What Is Cushing’s Disease?

Ever have one of those super stressful weeks? Just imagine if you couldn’t get rid of the source of the stress!! Although it’s not identical, Hyperadrenocorticism (or Cushing’s disease) has similar effects on our four legged friends. Cushing’s disease develops when there is an excess amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It is a fairly common disease diagnosed in dogs and is characterized by the effects of steroid on the body. It has pretty significant clinical signs you can notice at home. The source of the steroids can be from an internal source or an external source.  The most common complaints or clinical signs are increased drinking, increased urination, increased eating and increased panting. Keep in mind these clinical signs may not be as straight forward as they sound, and can be seen one at a time or together. For example, you may start noticing accidents in the house, food aggression or increased incidents of “counter surfing” or “dumpster diving”.  Other less common clinical can include: symmetrical hair loss, exercise intolerance, and muscle atrophy.

Although making a diagnosis begins with noticing clinical signs at home, the above mentioned clinical signs could be secondary to many other diseases. The first step is a through physical exam performed by your veterinarian, followed by a complete blood count, chemistry profile and urinalysis. Your veterinarian may also recommend a urine culture. Once these screening tests have been performed, your veterinarian will discuss the changes they see as well as confirmatory diagnostic testing. These tests include an ACTH stimulation test or a Low Dose Dexamethasone test; your veterinarian will select the one that best fits your pet’s condition.

Once your dog has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, the management is a once to twice daily-dosed medication that your pet will be on for the remainder of his or her life. Monitoring is very important and must be done every 6-12 months, and developing a treatment plan with your veterinarian is essential. While Cushing’s disease may decrease your pets overall lifespan, it is a fairly manageable condition.  Catching this disease early can be very beneficial in the management of this disease, as well as possibly delaying common associated disease conditions.

The best way to catch this disease early is through scheduling yearly physical exams coupled with blood work. Catching this disease, or any other disease, early may change the overall outcome of your pet’s life and allow them a few more years as our best friends. ©

Dr. Charlotte Pulliam, DVM (Tuskegee University) joined Town Center Animal Hospital in July 2013. She was born and raised in Oakland, CA, and has always had a passion for animals and learning, and decided at a young age that being a veterinarian was the only way to go. She quickly decided it was time for a change of scenery and headed south. www.towncentervet.com