What is Cushings in Dogs?

Cushing’s syndrome is typically caused by an over-production of ACTH hormone by a tumor in the pituitary gland, stimulating adrenal glands to produce cortisol.

In approximately 15% of cases, adrenal gland tumors are at fault and this condition is known as Adrenal-dependent Cushing’s Disease. Treatment options available to both conditions are medication; dogs taking this treatment will need frequent veterinary check-ups and blood testing for safety.


Cushings syndrome occurs when the body produces too much cortisol. Cortisol is produced naturally by two glands that sit atop your dog’s kidneys called adrenal glands, and regulates every system within their bodies from blood sugar regulation and metabolism to stress responses and immunity function – but excessive levels can be very dangerous.

Cushings has two primary forms, pituitary dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH) and adrenal dependent hyperadrenocorticism(ADH). PDH occurs when there is a tumor in the pituitary gland producing too much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), without being instructed by the brain to make cortisol; this form is most prevalent among dogs, accounting for 85%-90% of diagnosed animals. Conversely, ADH occurs due to tumors within either adrenal gland itself; ADH accounts for up to 90% of affected cases of diagnosed animals diagnosed.

Too much cortisol causes symptoms that range from mild to severe in both dogs and humans, such as excessive thirst and urination, weight changes, decreased appetite, hair loss, thin skin, “potbellied” abdomen appearance, panting and lethargy – with many dogs showing weakness of abdominal wall muscles leading to an appearance similar to an unruly belly – being among them.

If your veterinarian suspects your pet of having CD, they will order several blood and urine tests to diagnose him, such as an ALT liver enzyme test and an Adrenocorticotropic-Hormone (ACTH) stimulation test. In this latter procedure, a small amount of ACTH is injected intravenously and his blood tested for cortisol levels; if they rise rapidly after injection of ACTH then CD may likely be diagnosed.

Treatment options will depend on the type of Cushings your pet has as well as his age and overall health. Most dogs with pituitary tumors – the most prevalent form – will be able to live comfortably for years with medication administered regularly by a veterinarian; however, if their symptoms cannot be managed through medication alone then surgery may be required to remove their tumor from an adrenal gland.


Cushing’s disease (or hyperadrenocorticism) occurs when an animal produces too much cortisol from their adrenal glands; cortisol production occurs naturally over time as dogs age and become hormone resistant. Middle aged and senior dogs may be at a greater risk for Cushing’s than others.

Common symptoms of cortisol overproduction in dogs include drinking more frequently and needing to go outside more often to urinate, due to interference with water absorption in their kidneys. They may also become depressed, have weaker abdomens, develop dark spots on their skin or pant more often due to muscle weakness caused by increased levels of cortisol which have an adverse impact on breathing control in their brains.

Another symptom is a dog becoming fatter than usual due to excess accumulated in their abdominal organs due to stretching out, thus creating more fat storage spaces in their system. Furthermore, some canines will develop an appearance similar to pot-belly dog’s that makes them look pot-bellied.

Cushing’s disease can be divided into two main types, pituitary dependent and adrenal gland dependent. Pituitary dependence occurs when a tumor in the pituitary gland overproduces adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), prompting adrenal glands to produce excess cortisol production; this accounts for roughly 85% of cases; 15% involve tumors found within either of two adrenal glands producing too much cortisol;

If a pituitary tumor is discovered and treated quickly, most dogs will enjoy an improved quality of life for many years – particularly if the tumor remains small. Unfortunately, however, if its effects spread into the brain then prognosis becomes less positive. If adrenal gland tumors are discovered and treated promptly too then most will also live an excellent quality of life; it is however vital that these dogs be closely monitored so dosage adjustments may occur as necessary.


Cushings in dogs is a serious illness, but there are numerous treatment options available to address its symptoms. One popular approach is providing low doses of oral corticosteroid medication; this interferes with cortisol production, thus decreasing levels and returning them back to normal. Other medicines your veterinarian might suggest include trilostane or mitotane that block pituitary gland or adrenal gland production of cortisol; they will need blood tests conducted regularly by their veterinarian in order to ascertain an appropriate dosage and monitor symptoms closely.

Your first indication that your dog may have Cushing’s disease is increased thirst and urination. Other telltale symptoms are weight gain, thin skin, hair loss, poor appetite and reduced immunity; additionally there may be signs such as abdominal organ swelling which causes an appearance similar to that of pregnancy; panting and an unsteady gait are associated with this illness as well.

Cushing’s disease can be hard to identify due to its symptoms being similar to many other conditions. Your veterinarian will likely look over your dog’s health record and conduct several blood tests such as dilute urine testing and alkaline phosphatase level. They may also perform an Adrenocorticotropic Hormone Stimulation or Dexamethasone Suppression test in order to make a definitive diagnosis.

These tests measure your dog’s response to ACTH, a hormone which stimulates adrenal glands and triggers cortisol production. If their Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) levels are elevated, their diagnosis will be confirmed.

Your veterinarian may conduct an ultrasound scan in order to pinpoint the location and type of tumor; treatment for either pituitary or adrenal gland tumors varies accordingly.

If the tumor occurs on either the pituitary or one of the adrenal glands, surgery may help provide relief. Otherwise, medication may be necessary to manage its condition.


Cushing’s can have a serious effect on the quality and length of life for your dog, shortening their lifespan significantly. Left untreated, Cushing’s can lead to kidney damage, high blood pressure and potentially lung thromboembolism – serious medical conditions which must be managed quickly in order to minimize symptoms.

Your vet can diagnose Cushing’s disease through blood tests and ultrasound examination, including urinalysis, urine culture analysis, low and high dose dexamethasone suppression tests, various adrenal function tests (including ACTH stimulation tests ), as well as full chemistry panel.

Pituitary dependent Cushing’s is the most prevalent form, in which a tumor in the pea-sized gland at the base of the brain called the pituitary causes excessive production of cortisone without direction from the brain. Pituitary tumors account for roughly 85% of all Cushing’s cases while 15% come from adrenal gland tumors sitting atop kidneys.

Many dogs with adrenal-dependent Cushing’s can benefit from medication to regulate steroid production and relieve symptoms associated with their condition. As these drugs can be costly and need regular monitoring by your vet, it’s crucial that they’re prescribed correctly and prescribed the appropriate dosage.

Veterinarians may recommend giving your pup a special diet designed to boost its immunity and metabolism, and possibly hasten progression of any diseases or ease symptoms more rapidly.

Dogs that have successfully been treated for Cushing’s disease tend to lead long and happy lives after receiving care, provided that you monitor them carefully to ensure they have access to water, and keep a record of their peeing habits; this helps vets see how effectively your pup is managing his symptoms. If any sudden behavioral changes arise in your pup or if they seem to be drinking or peeing more frequently than usual, contact your vet immediately; they can provide guidance as to the next steps or advise whether it would be wiser to put down than wait as severe health complications could arise from untreated Cushing’s.

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