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Cushing's syndrome in dogs: symptoms, causes, treatments and prevention

Cushing's syndrome is an endocrine disease that is most commonly diagnosed in certain breeds of dogs that are particularly susceptible. It requires a veterinary consultation in order for the professional to determine whether it is malignant or benign and to prescribe the most appropriate treatment for the dog. Symptoms, causes, management: what is it really and are there any preventive means to protect a dog from Cushing's disease? Let's find out.

Cushing's Syndrome: the causes

Also called Cushing's disease, hyperadrenocorticism is due to the dysfunction of an endocrine gland and in more than 8 cases out of 10, it is the pituitary gland that is incriminated. This pituitary gland, located in the sella turcica, is the orchestra conductor of the body and does not function properly. In other cases, Cushing's syndrome is due to a malignant or benign tumor affecting one of the two adrenal glands located above the kidneys. These glands synthesize and release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream.

Cushing's syndrome is more frequently diagnosed in certain small breeds of dogs, since in two-thirds of cases, the affected canines weigh about 20 kilos at most in adulthood, such as terriers, dachshunds and yorkies. But some medium-sized dogs are also quite susceptible to Cushing's disease.

Cushing's disease in dogs: symptoms

Certain symptoms should alert the owner of a dog with Cushing's disease. These are for example:
  • Polyuria, which means that the dog drinks a lot,
  • Polydipsia, which means an increase in urine output,
  • Polyphagia, a term used to describe the increase in the amount of food the dog eats daily,
  • A distension of the abdomen,
  • Muscle wasting,
  • A lack of tone that manifests itself by a great fatigue,
  • A hyperpigmentation that can follow a calcification of the skin,
  • A significant loss of hair.
Since some of these symptoms are often seen in older dogs and since this syndrome mainly affects dogs over 10 years old, the owner may think that they are simply signs of aging. However, when a dog has Cushing's disease and shows several of these warning signs, a visit to the veterinarian is required as soon as possible. The animal must be taken care of because it is at high risk of diabetes, pulmonary embolism, inflammation of the pancreas and other serious pathologies.

Can a dog with Cushing's syndrome be cured?

After a clinical examination, the veterinarian will order a blood test to check for:
  • Corticotropin or ACTH, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that triggers cortisol production,
  • Plasma cortisol level, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands,
  • Blood glucose, which is the level of glucose in the blood,
  • Cholesterol levels, which are usually above the normal range in Cushing's disease.
The test results are scrutinized before the veterinarian can make a diagnosis. If Cushing's syndrome is confirmed, a protocol of care is put in place.

Treatment for Cushing's disease in dogs is usually medication and is prescribed for life. The animal must take trilostane. This molecule is an inhibitor of the steroid hormone synthesis process or steroidogenesis. The dosage is prescribed on a case-by-case basis. The dog must then undergo regular blood tests, allowing the veterinarian to modify the dosage of the treatment if necessary.

Removal of the adrenal gland that contains an adrenal tumor may be decided upon. Similarly, in the case of Cushing's disease due to a pituitary adenoma, the chosen solution may be surgical. The pituitary gland is then removed: this is called a hypophysectomy. Afterwards, the dog must undergo several sessions of radiotherapy.

Unfortunately, it can happen that surgical treatment cannot be considered. In this case, all solutions are found so that the dog ends its life as comfortably as possible. In any case, it is important to know that only an early diagnosis of the disease allows a sufficiently early treatment to hope for a complete cure of the dog.

As prevention of this syndrome is impossible, it is very important to have your dog regularly monitored by a veterinarian, and even more so as soon as he feels the first symptoms that could lead to the suspicion of Cushing's syndrome. A regular follow-up from a young age is also necessary if the animal belongs to one of the breeds most prone to this disease.