My Pet Was Diagnosed with Cushing's Disease

Cushing’s Disease

What is it?

  • Cushing’s Disease (hyperadrenocorticism) develops due to the overproduction of the hormone cortisol.

How did my dog get Cushing’s Disease?

A dog produces most of their cortisol hormone through their adrenal glands.  If a tumor is present, it can cause an over-secretion of the cortisol hormone resulting in Cushing’s Disease.  Adrenal tumors are responsible for approximately 20% of Cushing’s Disease diagnoses in pets.  The other 80% of Cushing’s Disease patients result from a tumor on the dog’s pituitary gland.  The pituitary gland is located in the brain and when a tumor is present it can send signals to the adrenal glands to increase production of cortisol also resulting in Cushing’s Disease.  Less common is the occurrence of Cushing’s Disease as a result of long term use of corticosteroids such as prednisone.

What are the symptoms?

Cushing’s Disease is more prominently found in older pets and often times the disease is mistaken for the natural aging process.  Here is a list of the most common signs of Cushing’s Disease:

  • Increased / excessive water consumption known as polydipsia
  • Increased / excessive urination known as polyuria
  • Urinary accidents in previously house trained dogs
  • Increased / excessive appetite known as polyphagia
  • Appearance of food stealing / guarding, begging, trash dumping etc.
  • Sagging, bloated, pot-bellied appearance
  • Weight gain or its appearance, due to fat redistribution
  • Loss of muscle mass, giving the appearance of weight loss
  • Bony, skull-like appearance of the dog’s head
  • Exercise intolerance, lethargy, general or hing-leg weakness
  • New reluctance to jump on furniture or people
  • Excess panting, seeking cool surfaces to rest on
  • Symmetrically thinning hair or baldness on torso
  • Other coat changes like dullness, dryness
  • Slow regrowth of hair after clipping
  • Thin, wrinkled, fragile, and / or darkly pigmented skin
  • Easily damaged / bruised skin that heals slowly
  • Hard, calcified lumps in the skin
  • Susceptibility to infections (especially skin and urinary)
  • Diabetes, pancreatitis, seizures

Your pet does not have to express each symptom to be diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease.

How does my veterinarian diagnosis Cushing’s Disease?

Your pet’s outward appearance and behavior will indicate to the veterinarian that their is a need for further diagnostics to determine if your pet has Cushing’s Disease. Further diagnostic tests can include:

  • Bloodwork – Your veterinarian may notice elevated liver enzymes, cholesterol and blood glucose levels etc.
  • Urinalysis  – Your veterinarian may notice high levels of protein and low specific gravity indicating diluted urine.
  • Radiographs / Ultrasound – Your veterinarian may notice enlarged liver or atrophied adrenals

Your veterinarian’s exam and these diagnostic procedures can suggest the presence of Cushing’s but specific lab tests can help to further pinpoint a diagnosis.  These tests include a urine cortisol/creatinine ratio test, and ACTH stimulation test and low and high dose dexamethasone suppression tests.  However, there is no single test to diagnose Cushing’s.


The short-term prognosis is very good.  Treated, one would expect symptoms of Cushing’s to fully resolve over the course of 4 – 6 months.  Excess drinking and urinating abate quickly.  It may take several months for hair and coat improvement to be observed.  Dogs are generally more comfortable after the disease is under control and may live happily for many years.

Let untreated, Cushing’s disease will progress.  As excess cortisol is immunosuppressive, Cushingoid dogs are prone to various infections.  They are predisposed to developing hypothyroidism, pancreatitis, diabetes, seizures, hypertension, congestive heart failure, blood clots, and liver and kidney failure.

More Articles on Cushing’s Disease…

Preparing Your Pet for Testing

Preparing Your Pet for Testing

When you schedule your appointment for an ACTH Stimulation Test at our hospital.  Please follow the following steps: Fast your pet the night before by removing all food after 8pm. Your pet will will be scheduled for their admission appointment with one of our...

Testing for Cushing’s Disease

Urine Cortisol / Creatinine Ratio Test This is considered a screening test, this test cannot diagnose Cushing's Disease but it can rule it out.  A urine sample is collected and examined for relative amounts of cortisol versus a normally excreted protein metabolite,...

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