.

The most common type (80% to 85%) are related to tumors on the pituitary gland. These tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Dogs with pituitary tumors may have additional signs other than the ones common for Cushing’s disease. This is because the tumors could get large enough to affect the brain. If a tumor has reached this stage, the prognosis isn’t great.

Thankfully, this only happens in 15% of patients. – source

Pituitary Dependent Cushing’s Disease

The pituitary gland makes a variety of hormones. In this case, we’re talking about something called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Tumors that occur on the pituitary gland cause an overproduction of ACTH.

ACTH travels through the bloodstream and ends up at the adrenal glands.

Once it reaches the adrenal glands, it stimulates them to produce more cortisol than the dog needs.

This is where things begin to go wrong.

Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s Disease

In about 15 – 20% of dogs, it’s a tumor on one or both adrenal glands that causes the overproduction of cortisol.

Adrenal tumors may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The types of benign tumors in this case are known as adrenal adenomas or micronodular hyperplasia.

Adrenal carcinomas are, unfortunately, malignant. These can trigger Cushing’s disease in dogs.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s Disease

In this case, the disease is related to excessive use of steroids. There are many good reasons why a dog may be prescribed steroids. A few of them include:

  • To suppress allergic reactions/response
  • To treat mild inflammatory conditions

If used in high enough doses, these drugs can suppress or prevent an immune response. When it comes to serious allergic reactions, you actually want this to happen.

Synthetic steroids (prednisone, for example) are more potent than naturally occurring forms.

If your dog is currently taking steroids (corticosteroids), do not stop the prescription. The risk of a dog developing Cushing’s disease typically stems from high-dose and long-term use.

If you are worried about potential side-effects, talk to your veterinarian.

The Never-Ending Dangerous Loop

When a dog has Cushing’s disease, it means that excess cortisol is circulating in the body. Under normal circumstances, the body regulates hormones in a way that they are balanced.

With Cushing’s disease, the cortisol isn’t kept in check because the glands are not working properly. This creates a constant loop creating more and more cortisol which, essentially, poison the dog.

Classic Signs of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Cushing’s disease may come on gradually. The problem with this is that you may notice vague symptoms over time, but it’s never enough to be concerned about. As time goes on, you may think that these are normal signs of aging.

Anytime your dog displays unusual behavior, or your intuition is telling you that something isn’t right, don’t be afraid to talk to the veterinarian about it. A few simple tests can offer reassurance. Likewise, if your dog is diagnosed with the disease, you can begin the kinds of treatment options that may extend his/her life.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive urination (may have an accident in the house)
  • Muscle wasting
  • Potbelly
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Frequent but minor infections

As mentioned above, the symptoms of Cushing’s can be non-specific and hard to identify. This is where you run into problems because a delayed prognosis means your dog is not being treated effectively.

Treating Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Should a dog with Cushing’s disease be euthanized? The answer, of course, is varied and largely depends on the severity of your dog’s health versus quality of life.

That said, there are many treatment options available. The most important starting point is an accurate diagnosis. If your dog is suffering from any of the signs noted above (even moderately or occasionally) make an appointment with the veterinarian.

Left untreated, this disease will continue to get worse. If treated, you could expect your dog to feel better after 4 – 6 months of treatment. That doesn’t mean your dog is cured. However, once the symptoms are under control, your dog can live with the disease for many years.

5 Ways to Get Cushing’s Under Control and Avoid Euthanasia

Learning that your dog has Cushing’s disease isn’t a happy time, but consider the outcome of it wasn’t diagnosed.

The lifespan of an undiagnosed and untreated dog is considerably shorter.

Now that you know why your dog hasn’t been feeling well, there are plenty of things that can be done.

Treatment options will depend on the type of Cushing’s disease your dog has.

#1. Follow-Up Blood Tests

Once the veterinarian has prescribed an appropriate drug, he/she will need to monitor the dosage. The best way to determine whether your dog is getting too much or not enough is through regular blood work.

Keeping the disease under control is the most important way to help your dog live a happy life.

#2. Monitor Water Consumption

You may be asked to keep an eye on how much water your dog is drinking. If your dog continues to drink excessively, it could mean the medication needs to be adjusted.

#3. Monitor Appetite

Appetite is another marker of health. You may be asked to watch how much food your dog takes in after being medicated.

This can help determine whether the medication is causing any side-effects. It can also signify whether the medication needs to be tweaked.

#4. Monitor Activity

Generally speaking, active dogs are healthy dogs. If your dog tries to play but becomes tired very quickly, it could mean there is more work to do to get the disease under control.

#5. Show Up for Recheck Appointments

It’s vital to maintain recheck examinations. These enable the vet to do a physical exam along with an ACTH simulation test.

Electrolytes will need to be monitored 10 days following the start of medication.

There’s Hope

Putting your dog down should always be the last possible option. As long as you can keep on top of the disease (in other words, keep the symptoms under control), there’s no reason why your dog can’t live a normal life.

Yes, it can get tricky sometimes. Medications may need to be tweaked or even changed sometimes. It may be costly in the beginning. Follow-up appointments, blood work, and medication can add up.

However, as symptoms subside and your dog feels better, you may not need to visit the veterinarian as often. Watch your dog’s diet and make sure to check with the veterinarian before giving your dog over-the-counter supplements.

Supplements can sometimes have interactions with prescription medications.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read this post. Make sure to come back for more important information on your dog’s health.

sources: – Adrenal Glands

FDA Treating Cushing’s in Dogs

Today’s Veterinary Practice

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