Cushing's Disease, also known as Cushing's Syndrome or Hyperadrenocorticism, is the production of excess hormones from the adrenal glands. It's a common condition in older dogs with symptoms that are often mistaken for the aging process itself. Dogs gain weight, lose hair, and begin to have accidents in the house.
Yet Cushing's Disease is treatable, and that treatment can result in a longer, more comfortable life for the dog and its owner. That's why it's important to learn the facts about the disease.
Symptoms to watch for
Excessive drinking and urination are the earliest signs of the disease. Some dog owners need to fill their pet's water bowl again and again throughout the day, and then find that their dog cries to be let out to urinate during the night. Dogs may start having accidents in the house.
The disease also causes muscle weakness, which leads to lethargy and a reduced tolerance for exercise. The typical Cushing's dog has a bulging, sagging belly and redistribution of fat to the abdomen. As the disease progresses, you may also notice hair loss.
If your pet displays any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your vet right away.
Diagnosis and treatment options
Once suspected, Cushing's Disease can be diagnosed by blood tests. Tests can also determine whether the disease is caused by a pituitary gland tumor or by an adrenal gland tumor.
About 85% of Cushing's Disease cases are caused by pituitary tumors. While this form of the disease cannot be cured, treatment can prolong your pet's quality of life and extend his life. There are currently several different oral medications being used to treat canine Cushing's Disease. If an adrenal tumor is causing the disease, your vet may recommend surgery to remove the tumor. Radiation treatment can be of benefit for pituitary tumors.
Either way, it's better to get an early start on treatment. Left untreated, Cushing's Disease will progress and can lead to life-threatening disorders such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and liver and kidney failure. It can also result in chronic maladies such as hypothyroidism and infections of the skin, ears, gums, eyes, or bladder.
Though there is no known way to prevent Cushing's Disease, some proactive measures may lead to earlier diagnosis and potentially more effective treatment. So, as your dog gets older, you may want to schedule his routine well-dog visits to the vet closer together.