It can be difficult for a vet to diagnose any illness in dogs, fundamentally because they lack the communication skills to discuss the issue with the vet. This is further complicated when dealing with issues such as Cushings Disease in dogs.
Its symptoms are similar to several other health issues common in dogs. To provide the most accurate diagnostic testing possible it’s essential that you regard and record anything that has changed within your dog, specifically their behavior. As always, you will want what is best for them.
Knowing the symptoms of Cushing will assist you in guiding your vet in the right direction to diagnose Cushings disease successfully.
What Is Cushings Disease?
Dogs (and humans) produce a hormone known as cortisol. This hormone is released every occasion your dog encounters a stressful situation, effectively creating a fight or flight response. However, it also plays a part in maintaining weight, fighting infections, and balancing blood sugar levels. Having too little, or too much is likely to cause issues for your dog.
Dogs with Cushings Disease have excessively high cortisol levels, hence the reason this disease is also referred to as hyperadrenocorticism and hypercortisolism.
Symptoms of Cushings Disease in Dogs
Older dogs are at increased risk from Cushings syndrome, although it can occur in middle-aged dogs. It’s usually difficult to verify in the preliminary stages, which is why a vet will be required to assist with diagnosing Cushing.
Here are the symptoms to be aware of:
- Excessive thirst
- Increased appetite – an anti-microbial food bowl will help
- Frequently urination – previously well-behaved dogs may experience accidents in the home
- Hair loss; it can also seem slow to re-grow leaving your dog with unusually short hair
- Generally fatigued and uninterested in life
- Development of a pot belly
- Prone to skin infections
- Near constant panting
Diagnosing Cushings Disease
There are actually two different types of Cushings Syndrome and it’s not solely a disease in dogs, humans can also experience and suffer from these conditions.
Pituitary Dependent Cushings Disease
Pituitary dependent Cushings disease is the most common version of this disease, it’s found in 80-90% of diagnosis.
A gland at the base of the brain is known as the pituitary gland. When a pea-sized tumor develops in this, the aforementioned symptoms become evident. It’s referred to as a pituitary tumor, in rare cases surgical removal is possible, although previous incidents have established a risk of side effects after operating
Adrenal Dependent variation
If the tumor has formed in a gland above the kidneys then your dog will have developed adrenal dependent Cushings disease. This affects approximately 15% of dogs, it can also be removed with surgery, although this is dependent on the individual situation.
You should also be advised that a third variant, which is very rare, known as Iatrogenic Cushings Syndrome, is a direct result of your dog taking steroids for an extended period of time.
To establish confirmation or denial of the presence of Cushings disease your vet will need to obtain blood samples and probably urine samples. This is not just to test for Cushings, it can also eliminate other potential issues.
Diagnosis is routinely described as a process of elimination, there is no specific test for Cushings disease itself. The blood and urine tests will certify current enzyme levels, specifically those located in the blood and liver. Urinary tract infections and diluted urine a result of these alkaline phosphatase.
Should the tests be indicative that Cushings Disease is a possibility, a reputable vet will follow up with an ACTH stimulation test. The test verifies the response of the adrenal glands to the hormone ACTH, the glands should be stimulated to start producing cortisol. A blood test performed before and after will illustrate the changes in cortisol level.
The vet may also try a Low Dose Dexamethasone Suppression. This investigates how the dog responds to an injection with factory manufactured cortisol. Again, preceding and post blood samples will ensure the vet diagnose Cushings disease correctly.
Caring For Your Dog
The positive news is that this disease is treatable. The exact treatment method deployed depends on the progress of Cushings disease.
Scanning the tumor will establish the possibility of removal, sometimes it is classified as too dangerous. More commonly the tumor is progressively spreading, negating the positive effects of removing the source tumor. In these instances, your dog will be provided with medication. They will need to use it for the remainder of their lives. But, it will allow them to live a normal life.
Treating Cushing with drugs is a safe and viable approach. Your vet will prescribe your dog with either trilostane or mitotane. Trilostane is the more popular choice. Following the first treatment you will need to visit the vets regularly, this will allow them to establish medication levels and ensure the medications are doing their jobs.
It’s worth noting that a dog with Iatrogenic Cushings Syndrome will need to gradually stop taking the steroids. This may reverse the effects of Cushings disease. However, the original issue with your dog may return and need to be dealt with.
Your Role With Cushings Disease In Dogs
Like a shepherd with their sheep, your role is to monitor your dog while providing them with the prescribed medication in the correct dose. Talk to the vet regarding any variations to normal behavior. They can then adjust medication to help ensure your dog has a happy and surprisingly healthy life.
The development of Cushings disease is likely to be shortened their lifespan. On average dogs are eight years old and more before they develop the issue and will live for another two to four years. It should be noted that many of the dogs surveyed actually die of old age as this is an illness that generally affects older dogs.