Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

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Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism is a condition that develops as a result of the overproduction or excessive amounts of cortisol in the body. This is a slow, gradual disease that commonly affects dogs more than cats. Middle-aged to older dogs, particularly breeds such as German shepherds, poodles, golden retrievers, terriers, and dachshunds are more prone to this condition.

Many pet-owners mistake Cushing’s disease as a natural part of aging. Unlike aging, Cushing’s Disease is not a normal “walk of life” and luckily, it is manageable! If you notice any abnormal physical and behavioral changes in your pet, consult your naturopathic vet immediately. Although this disease cannot be cured, proper care and management allows many pets to continue to have an excellent quality of life, full of lots of love and play time!

There are three forms of Cushing’s disease and these include adrenal-based hyperadrenocorticism, pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism, and iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism:

Adrenal-based hyperadrenocorticism
This condition develops as a result of an adrenal tumor that causes an overproduction of glucocorticoids, a class of a type of steroid hormones called glucocorticosteroids. It is estimated that adrenal tumors are the cause of at least 15 to 20% of Cushing’s disease cases. These tumors are enlarged in one adrenal gland while are very small in the other gland.

Pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism
Pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism occurs as a result of the overproduction of the ACTH hormone by the pituitary gland in the brain due to pituitary tumors. Both adrenal glands are enlarged affecting approximately 80% of the cases of Cushing’s disease.

Iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism
Iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism develops when a pet is given too many glucocorticoids for health problems such as allergies or skin disorders. The adrenal glands tend to be very small because of the overproduction of glucocorticosteroids.

The common symptoms and signs of Cushing’s disease in dogs include:

  • Increased drinking
  • Increased urination/ urgency to go
  • Excessive eating
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Hair/fur loss or thin skin
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid/ Fast Breathing
  • Recurring urinary tract infections

What Causes Cushing’s Disease?

In a healthy pet, the pituitary gland which is located at the base of the brain produces an adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete glucocorticoid or cortisol hormones into the bloodstream.

Glucocorticoid is necessary for the body to function at an optimal level and affects the metabolism, nervous system, immune system, cardiovascular system, and kidneys. When the pituitary gland or adrenal gland malfunctions and excess glucocorticoid is secreted, your pet is at risk for developing Cushing’s disease.

Help for Cushing’s Disease

In traditional medicine, oral medications such as Mitotane (Lysodren), Ketoconazole, L-deprenyl (Amery) or Trilostane are typically prescribed for canine Cushing’s disease. Mitotane is the most widely used medication, similar to chemotherapy. This type of therapy is life-long, and while undergoing therapy, your pet has to be monitored carefully to determine whether the treatment is successful.

These medications have some serious side effects and can also become very costly – consult with your vet about a treatment that best suits your pet needs. With treatment, improvement may be noticed within 4 to 6 months.

Conversely, naturopathic vets will utilize the principles of “like cures like” in homeopathic medicine and the support of herbs in herbal medicine to assist in promoting health and well being in your pet. Herbs such as dandelion, burdock, astragalus, licorice, and eleuthero root are all great options when looking to support daily well being. Read more about these herbs as well as potentially effective homeopathic substances here.

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