Cushing Disease In Dogs: Symptoms, Treatments, And Remedies

Cushing disease in dogs, also known as Cushing's syndrome or hyperadrenocorticism, is a health condition where the body overproduces the steroid hormone cortisol. The medical term is a coin from the words “hyper" which stands for overactive, "adreno" meaning adrenal gland, and "corticism" which relates to the outer part of the adrenal gland, aptly named cortex. This disease is a fairly common condition in middle-aged and older dogs and happens when your pet's adrenal glands overproduce cortisol.

They are positioned close to the kidneys and produce multiple important hormones that influence and regulate various body functions and are vital to sustaining life. The most important one of them is cortisol, a steroid hormone that is also frequently referred to as cortisone.

It is vital to every dog's well-being, as it helps them better respond to stress, battle various infections, control their weight, and keep their blood sugar levels in check. However, reduced or excessive production of it as in cases with Cushing disease can cause severe problems. It can even prove to be life-threatening to your four-legged companion if it's not diagnosed on time and dealt with the adequate treatment.

This disease can be tricky to diagnose because it comes with the same plethora of symptoms as many other dog conditions. Read along to find out more about the symptoms and types, how it's diagnosed, as well as learn the various treatment methods for this unwanted condition, including the top natural remedies for canine Cushing disease.

Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Different Types Of Cushing Disease In Dogs

  • Symptoms

The surplus of cortisol in your dog’s body can generate a wide variety of symptoms that emerge gradually and can be difficult to notice. In general, Cushing disease occurs primarily in middle-aged and older dogs, so it’s normal for owners to think that the symptoms are regular signs of aging. Cushing disease symptoms usually include: 

  • Increased thirst and urination. One of the first signs that point to Cushing disease is when the dog all of a sudden needs to go out to the toilet in the middle of the night;
  • Enhanced appetite. Although pups tend to eat a lot, look for any changes in the amount they eat or if they get hungry more often than usual; 
  • Abdominal swelling. Look for sagging, bloated bellies; 
  • Lack of energy. This is definitively something you should look out for, as it’s not a common dig behavior;
  • Decrease in muscle strength. Dogs need to stay in shape at all times;
  • Hair loss and thinning hair. Look for bald patches or increased shedding;
  • Overall lethargy and weakness. If your pet doesn’t like to play over a longer period of time, it’s time to see the vet; 
  • Lowered immunity. Sneezes may look adorable, but they should also be monitored closely.

    Dogs with Cushing disease have a higher susceptibility to contracting various infections (mostly urinary), and their skin heals slowly after an injury. Osteoporosis has also been reported. Canines with Cushing disease, too, are at an enhanced risk of developing other undesired conditions like pancreatitis and diabetes mellitus, among others. 

    In most instances, the symptoms of this disease are relatively mild, and for this reason, getting a confirmed diagnosis can be a challenging process.

    • Diagnosis

    First and foremost, you need to know that there’s no diagnosing method that’s 100% accurate for diagnosing Cushing disease in dogs. That’s why an experienced veterinarian will do a couple of tests first to acknowledge what may be causing your dog’s symptoms and rule out a few other health problems and concerns. 

    Your veterinarian should begin by testing your pet’s pee and their blood. The initial exams should discern if there аре some urinary tract infections, diluted urine, or problems with a group of enzymes predominantly found in the liver and bones named alkaline phosphatases. Since all of the conditions mentioned above are common in dogs with Cushing disease, if the results show any signs of a particular situation, your veterinarian will follow up with the following hormone screening tests:

    • The Low Dose Dexamethasone Suppression (LDDS) test observes how your four-legged companion’s body works with a human-made version of cortisol, called dexamethasone. The vet will take blood samples from your dog before and after getting a shot of the hormone to get a better sense of what’s going on.

    • The ACTH stimulation test measures how the adrenal glands work in response to a hormone called ACTH that, as a rule, instigates them to produce cortisol. Exactly like with the previous test, the veterinarian will take blood samples before and after your pup gets an ACTH shot to compare how the hormone affects them.

    If these tests suggest that your dog could have Cushing disease, the veterinarian will probably want to do an ultrasound scan of their belly and see if there’s a tumor on the adrenal glands. If you suspect that your dog is battling with Cushing’s, make sure to do all the necessary tests to determine the exact type of Cushing disease as this majorly affects its therapy and treatment.


    • Types

    Essentially, there are three different types of canine Cushing disease, and make no mistake; they all mean that your pet’s adrenal glands create too much of the hormone cortisol. The three types of Cushing’s include Pituitary-Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism (PDH), Adrenal-Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism (ADH), and Iatrogenic Cushing disease in dogs.

    Pituitary-Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism (PDH) 

    As the very name suggests, this type is caused by the enlargement of the pituitary gland which produces a hormone called ACTH, which in turn causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. In PDH, the pituitary gland is enlarged due to a tumor (usually benign), and it produces too much ACTH, which consequently makes the adrenals generate too much cortisol. PDH is the most frequent form of Cushing disease in dogs, resulting in about 80-90% of all cases.

    Adrenal-Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism (ADH)

    This Cushing’s type suggests that usually, there’s a tumor on the adrenal gland itself, which also causes the adrenals to generate too much cortisol. This type of Cushing only accounts for about 10-20% of all cases, but there’s a 50-50 chance that these tumors will be malignant.

    Iatrogenic Cushing Disease In Dogs 

    The third type of this condition is triggered by the overuse of steroid drugs and can occur even after prolonged use of ear and eye drops. As a matter of fact, this study describes a rather unusual case of a dog who got the condition from absorbing the topical steroids his owner used to treat psoriasis. So be extremely careful if you use steroids yourself. 

    On the bright side, iatrogenic Cushing syndrome is a lot easier to treat and manage than the other two. As we continue speaking about treatment options and natural remedies for Cushing disease in dogs, we’ll exclusively focus on the PDH and ADH types.

    Treatments For Cushing Disease In Dogs 

    Selecting the appropriate treatment for Cushing disease in dogs primarily depends on the underlying cause of the condition. The most famous conventional treatment options for this condition include:

    • Surgery 

    Both pituitary and adrenal tumors can be surgically eliminated, and if benign, surgery can be exceptionally successful. On the other hand, if the tumor has spread to other parts of the dog's body or they experience other health concerns, surgery may not be an option.   

    • Medications 

    If surgery is not an option, generally, a dog can live a normal and active life with medication to treat the disease, though they will need it for the rest of their days. 

    In this case, medical management with either trilostane or mitotane can be pursued, but the dog will need constant check-ups and blood analyses to ensure that the treatment is functioning. If you're starting the medication treatment or changing dosages, make sure to observe your pet for vomiting, lethargy, and decreased appetite, and call your vet as soon as you note any of these signs.

    • Radiation 

    Radiation treatment for the PDH type of Cushing's has also proven to be an effective treatment for Cushing disease in dogs. It improves or eliminates particular neurological symptoms, especially when treated early.

    Unconventional Treatments And Natural Remedies For Cushing Disease In Dogs

    If your canine battles with this nasty condition, there are also many unconventional and holistic treatments available to help you better your pet’s general health and wellbeing.

    • Healthy Diet 

    Above all, always view food and healthy diets as authentic medicine. If your four-legged companion is affected by Cushing’s, feed them a fresh, preferably raw and organic, whole food diet with pasture-raised meats. Read through the following guidelines as they can improve your pet’s Cushing disease symptoms. Here’s what to feed your dog with: 

    • Plenty of digestible proteins to hinder muscle wasting; 
    • Low-fat foods to avoid pancreatitis and high cholesterol; 
    • Lower calcium intake to prevent bladder stones; 
    • Eat a lot of fruits and veggies;
    • Herbalists recommend assorted herbs that help reduce cortisol levels and support stressed organs including ginkgo biloba, burdock and dandelion root, garlic, nettle, Siberian ginseng, basil leaf, bacopa, turmeric, and many more.

    • Supplements 

    There are many extremely effective natural remedies for Cushing disease in dogs in the form of supplements that can alleviate the symptoms by revitalizing the dog's body's adrenal function in a natural and harm-free manner. 

    Prana Pets natural supplements and formulas are all made out of potent herbs that can normalize your dog's hormones and help its body adapt to stress with no side effects and health risks.

    Besides, as melatonin helps regulate hormones, maintain circadian rhythms, and provide much-needed antioxidants, proven holistic veterinarians find that supplements rich in melatonin and lignans manage Cushing disease in dogs better. 

    As conventional treatments are by no means the only option to treat your beloved four-legged companion, make sure to offer them as much support as possible and help them cope with symptoms and difficulties better. Providing them with an adequate supplement package is one of the best ways of doing so. 

    • Acupuncture 

    Acupuncture is another unconventional treatment for battling Cushing disease in dogs that can help as an adjunct therapy. It can help regulate the endocrine system and reduce inflammation in affected dogs. Once the pup is in stable condition, it will only need acupuncture treatments every couple of months.

    What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Dog With Cushing Disease?

    Speaking of canine Cushing disease life expectancy, your pet's prognosis and their life expectancy may depend on multiple factors. If the dog's tumor is small and benign, its condition and well-being might be manageable; the dog might go on to lead a good quality life and live a long time. 

    However, larger and malignant tumors, or tumors affecting the dog's brain, are a whole different story. Dogs with these kinds of tumors usually have a poor medical prognosis and shorter life expectancy. Additionally, if left untreated, it can badly impact a dog's quality of life and life expectancy as well.

    Managing Cushing Disease In Dogs 

    Even though Cushing disease in dogs can’t be 100% cured, it can be successfully managed in most cases. If you happen to be an owner of a dog who’s battling this awful condition, or you suspect that your dog might have it, ensure to visit an experienced veterinarian regularly, monitor its condition, and give your dog the full attention it deserves.


    Make sure to implement a good part of our natural remedies for Cushing disease in dogs in its everyday life, surround it with positive energy, never give up and make every moment count!

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