The signs of Cushing’s Disease in dogs

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Jamie Walker, Technical Services Manager at global veterinary pharmaceuticals company, Dechra and experienced vet, explains what Cushing’s disease is, how to spot it in your dog, and how a vet can diagnose and treat it…

What is Canine Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s disease is a disorder that can seriously affects your dog’s health, vitality and appearance. Also known as hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s syndrome, it is one of the most common endocrine disorders, occurring mostly in middle aged and older dogs. It is diagnosed in around three in every 1,000 dogs, although many more dogs could suffer with this syndrome but not be diagnosed with it.

Dogs with Cushing’s produce excessive amounts of cortisol, an important hormone that helps regulate metabolism. This can have harmful effects on other organs and on the ability of the body to regulate itself.

It is always a good idea to keep a note of the changes you see in your dog’s habits and behaviour

What are the warning signs of Cushing’s disease?

There are ten common symptoms to keep an eye out for – most of which might seem like ‘normal’ signs of old age on their own. Not all dogs will react to the syndrome in the same way and your dog may not necessarily display all of these signs. Wherever possible it is always a good idea to keep a note of the changes you see in your dog’s habits and behaviour.

1.Increased urination / peeing on the floor
Are you finding that your dog needs letting out into the garden much more frequently? Or is it waking you through the night to urinate? Or perhaps it is having accidents indoors when it is normally well house trained? While these issues could mean a bladder problem, they can also be an indication of Cushing’s syndrome.

2.Changes to appetite / eating a lot more
If you find that your once picky dog is now eating all their food and more, or has shown a change in behaviour to become more protective around food, then you should discuss this with your vet.

3.Increased thirst / drinking a lot more
Drinking a lot more is one of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome in a dog.

4.Pot belly
Keep a look out for a rounded appearance of their waist – otherwise known as a pot belly. This may be a symptom of Cushing’s syndrome.

5.Muscle shrinking/wastage
A healthy dog should maintain a regular weight and muscle tone – see your vet if you notice your pet has noticeably lost some muscle mass. One way to spot this is if they’re finding it difficult to stand up, jump up onto the sofa, or climb up and down the stairs.

6.Excessive panting (even at rest)
All dogs pant, however, if you notice your dog is panting more than usual (particularly when resting) then it might be worth a visit to the vets.

7.Lethargy (being excessively tired)
Lethargy means that the dog is less animated than usual. This may be shown by sleepiness and low energy, moving more slowly, being reluctant to get out of their bed, being reluctant to go for a walk or play, generally showing an unwillingness to do things they usually do.

As your dog displays more clinical signs, the greater the chance that Cushing’s is present

8.Patchy hair or changes to skin
Another symptom of Cushing’s syndrome that should be taken seriously, is changes to your dog’s skin, or any patches of hair loss. For some dogs, hair loss caused by Cushing’s can be extreme, leaving them only with fur over their head and feet. Yet for other dogs it may be more subtle – with signs such as having a dull coat, hair not growing back after being clipped or blackhead formation in the armpits or groin. Skin can also become thinner. In healthy dogs, the hair is grown and shed in a constant cycle. In dogs with Cushing’s this cycle slows down, or stops completely, meaning hair that falls out fails to regrow.

9.Recurrent skin infections
If your dog is suffering with recurrent skin infections, this can also be a symptom of Cushing’s syndrome.

10.Recurrent urine infections
Much like recurrent skin infections, if your dog is regularly having to be treated for urine infections, this can also be a symptom of Cushing’s syndrome.

Could these be signs of other health issues aside from Cushing’s syndrome?

Yes, there are many other syndromes which can produce signs such as drinking more and lethargy. However, as your dog displays more clinical signs, the greater the chance that Cushing’s is present.

Examples of other conditions which may present in a similar way to Cushing’s include other hormonal syndromes such as an underactive thyroid or diabetes, infections such as a pyometra (womb infection), and organ malfunction such as kidney or liver disease.

veterinary practiceWhat does a diagnosis for Cushing’s disease consist of?

Cushing’s specific tests can be performed by a vet, to confirm or disprove a diagnosis. There are two types of tests, both of which involve injections and measuring cortisol levels. Neither of these tests are absolutely perfect though, and your vet may have to perform both in order to gain a diagnosis. Equally, it may be that for your pet, repetition of these tests over time, or further (different) tests are required.

What does treatment for Cushing’s look like?

Cushing’s syndrome can be successfully treated using medication that reduces the production of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands. There are some surgical options for the treatment of Cushing’s too.

Cushing’s requires either medical or surgical treatment to be successfully managed, and diet change isn’t required for a successful outcome (but your vet may also recommend a change in diet too). Once treatment begins (and so long as it continues), most dogs return to good health quickly and can enjoy a better quality of life.

For more information about spotting the signs of Cushing’s syndrome in your senior dog please visit: www.suspecting-cushings.co.uk. For more information about canine Cushing’s syndrome, including diagnosis and treatment, please visit: www.canine-cushings.co.uk.

This is a guest post by Jamie Walker. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk.

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