Symptoms of Cushings Disease in Dogs (Not Just Old Age!)
Every dog is an individual. Although there are several "common"
symptoms of Cushings Disease in dogs
some dogs show very few symptoms and even those may be relatively mild. My
dog actually only had one symptom in the beginning, and some dogs show no
clinical signs at all.
DISCLAIMER: I'm not a vet and I have no veterinary or medical background
whatsoever. This information on Cushings disease in dogs is not meant as a substitute
or replacement for veterinary advice. It's meant for educational and informational
purposes only, as a starting point for discussing the diagnosis and treatment of
canine Cushings disease with a qualified vet.
Unfortunately, the signs of Cushings disease can easily be mistaken for other
things, like the aging process. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Excessive panting;
- Excessive drinking and/or urination (ie. a previously housebroken dog starts having accidents in the house);
- Ravenous appetite;
- Loss of fur, usually symetrically on either side of the body;
- Fur that is slow to grow back, or doesn't grow back at all;
- Pot belly;
- Recurring skin infections;
- Weakening of the hind end.
When I first brought up my dog's excess panting with a vet, the vet replied that
it had been a hot summer - maybe that was the reason. I reluctantly agreed that
yes, it was hot, and it was a possibility
that was the reason for the
panting... but I didn't think so, since it was so much worse than usual. About
six months later, my dog's appetite increased dramatically. It was insane.
He had always had a healthy appetite,
but this was crazy - he'd eat food wrappers and kleenexes discarded in the
streets, and once when I emptied the vacuum cleaner bag he ate all the dust
and dirt in there too. So again, I spoke with a vet (a different one this one),
who suggested to me that it was a behavioral problem. I didn't agree but I
could tell he didn't believe me (I suppose I can't blame him, since many
pet owners will say their little Fluffy or Fido is the bestest-behaved
Although these two symptoms are "classic" Cushings signs,
my dog is actually a perfect example that illnesses don't always follow
what you would expect to see. We have met many Cushingoid dogs
before and they tended to have a bit of a "scruffy" look,
due to the hair loss that's one of the most common symptoms of Cushings. Most of the
dogs also had a pot belly (due to fat redistribution, again common
with Cushings) and weren't particularly active. My dog, on the other
hand, was as fluffy as ever, no pot belly, and still running like the wind.
So the lesson learned was that not all dogs will show the "common"
symptoms. If you see physical or behavioral changes in your dog, talk to
your vet about them.
TESTING AND COSTS
Most vets aren't inclined to treat Cushings unless the dog is showing
Getting the initial diagnosis done is very, very expensive. Shockingly so.
There is a very simple (and cheap) urine test that can rule out Cushings
-- but if it's not ruled out, then the other tests must be done. The problem
is, they all need to be done because no single test can definitively
diagnose Cushings on its own. Check out the links below for explanations on
the tests for Cushings Disease in dogs.
My dog underwent all of the tests for Cushings and had an abdominal
ultrasound as well. These tests confirmed that he was Cushingoid - the
problem was that the tests seemed to contradict each other about what
of Cushings he had. In the end, the vet decided that he
was much more likely to have pituitary-dependent Cushings
(rather than adrenal-based Cushings
, even though he did
have a nodule on one of his adrenal glands). The vet mentioned that
there was also a possibility he could have both forms of the disease.
There's more about the treatment for Cushings disease in dogs
later. Depending on the type of treatment you choose, though, you might also
end up having to do a number of ACTH Stim tests - also very expensive. These
tests determine how well the treatment is working and is extremely important
to make sure the dog doesn't go over the edge into Addison's disease
Once the correct dosage is determined, then you don't need to do the
ACTH stim tests as often anymore - every 4-6 months was what was suggested.
Mostly it's just the cost of the medication after that, but of course
the drugs aren't cheap either and dogs usually need lifelong therapy.
My dog was treated with mitotane/Lysodren. We went through the whole
entire diagnosis & the loading phase for the drug. He was only on
maintenance therapy for about a month before he was diagnosed with
We stopped giving the mitotane at that point.
Your vet can tell you the associated costs of diagnosis and treatment
specific to your area. If you have pet insurance, this would be the time
to check which of the tests and medications it will cover. Many people
cannot afford the cost of treatment and opt instead to leave the
disease untreated. You can also read about another option, which I
write about in Cushex
PROGRESSION OF SYMPTOMS
At the time of writing, it has been over a year since my dog was
diagnosed with Cushings disease. While his symptoms have progressed
(particularly the drinking and urinating), he has never shown any signs
of hair loss, one of the most common symptoms. He doesn't pant much either,
unless it's hot out. He does, however, show continued weakening of his
hindquarters. I also don't know if the excessive drinking and urinating
are due to his Cushings, or whether it's due to his liver disease.
Every dog is an different and will show different signs. Symptoms of
Cushings disease in dogs shouldn't be ignored. If you believe your dog
may have canine Cushings, find an experienced vet like an internal
medicine specialist (also called an IMS or an internist).
be treated and dogs can continue to live happy and active lives.