What is Cushing's disease in dogs?
Cushing's disease is a disease where the dog's adrenaline glands produce far too many hormones. It is also called hyperadrenocorticism. The adrenal glands normally produce a lot of the different hormones that are needed to keep the dog's body working. These range from hormones to keep the dog at a steady body weight to hormones that keep the skin healthy. Cushing's generally happens when a tumor affects either the pituitary gland of the dog or the adrenal glands. The pituitary gland is basically a small part of the brain that regulates hormone production in other parts of the body, so if it gets a tumor it can indirectly cause the adrenal glands to go haywire as well. Another less frequent cause of it is giving the dog too much cortisone, a steroid that is commonly used to treat various illnesses.
What are the symptoms in dogs?
Because the hormones keep various systems in the dog's body working properly, you may see a variety of different symptoms. They appear gradually in most cases and many owners mistake them for a general decline as a result of aging. They include a loss of muscle strength, the dog growing a pot-belly while losing fat in other areas, alterations in appetite and thirst, general laziness and lethargy, excessive panting, a poorer quality coat of hair, or loss of hair.
Your vet will test your dog's blood to verify that it is Cushings disease.
What is the treatment?
For tumors of the adrenal glands, it often requires surgery to remove them, and while this is a risky operation it is often successful. If your vet deems surgery impractical, drug treatment will be used instead. For tumors of the pituitary gland, surgery is not an option, and drugs are used to treat the dog. There are several different drugs available - these include Anipryl, Lysodren, Nizoral, Eldepryl, and Ketoconazole. Each of these deals with it in a somewhat different way, and your vet will need to rely on their expertise and assessment of the dog's situation to decide which one to use.
If your dog's disease was induced by cortisone, then the vet will have to gradually reduce the amount of cortisone being used and switch the dog to a different treatment for whatever you were using it for.
It is progressive, and it can turn into very bad illnesses that are fatal to the dog if you let it keep going. It will gradually undermine the health of the dog's entire body. Always go to a vet if you suspect Cushing's.
Can it affect cats?
Yes, but it is much more rare in cats than in dogs. However, you should take them to a vet if you suspect it as well, because it is better not to be complacent and because those symptoms suggest a serious illness of some sort.
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