Cushing’s Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Affects, & Treatments

Cushing's Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Affects, & Treatments

Cushing’s disease, also referred to as Cushing’s syndrome or hyperadrenocorticism, is a medical condition where a dog’s adrenal glands produce too many hormones.

Located near the kidneys, the adrenal glands produce several substances that are vital to the regulation of a dog’s various bodily functions that are necessary to sustain life.

Clinical Signs of Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease presents itself with an array of signs that are all the same, regardless of the type of Cushing’s disease.

The most common signs include increased appetite, increased water consumption, and increased urination.

Other signs to look for are lethargy, a poor coat of hair, a bloated or “pot-bellied” abdomen, thin skin, panting, chronic skin infections, bladder infections, skin mineralization, and poor skin or wound healing.

Diagnosing Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

In order to diagnose Cushing’s disease in dogs, multiple tests will be conducted by your veterinarian.

The two most common tests are the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test and the ACTH stimulation test.

Additionally, an abdominal ultrasound may be conducted to give a veterinarian a closer look at the adrenal glands and to determine whether or not there is a tumor present.

Causes of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Cushing’s disease can be broken down into three types, each with a different cause.

The proper identification of the cause is crucial because each type of Cushing’s disease is treated differently and has a different prognosis.

Tumor of the Pituitary Gland

A benign or malignant pituitary gland tumor is the most common cause of Cushing’s disease in dogs accounting for 85-95% of all cases.

The tumor forces the pituitary gland to produce too much of the hormone ACTH. This hormone then activates the adrenal glands, stimulating them to produce cortisol.

If the cortisol secretion from the adrenal glands can be controlled through medication, many dogs with this subtype of Cushing’s disease can live long, normal lives as long as they take their medication as prescribed and are monitored closely by a veterinarian.

However, if the tumor grows (often referred to as a macroadenoma), the dog’s brain will be affected. This results in various neurological signs and comes with an undesirable prognosis.

Adrenal Gland Tumor

A benign or malignant adrenal gland tumor can also result in Cushing’s disease.

If the adrenal gland tumor is benign, surgery to remove the tumor will rid the dog of Cushing’s disease.

However, if the tumor is malignant, surgery can extend a dog’s life, but the prognosis is poor.

Prolonged Steroid Use

If Cushing’s disease is caused by too much cortisol due to prolonged steroid use, the disease is dubbed “iatrogenic” Cushing’s disease.

Treatment involves ceasing all steroid use by gradually weaning the dog off of the medication.

Unfortunately, the disease that the steroid was treating is likely to reoccur.

Additionally, the dog will likely need to be put on hormonal treatment because the steroid likely placed too much stress on the adrenal glands for them to function properly.

Medicating Cushing’s Disease

If your dog’s Cushing’s disease is being managed through the use of medication, your veterinarian will create a specific treatment plan depending on the type and severity of your dog’s condition.

Because lifelong treatment is sometimes necessary, it is important the follow the guidelines very closely.

Further, your dog will likely need regular blood tests to ensure that the medication is at the right dosage, so it does not cause further complications.

Cushing’s Disease Prognosis

The prognosis for Cushing’s disease depends on the type.

Aside from benign adrenal tumors, there are no curative measures for this disease.

If a tumor is malignant, the prognosis is usually poor. If the tumor is small, however, Cushing’s disease can be controlled for many years through close monitoring and medication.


We know your dog is a cherished member of your family, so our entire team shares a commitment to provide the best, most compassionate veterinary care for your dog. We offer a variety of dog services to in the Pflugerville/Austin-Round Rock, TX area including vaccinesdental careweight managementsenior care, and more. Call (512) 251-BARK today to learn more!