Cushing's Disease in dogs

What is Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease) in Dogs?

What is it?

Cushing’s disease in dogs is a condition caused by overproduction of the hormone cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. The condition can occur naturally or be caused by prolonged use of steroids. Diagnosis of Cushing’s disease typically involves blood tests, urine tests, and imaging studies.

How is it Treated?

Treatment for Cushing’s disease in dogs depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. In cases of adrenal tumors, surgery may be recommended to remove the tumor. Other treatment options may include medication to regulate cortisol production or manage symptoms, as well as dietary changes and exercise to maintain overall health.

Breed Predispositions

Poodles Dachshunds Boxers Terriers (Yorkshire, Boston, West Highland White) Beagles Labrador Retrievers German Shepherds Golden Retrievers


For months, Jennifer had been observing some unusual changes in her loyal Boston Terrier, Bella. She noticed that Bella had developed a pot-bellied appearance, was losing hair, and seemed to be constantly hungry and thirsty. Concerned about her canine companion’s well-being, Jennifer scheduled a visit to her veterinarian. After a series of tests, the vet delivered the unexpected news that Bella had Cushing’s Disease, a condition Jennifer had never encountered before.

Cushing’s disease is a rare endocrine disorder where dogs develop excessive production of cortisol (a hormone produced by the adrenal glands). This is also called Hyperadrenocorticism. The excess cortisol affects many body systems, including bones, muscles, skin, eyes, heart, blood vessels, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, brain, immune system, reproductive organs, gastrointestinal tract, thyroid gland, and others.

It is caused by too much ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) or too little CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone), which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce ACTH. In most cases, Cushing’s syndrome occurs because of an adenoma tumor in the pituitary gland. This condition is called primary Cushing’s Syndrome.

However, some dogs develop this condition after having surgery to remove a benign pituitary tumor called a craniopharyngioma.

Two Common Types of Cushing’s Disease

There are two types of Cushing’s syndrome: pituitary-dependent and adrenocortical-dependent.

  • Pituitary-dependent Cushing’s syndrome occurs when the hypothalamus, part of the brain that controls hormone production, produces too much corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). As a result, an abnormally functioning pituitary gland causes most cases of Cushing’s syndrome
  • Adrenocortical-dependent Cushing’s syndrome, on the other hand, occurs due to excessive amounts of ACTH produced by the cells of the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Both forms of Cushing’s syndrome require treatment.

Causes of Cushing’s disease in dogs

Hypercortisolemia, also known as Cushing’s disease, is caused by increased cortisol production. There are three primary forms: pituitary gland tumor, adrenal adenoma, and idiopathical hypercortisolism (IH). Treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and medical management.

Pituitary Gland Tumor

This condition is caused by a benign growth called a pituitary adenoma. Unfortunately, about 90% of dog breeds with Cushing’s disease have a pituitary gland tumor. Pituitary adenomas are tumors that develop in the pituitary gland, a part of the brain located just above the nose. Most pituitary adenomas grow slowly over the years, but some overgrow and become life-threatening.

Causes of Cushing's disease in dogs

There are two types of pituitary adenomatous tumors: nonfunctional and functional.

  • Nonfunctioning tumors tend to grow larger than functioning ones, but both types can lead to problems. Therefore, nonfunctioning tumors are typically diagnosed during routine physical exams.
  • Functional tumors, however, can sometimes cause problems without causing apparent symptoms. When this happens, owners may notice behavioral changes, such as aggression toward other animals or increased sexual activity.

Adrenal Adenoma

Adrenal adenomas are benign tumors that grow in the adrenal glands. These tumors usually affect middle-aged dogs, although they can develop at any age. Symptoms vary depending on the location of cancer. However, some common symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, and decreased appetite.

An adrenal gland is located above each kidney and produces hormones that regulate blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and other functions. An adrenal adenoma is an adrenal tumor that grows slowly over the years. Because of their slow growth, these tumors are sometimes misdiagnosed as cysts.

Idiopathical Hypercortisolism (IH)

Idiopathic hypercortisolism (IHC), also called Cushing’s disease, is a rare condition in dogs characterized by excessive production of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol levels are typically elevated due to increased activity of the pituitary gland, which stimulates the release of ACTH, a hormone that triggers cortisol synthesis.

This disorder is uncommon in dogs, although it affects both sexes equally. Most cases of IHC are diagnosed during routine screening tests performed by veterinarians.

Some common clinical signs of IHC include weight gain, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, polyuria, polydipsia, muscle weakness, alopecia, skin lesions, and behavioral changes. These symptoms usually develop gradually over several months. However, some owners report noticing hair loss before an accurate diagnosis.

Dogs with IHC tend to respond favorably to treatment with prednisone, a corticosteroid drug. Treatment is typically started at low doses and slowly tapered off over several weeks. Although the prognosis for recovery is generally favorable, long-term complications associated with chronic steroid administration can include osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and other conditions.

Symptoms of Hyperadrenocorticism in Dogs

The symptoms of Cushing’s disease usually appear gradually after many years of the disease. In some cases, however, they show up suddenly.

Symptoms of Hyperadrenocorticism in dogs
  • Weight Loss – Your dog might lose weight without realizing why. For example, he could eat less than usual or stop eating altogether.
  • Muscle Weakness – Muscles become weak because of low protein levels in their bodies. They don’t work as well as normal muscles do.
  • Bone Problems – Bones weaken and break easily. Dogs who get Cushing’s disease often develop arthritis.
  • Skin Changes – Hair becomes thin and brittle. It falls out in patches. Some dogs’ hair turns gray. Their skin looks dry and scaly.
  • Heart Failure – High blood pressure damages the walls of the arteries. Blood clots form inside them. When these clots break off, they travel through the bloodstream until they reach another body part. A clot in the brain can lead to seizures. A lump in the lungs can block airflow into the lungs.

A veterinarian will recommend treatment based on the severity of clinical signs and the extent of organ damage. Treatment options include surgery to remove the affected part of the brain, radiation therapy, and medications. Medications typically consist of drugs called corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation and slow down cell division.

Diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Blood tests are done to know if your dog has Cushing’s disease. These tests measure how much cortisol is present in the bloodstream. However, blood tests do not tell whether the disease is active or inactive.

To determine if your dog has Cushing’s disease, your veterinarian will perform abdominal ultrasound imaging of the adrenals. An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to produce images of internal diseases found in organs.

Ultrasounds can show enlarged adrenal glands but cannot distinguish between normal and abnormal gland sizes. Therefore, a CT scan or MRI may be performed to look for signs of tumor formation.

If your dog does not respond to treatment, it may require surgery to remove the diseased adrenal gland(s). Surgery is usually successful in treating Cushing’s disease.

Treatment and Prevention for Canine Cushing’s Disease

Treatment for Cushing’s disease depends on whether the condition is acute or chronic. If the dog suffers from acute Cushing’s disease, it will likely recover entirely within a few days. However, dogs diagnosed with chronic Cushing’s disease require long-term medical management. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and medication.


Surgery involves the removal of part of the adrenal gland but has risks and benefits. The risk of surgery includes bleeding, infection, and death. The benefits of surgery involve removing the source of excess cortisol production and restoring hormone levels to normal.

Symptoms of Hyperadrenocorticism in dogs

While the decision to undergo surgery depends mainly on the severity of symptoms, medications are typically recommended for dogs who experience milder symptoms.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy works by destroying cancer cells that are producing too many hormones. It is often used when no evidence of cancer metastasis (spread) exists. Radiation therapy is also an alternative to surgery for some types of tumors.

Different radiation treatments could be considered, including external beam radiotherapy, brachytherapy, proton beam therapy, and stereotactic radiosurgery.


One treatment option is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy involves giving drugs intravenously or orally to treat malignant tumors.

While chemotherapy treats certain cancers effectively, it can also harm healthy cells. Because of this, it’s essential to discuss the pros and cons of chemotherapy with your veterinarian before deciding whether or not to proceed with the medication treatment method.


Because Cushing’s disease is rare, few studies are available to learn more about it. However, it’s possible to treat dogs who suffer from the condition with medication. Two drugs are used to treat Cushing’s disease: glucocorticoids (steroid hormones) and mineralocorticoids (hormone analogs).

Glucocorticoids are usually prescribed to control symptoms, while mineralocorticoids are used to prevent complications.

There are three different forms of glucocorticoids: prednisolone, dexamethasone, and betamethasone

  1. …Prednisolone is the most commonly used drug, but it is associated with side effects like vomiting, diarrhea, and increased appetite.
  2. Dexamethasone is less likely to cause these side effects but can cause decreased appetite, lethargy, and skin infections.
  3. Betamethasone is another option but it tends to cause more severe side effects like vomiting, diarrhea, and ulcers.

Mineralocorticoids are typically given in combination with glucocorticoids. Fludrocortisone is the most common mineralocorticoid used to treat Cushing’s disease. It is taken orally daily, effectively reduces blood pressure and controls water retention.

Frequently Asked Questions

The final stage of canine Cushing’s disease is when the dog dies very sick. It is caused by adrenal tumors, which produce too much cortisol. This causes the dog to become weak and lethargic. They lose their appetite and develop skin problems such as hair loss and dry skin. Their eyesight deteriorates, and they get infections quickly. Sometimes, the dog’s heart stops beating, and they die.

The average lifespan of dogs with an adrenal tumor is two years. This is because they usually survive for a while longer than this. However, some dogs with adrenal tumors have lived up to 10 years.

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is a condition with excessive cortisol production from the adrenal glands. It occurs when the pituitary gland secretes too much ACTH, which stimulates the release of cortisol from the adrenals. The excess cortisol causes changes in fat metabolism, bone density, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle mass, and skin thickness.

Addison’s disease (AD) is caused by a lack of sufficient hormones called corticosteroids. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex and acts as a stress hormone. Adrenocortical insufficiency results in decreased levels of cortisol. This leads to low blood sugar levels, dehydration, weight loss, weakness, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, increased appetite, fever, and sometimes death.

The best food for dogs with Cushing’s Disease consists of ingredients that provide plenty of essential nutrients while keeping their blood sugar levels balanced. High-protein foods are ideal since they help support muscles and other bodily functions which can be affected by the disease. Look for foods with quality protein sources such as fish, lamb or chicken instead of lower-quality proteins from plant sources. In addition, complex carbohydrates such as brown rice or sweet potatoes should be included in food for dogs with Cushing’s disease for slow, sustained energy throughout the day.

The most common signs include weight gain, muscle weakness, depression, anxiety, and excessive thirst. In addition, dogs with this condition often develop arthritis, bone fractures, and kidney problems. If left untreated, Cushing’s Disease can lead to blindness, heart failure, and death.

Cushing’s disease affects dogs’ eyes because of the increased cortisol levels in their bodies. This can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss. In addition, the excess cortisol causes swelling of the eye muscles, leading to the eyeball’s protrusion into the orbit.

This condition is called exophthalmos. In addition, there is also excessive mucus production from the glands near the eyelids. This results in irritation of the cornea causing pain and redness.

The disease progresses rapidly, although it can vary significantly from dog to dog. However, in some cases, the condition may progress very slowly or not at all.

This disease can generally be detected in dogs as early as six months old but most commonly manifests between one and two years of age.

The most common dog breeds that develop Cushing’s disease are large, heavy breeds such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. Other typical dog breeds vulnerable to developing Cushing’s disease include black dogs, German Shepherds, Boston Terriers, and Boxers.

A healthy dog can usually live with untreated Cushing’s syndrome for six to twelve months. However, the lifespan of a dog with untreated Cushing’s syndrome may be shorter if they suffer from other health problems.

The veterinary community is divided on whether treating a dog with Cushing’s disease is worth the expense. Some believe the benefits of treating an affected dog may be significant, while others feel insufficient evidence supports this treatment approach. Ultimately, it is up to each veterinarian to decide based on their patient and their unique condition.

There is no specific cure for Cushing’s disease in dogs, but various natural treatments can help improve your pet’s health. Some common recommendations include reducing stress levels, eating a balanced diet, and supplementing with glucocorticoids if necessary.

Additionally, lifestyle changes such as exercise and relaxation may help reduce symptoms. Finally, if conventional treatment options fail or are not available, surgery may be an option to treat the condition’s underlying causes.

Some cases of Cushing’s disease in dogs can lead to blindness, while others may not have any noticeable effects. It is essential to consult with your veterinarian if you are concerned about a pet experiencing any signs or symptoms of Cushing’s disease, as they can provide more information regarding the potential risks and outcomes associated with the condition.

This question has no definitive answer, as it can vary from dog to dog. Some people believe that incontinence may be a symptom of Cushing’s disease, while others say that it cannot definitively be linked to the condition.

Regardless, if your pet experiences any signs or symptoms indicating that he may have Cushing’s disease (such as weight gain and increased thirst), it is essential to consult a veterinarian for further evaluation. Treatment options may include medication or surgery.

Cushing’s disease in dogs can cause weight gain because it damages the body’s ability to use energy.

Cushing’s disease can cause hearing loss in dogs—an overproduction of cortisol, a hormone in the adrenal gland, causes the condition.

There is no definitive answer, but aggression may be a symptom of Cushing’s disease in dogs. The severity and progression of the illness will influence whether or not this is an issue. Please see your veterinarian for further evaluation if you notice significant changes in your dog’s behavior, including increased aggression.

Cushing’s disease is a hormone imbalance in dogs that can cause hair loss, most commonly on the head and neck.

Cushing’s disease is not contagious. However, some cases may be hereditary. If your dog has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, you should take him to a veterinarian for further diagnosis and treatment.

Cushing’s disease in dogs may cause diarrhea because the dog is producing too much cortisol, a hormone that regulates fluid and waste excretion.

Some dogs with Cushing’s disease may lose interest in eating, while others may not exhibit any specific signs of reduced appetite. In most cases, the loss of appetite appears to be an incidental result of the underlying pathology rather than explicitly caused by Cushing’s disease.

Cushing’s disease in dogs can cause coughing due to the accumulation of cortisol in the dog’s blood.

Cushing’s disease is a disorder that can affect the skin. Skin lesions may vary in size, shape, and color. The lesions may also have an abnormal texture or feel.

Some potential causes of shaking associated with Cushing’s disease in dogs could include increased levels of cortisol production, cardiovascular instability due to an enlarged heart or other abnormalities (e.g., high blood pressure), and neurological symptoms (such as seizures) due to interference with nerve function.

Yes. Cushing’s disease in dogs can cause tumors, including pituitary tumors. These tumors may be benign or cancerous. Most pituitary tumor cases in dogs are non-cancerous, but few are cancerous.

If your dog has signs of Cushing’s disease (elevated levels of corticosterone), have him checked by a veterinarian to determine if he has a tumor and whether it is benign or cancerous.

Some dogs with Cushing’s disease will develop seizures. However, it is unclear whether seizures are the only manifestation of this condition or if they are one symptom of another underlying illness.

Cushing’s disease in dogs is not necessarily caused by stress. However, if your dog has consistently high cortisol levels and signs of weight gain or lethargy, it may be a sign that he is stressed out and susceptible to developing the disorder. Talk to your veterinarian to determine whether other factors contribute to your dog’s elevated cortisol levels.

There is no definitive answer, but it is possible that Cushing’s disease in dogs could lead to diabetes mellitus. Diabetes occurs when the body produces insufficient insulin or cells do not respond appropriately.

Many factors can contribute to diabetes in dogs, and there is currently no known cure. Thus, managing diabetic conditions effectively may be critical for the long-term health of affected pets.

Cushing’s disease in dogs can affect any organ system, but the kidneys are particularly at risk. The illness can cause a significant decline in kidney function, which may eventually necessitate dialysis or kidney transplant treatment.

Most likely, the cause of your dog’s itching is a yeast or fungus infection. However, Cushing’s disease in dogs can also lead to an overgrowth of bacteria, which can cause inflammation and irritation that results in excessive itchiness.

Treatment for a confirmed yeast or fungus infection usually includes antibiotics and pain relief medications such as ibuprofen. If bacterial overgrowth is suspected, treatment may consist of oral antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian. In addition, some dogs may need surgery to remove offensive skin lesions caused by inflamed tissues (cellulitis).

Cushing disease in dogs causes weight gain, increased drinking and urination, dull coats, lethargy, skeletal deformities, and death. If these signs are present for more than two months or the dog cannot continue living despite treatment, euthanasia may be the best option.

Cushing’s disease in dogs primarily affects the pituitary and adrenal glands. This can cause an increase in cortisol, a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels, and increased production of other hormones like testosterone and estrogen. These changes can lead to weight gain, weakness, and problems with vision and hearing. The disease also may affect the liver by causing it to become enlarged or diseased.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this veterinary website is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a licensed veterinarian for any concerns or questions regarding the health and well-being of your pet. This website does not claim to cover every possible situation or provide exhaustive knowledge on the subjects presented. The owners and contributors of this website are not responsible for any harm or loss that may result from the use or misuse of the information provided herein.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *