Cushing’s disease, also called hyperadrenocorticism, is when your pet’s adrenal glands or pituitary produce too many corticosteroids. These hormones, specifically cortisol and cortisone, affect the function of many different organs within your pet’s body, making this a serious condition with symptoms that are highly varied.
Cushing’s disease is very common in dogs, but occurs rarely in cats. Hypothyroidism, diabetes, and Cushing’s disease are among the most common hormone problems in dogs, but Cushing’s is by far the most difficult to treat because of the level of involvement corticosteroids have with every organ in your dog’s body.
What Causes Cushing’s Disease
Cushing’s disease is often caused by a tumor in either your dog's adrenal gland(s) located in his belly near his kidneys or in his pituitary gland located just below his brain stem. It is estimated that 85% of all cases of Cushing’s disease are caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, while the remaining 15% are caused by a tumor in one or both adrenal glands.
Dogs over the age of 6 years are at risk for Cushing’s disease, but generally dogs are over the age of 10 years when diagnosed. If the dog has adrenal tumors, they’re usually even slightly older when diagnosed.
Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease
The diagnosis of Cushing’s disease always starts with a physical exam and a thorough history from the pet parent. Your report of symptoms and your vet’s findings when examining your pet can help point in the direction of an endocrine problem. Unfortunately, there is no single test for Cushing’s disease, and landing on this diagnosis is actually a three-step process involving bloodwork, urine testing, and imaging like x-rays or an ultrasound. Additional specialized testing like hormone level studies and MRIs or CAT scans are sometimes recommended as well.
Treatment of Cushing’s Disease
Treatment for Cushing’s disease varies based on the form of the disease your pet has and may involve either medication or surgery. You will need to discuss the most appropriate treatment options for your pet with your veterinarian to choose what is best for your lifestyle, financial budget, and which will give your pet the best prognosis with fewest risks or side effects.
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