A very common disease that develops in older dogs is Cushing’s disease. The condition is caused by excessively high levels of cortisol which is a hormone that is produced by the dog’s adrenal glands found near the kidneys.
This disease occurs most frequently in dogs that are older than 6 years, but is occasionally found in dogs that are younger. Cortisol is an important hormone in the body that helps to regulate a dog’s response to stress. It also helps to regulate body weight and tissue structure. However, too much cortisol can be detrimental to a dog’s health.
Among the most common symptoms of this disease in dogs are an increased thirst and appetite, low energy levels, more frequent urination, and hair loss. The dog may also have thinner skin than normal. They tend to bruise more easily and are subject to skin infections. The abdomen can also become enlarged, giving the dog a characteristic pot-bellied look.
There are two major types of Cushing’s in dogs. The most common type, which causes 80 to 85 percent of all cases is the result of a tumor on the pituitary gland in the brain. This important gland is responsible for the production of many hormones. One of these hormones is adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH.
A pituitary tumor can cause the gland to produce an excessive amount of ACTH. This hormone stimulates the production of cortisol in the adrenal glands, so when the levels get too high in the bloodstream, too much cortisol is produced in the body, causing Cushing’s disease.
The second, and less common, type of Cushing’s is the direct result of a tumor in the adrenal glands. Such tumors can directly trigger the overproduction of cortisol by these glands. Veterinarians will need to perform blood tests to determine whether a particular case of Cushing’s is the result of a pituitary tumor or an adrenal tumor.
In most cases, Cushing’s will be treated with medication. Dogs that are suffering from pituitary-dependent Cushing’s will need to have the condition controlled via medication, since surgical techniques for removing a pituitary gland have not yet been perfected. Such techniques are available for removing an adrenal tumor that has not spread to other parts of the body.
However, such operations can be difficult and risky for the animal. Because of the availability of medications that can be used to control the disease, in most cases surgery is not recommended. Treating the disease with medication lets dogs enjoy a high quality of life.
Dogs with Cushing’s will need to be on medication for the rest of their lives. Among the primary drugs used to treat the disease are Vetoryl or trilostane. This can be used to treat both pituitary and adrenal forms of the disease. Anipryl or selegiline has also been approved to treat pituitary cases of Cushing’s.
Treating Cushings in dogs is fairly straightforward once the condition has been properly diagnosed. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about taking care of your dog.