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.

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