As our canine friends age, they can be more prone to different medical conditions. One of them is Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism (HAC). It’s an endocrine disorder that causes excessive production of the hormone cortisol, which is produced when the pituitary gland in the brain sends information to the adrenal glands in the abdomen. HAC can affect humans and cats, but it is most common in dogs. If you’re a dog owner, here’s what you need to know about HAC.

#1: Diagnosing Cushing’s disease can be difficult

If your dog is exhibiting signs that may indicate Cushing’s disease, call us and schedule an appointment. We’ll conduct a comprehensive physical exam and will ask questions about your dog’s history and when you noticed the clinical signs. We’ll collect blood and urine samples for routine blood work, and we’ll also likely need to conduct additional testing, including urine cortisol:creatinine ratio, a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, or an adrenocorticotropin releasing hormone stimulation test. In some cases, we may recommend an abdominal ultrasound or MRI. Diagnosing Cushing’s disease can take time, and the results of these tests may still be inconclusive.

#2: The signs of Cushing’s disease can mimic other conditions

Excess cortisol can cause dogs to show the following symptoms:

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Excessive panting
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain
  • Symmetrical hair loss
  • Thin skin
  • Skin infections

#3: Tumours are the primary cause of Cushing’s disease

About 85% of dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s disease have a benign tumour on the pituitary gland, and the remaining 15% have adrenal gland tumours. The overuse of steroids causes some cases of Cushing’s. Female dogs are more prone to adrenal tumours than male dogs, and poodles, dachshunds, and Boston terriers are diagnosed with Cushing’s more than other dog breeds.

#4: Treatment of Cushing’s disease depends on the cause

When Cushing’s disease develops because of the overuse of steroids, we’ll likely attempt to wean the dog off the steroid medication gradually. When the condition is pituitary- or adrenal-dependent, medical or surgical intervention will be necessary. We may recommend a daily oral medication to help decrease the amount of cortisol the body is producing. These medications, along with routine monitoring, can often control the disease for dogs with a small, benign pituitary tumour. Dogs with benign adrenal tumours can often be cured with surgery. Malignant tumours, however, carry a poor prognosis.

Concerned that your dog may be showing signs of Cushing’s disease? Contact us.