Types of Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Types of Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Cushing's disease is a relatively common endocrine disorder in dogs, characterized by the overproduction of the hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol can lead to a host of symptoms ranging from increased thirst and appetite to skin issues and lethargy. 

While the symptoms may be similar, the root causes and locations of the disease can differ. Understanding the different types of Cushing's disease can help in better diagnosing and treating the condition.

This article aims to demystify the various forms of Cushing's disease in dogs and explain their distinctions.

What Are the Different Types of Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

  • Pituitary Dependent Cushing's
  • Adrenal Dependent Cushing's
  • Iatrogenic Cushing's Disease
  • Atypical Cushing's Disease

Pituitary-Dependent Cushing's Disease


Pituitary-dependent Cushing's disease is the most common type, accounting for around 80-85% of all Cushing's cases in dogs. This form of the disease originates in the pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain.


This type is usually caused by a benign tumor in the pituitary gland that prompts the adrenal glands to produce excessive amounts of cortisol. While the tumor is generally not cancerous, its presence disrupts the hormone regulation system.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis typically involves blood tests, urine tests, and imaging studies to identify the pituitary tumor. Treatment usually consists of medication like Trilostane or Mitotane that regulates cortisol production. In rare cases, radiation or surgical removal of the tumor may be considered.

Adrenal-Dependent Cushing's Disease


Adrenal-dependent Cushing's accounts for about 15-20% of cases and originates in the adrenal glands, which are located near the kidneys.


This form is generally caused by a tumor in one of the adrenal glands. The tumor can be either benign or malignant and leads to excessive cortisol production.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Adrenal-dependent Cushing's is usually diagnosed through blood tests, urine tests, and imaging studies like ultrasounds to visualize the adrenal glands. Surgical removal of the affected gland is often the preferred treatment, especially if the tumor is malignant.

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Iatrogenic Cushing's Disease


Iatrogenic Cushing's disease is caused by prolonged exposure to high doses of corticosteroid medications, often prescribed for conditions like allergies or autoimmune disorders.


Long-term use of corticosteroid medications disrupts the natural balance of cortisol in the body, leading to symptoms of Cushing’s disease.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis often involves a review of the dog's medication history alongside standard blood and urine tests. The primary treatment is the gradual withdrawal of the corticosteroid medication while managing Cushing's symptoms in a dog.

Atypical Cushing's Disease


Atypical Cushing's disease is a less common form where hormones other than cortisol are overproduced. This type is not fully understood and is still the subject of ongoing research.


The causes for atypical Cushing's disease are unclear, but it involves the overproduction of other adrenal cortex hormones like aldosterone or sex hormones.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis is complex due to the involvement of different hormones. Treatment options are still under study but may include medications that regulate the production of the specific overproduced hormones.

What Other Diseases Mimic Cushing's in Dogs?

Cushing's disease in dogs, characterized by the adrenal glands producing excessive cortisol, can be mimicked by several other conditions. Common diseases and factors that may produce similar signs include obesity, hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, liver disease, chronic skin conditions, age-related changes, and the prolonged use of corticosteroid medications.

Additionally, some dogs might present with conditions like kidney disease or behavioral issues that can cause increased drinking or appetite, potentially leading to confusion with Cushing's disease.


Different types of Cushing's disease in dogs require different diagnostic approaches and treatments. Understanding these types can help in quicker diagnosis and more effective treatment. 

If you suspect your dog is suffering from Cushing's disease, consult a veterinarian for a thorough examination and tailored treatment plan. Remember, early detection and appropriate treatment are crucial for managing the disease effectively and improving your dog's quality of life.


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