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Treatment for Cushing's Disease in Dogs

Cushing's disease is a serious condition caused by overactive glands resulting in long-term illness. In this post, our Southern Wisconsin vets talk about the signs and how to treat Cushing's disease in dogs along with a breakdown of the associated costs.

What Is Cushing's Disease?

Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a serious health condition where the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol (cortisone) in a dog's body. When dogs have excess cortisol it can be life-threatening and put them at a higher risk for several severe illnesses and conditions, such as kidney damage and diabetes.

In many cases, Cushing’s disease is caused by a benign or malignant tumor in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland situated at the base of the brain. Sometimes, the tumor could be found in the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys.

Excessive cortisol can also be caused by prolonged use of steroids, called iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome.

Signs of Canine Cushing’s Disease

Here are the most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs:

  • Lethargy
  • Panting
  • Excessive thirst or drinking
  • Increased appetite
  • Frequent urination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Enlarged abdomen (potbellied appearance)

Dogs that have Cushing’s disease will exhibit at least one of these symptoms, however, it's not common for dogs to develop all of these symptoms. If you see your dog displaying any of the signs detailed above contact our Southern Wisconsin vets immediately or the nearest emergency animal hospital. Dogs with Cushing’s disease have an increased risk of kidney damage, blood clots, high blood pressure, and diabetes

Diagnosing Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Your vet will perform a physical examination and conduct several diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your pup's symptoms and rule out other health issues. The tests can consist of but are not limited to, urinalysis, urine culture, complete blood panel, and/or full chemistry panel.

Your vet may run adrenal function tests, testing adrenal low-dose and high-dose dexamethasone suppression. However, adrenal function tests could cause false positives when another disease with similar clinical symptoms is present.

An ultrasound could help rule out other problems that may be causing your dog’s symptoms. Other diseases that can display similar signs include tumors in the spleen or liver, bladder stones, gallbladder disease, gastrointestinal disease, and chronic inflammatory liver disease.

The most effective diagnostic testing for Cushing’s disease is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which lets your vet assess your dog’s adrenal glands. However, this testing method can be costly.

At Badger Veterinary Hospital, our vets are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of internal diseases and conditions. We have access to diagnostic imaging tools and treatment methods that might be able to help identify and manage these problems.

Treating Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

In many cases, the treatment for Cushing's disease in dogs is done with medications that can help decrease the amount of cortisone the adrenal glands produce. The only way Cushing's disease can be treated is to remove the tumor, however, due to the complexity and risks of the surgery, most cases are treated with medication.

The treatments your vet uses will depend on the type of Cushing’s disease your dog has.

Pituitary tumor. Treatment of pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease is the most complicated. Often Two drugs, trilostane, and mitotane are used.

Adrenal tumor. Major abdominal surgery is usually needed to treat an adrenal-dependent Cushing’s disease. If the entire tumor can be removed and isn't malignant, there is a good chance your dog will regain normal health.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s disease. Treatment requires gradual discontinuation of the steroid, usually resulting in a recurrence of the disease that was being treated by the steroid.

After starting the medication, Cushing's disease in dogs treatment involves regular veterinary visits for ACTH stimulation tests until the excessive production of cortisone is controlled. Over your pet's lifetime, routine monitoring of blood tests and medication adjustments need to be made.

How long does a dog live with Cushing's disease?

Diligent observation and long-term management can help minimize the symptoms of Cushing’s disease. Once diagnosed with Cushing's disease, the average life expectancy for dogs is about two years.

For most dogs, Cushing's disease can be managed with few medication side effects. However, the wrong dose can result in mild or severe side effects. Therefore, your pooch needs to be carefully monitored. Follow-up blood tests are also essential.

Dogs that don't receive adequate monitoring and follow-up care often experience relapses and severe illness or death due to complications.

How much does it cost to treat Cushing disease in dogs?

Medication costs and the need for frequent blood monitoring can make Cushing’s disease expensive to manage, diligent follow-up care and monitoring for adrenal function can lead to a good prognosis. Pets who do not receive adequate monitoring and follow-up often experience relapses, severe symptoms of the illness, or death as a result of complications.

The breakdown of the typical cost of treating Cushing's disease in dogs is as follows:

  • Diagnosis: Initial blood work and tests are needed to help determine if your dog has Cushing's disease.
  • Surgery: The cost of surgery can vary depending on the practitioner. For instance, a board-certified veterinary surgeon would be more expensive than a general veterinarian.
  • Medication: What you pay for medication can be lower or higher depending on your dog’s weight.
  • Blood work and routine tests: When your dog is first diagnosed with Cushing’s disease you may need to take them to the vet more frequently. Once the condition is managed, you will likely need to bring your dog in for a checkup every three to six months.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs commonly seen with Cushing's disease? Contact our Southern Wisconsin vets to schedule an examination and diagnostics.

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