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.
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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 dog ever).
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 symptoms.
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.
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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 type 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 liver disease. 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 Drops Reviews.
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.
(UPDATE: At the time, I didn't know about pet waterers which would have helped tremendously as his excessive drinking continued to get worse. As it was, I was constantly filling and re-filling water bowls all over the house. It's a small thing, but helpful in case you are trying to deal with the same thing. Please don't withhold water; make fresh, cool water always accessible.)
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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). Cushings dogs can be treated and dogs can continue to live happy and active lives.
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