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Common diseases in older dogs: Cushing's Disease

close up of brown dog's face

Cushing's Disease (also known as "hyperadrenocorticism") is a disorder in which the adrenal gland produces excessive cortisol, a natural steroid hormone.

This disease is one of the more common endocrine disorders, and usually strikes older dogs. In most cases, it's caused by a lesion in the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. A lesser common cause is when one of the adrenal glands has a tumor that excretes cortisol independently. The breeds most often afflicted with Cushing's Disease are Poodles, Dachshunds, Boxers, Beagles and Boston Terriers.

Cushing's Disease is not always easy to detect as the symptoms often mimic those of other conditions. Some of the symptoms seem to be connected with the normal aging process, so it's not always easy to recognize that it's actually Cushing's Disease. These symptoms include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Panting
  • Bulging abdomen
  • Skin lumps and discoloring
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nervous system disorders

One distinguishing symptom in dogs with Cushing's Disease is a bulging, sagging belly. This is caused by a decrease in muscle strength and redistribution of fat from body storage areas to the abdomen. Hair loss may also occur as the disease progresses.

Left untreated, Cushing's Disease can lead to disorders such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, liver and kidney failure, hypothyroidism and infections of the skin, ears, gums, eyes, or bladder. So please take your old companion to the vet if you suspect he or she may have this condition. If your veterinarian suspects your dog has the disease, he or she will perform a series of blood tests and possibly other diagnostics to determine if your dog is affected.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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