Symptoms of Cushings Disease in dogs

When 10 year old Golden Retriever Sasha began exhibiting some new odd symptoms, at first his owner believed they were simply age related, however, as the symptoms continued and progressed, she was sent in for a routine geriatric check up.

As a perfectly house trained dog that never had any accidents since a puppy, Sasha has started drinking more than usual and then urinating in the home. She unusually has been repeatedly sitting in front of the water bowl asking for more water than ever and then in the night she was found crying to go out and eventually urinating in the home.

Medically, this increased drinking is called Polydypsia and the increased urination is called Polyuria. Both symptoms should be always evaluated by a vet when no evident cause is detected. Sasha later on did also exhibit an increased appetite causing her to gain some weight and also started exhibited more shedding than usual.

Upon being visited, the vet decides to run some bloodwork. He suspects a condition called Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease is known to cause similar symptoms observed in Sasha. In order to better understand the symptoms related to Cushing’s disease it is helpful to better understand the role of the pitituary gland,

In healthy dogs, the pitituary gland is stimulated by the hypothalamus to produce a hormone called adrenocorticotrophic hormone commonly abbreviated as ACTH. Upon being released in the bloodstream, the hormone stimulates the adrenal glands (found right next to the kidneys) to produce cortisol. In dogs affected by Cushing’s disease this cortisol is overproduced creating a variety of problems.

Because cortisol relaxes the liver’s ligaments the liver enlarges causing the typical pot bellied distended abdomen. Because cortisone decreases the rate of hair growth, hair loss may appear. Excessive cortisone creates as well increased appetite and loss of muscle tone. Because of these physical changes the dog may be less active and have a hard time climbing stairs or jumping. The dog’s body may try to ineffectively flush out the excess cortisone by increasing drinking and increasing urination.

But what has gone wrong in a dog affected by this condition, and why are they overproducing cortisol? While it appears that most cases of Cushing’s disease occur due to an ACTH producing tumor found in the pitituary gland however, cortisol producing tumors may form in the adrenal glands as well. Often, the dieases is not caused by any tumors but rather appears from over medicating with corticosteroids.

Sasha’s prognosis is not too bad, after testing positive for Hyperadrenocorticism (another name for Cushing’s) she is prescribed some medication that should help lower the cortisol levels. With time, she shuold be able to conduct a normal life again. Frequent rechecks and routine ACTH test should be performed to record her progress.

If your dog develops any of the symptoms listed above, it can be Cushing’s disease. Keep in mind that there are also other known conditions that share similar symptoms such as kidney failure or diabetes.

The quicker the treatment is started the better the prognosis since Cushing’s disease may cause serious complications if left untreated. As in Sasha’s case, just because your dog is in his/her golden years does not necessarily mean that every symptom arising is due to old age. Many times there are conditions that can be succesfully treated granted many more good years to come.

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