What is Cushing's disease in cats?

Cushing's disease is a disease where the cat's adrenaline glands produce excessive amounts of certain hormones. It is also called hyperadrenocorticism. The adrenal glands normally produce a variety of different hormones that are needed to keep the cat's body working. Cushings disease generally happens when a tumor affects either the pituitary gland of the cat or its adrenal glands. The pituitary gland is a small section 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 this disease is giving the cat an overdose of cortisone, a steroid that is commonly used to treat various illnesses. Cats do not get the disease as frequently as dogs.


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What are the symptoms in cats?

Cats with Cushing's mostly get the same symptoms as dogs - because the hormones keep various systems in the dog's body working properly, there 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 cat growing a pot-belly while losing fat in other areas, alterations in appetite and thirst, general laziness and lethargy, loss of muscle tissue resulting in general weakness, a poorer quality coat of hair, or loss of hair. Cats have one VERY important difference with dogs as far as this disease goes: most cats who get it will also develop diabetes, which must be treated as well. 

Your vet will test your cat's blood to verify that it is Cushing's 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 cat. There are several different drugs available - these include Anipryl, Lysodren, Nizoral, Eldepryl, and Ketoconazole. Most of these drugs are more frequently used in dogs than in cats, and they are specifically designed and approved for dogs. However, vets often use them in cats as well, with varying degrees of success. 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 cat's situation to decide which one to use.

If the illness was induced by cortisone, then the vet will have to gradually reduce the amount of cortisone being used and switch the cat to a different treatment for whatever you were using it for.

Cushing's disease is progressive, and it can turn into very bad illnesses that are fatal to the cat if you let it keep going. It will gradually undermine the health of the cat's entire body. Always go to a vet if you suspect that your cat has this.

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