Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism (HAC), is an endocrine disorder that causes excessive production of the hormone cortisol, which is produced when the pituitary gland in the brain sends information to the adrenal glands in the abdomen. HAC can affect humans and cats, but it is most common in dogs. Here are four facts dog owners should know about Cushing’s disease.

#1: The signs of Cushing’s disease can mimic other conditions

Excess cortisol can cause dogs to show the following signs:

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Excessive panting
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain
  • Symmetrical hair loss
  • Thin skin
  • Skin infections

#2: Tumors are the primary cause of Cushing’s disease

About 85% of dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s disease have a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, and 15% have adrenal gland tumors. The overuse of steroids causes some cases of Cushing’s. Female dogs are more prone to adrenal tumors than male dogs, and poodles, dachshunds, and Boston terriers are diagnosed with Cushing’s more than other dog breeds.

#3: Diagnosing Cushing’s disease can be difficult

If your dog is exhibiting signs that may indicate Cushing’s disease, contact your veterinarian. A comprehensive physical exam will need to be done, along with various tests and obtaining the history of your pet. In some cases, an abdominal ultrasound or MRI may be needed. Diagnosing Cushing’s disease can take time, and the results of these tests may still be inconclusive. 

#4: Treatment of Cushing’s disease depends on the cause

When Cushing’s disease develops because of the overuse of steroids, your dog will need to be weaned off the steroid medication gradually. When the condition is pituitary- or adrenal-dependent, medical or surgical intervention will be necessary. We may recommend a daily oral medication to help decrease the amount of cortisol the body is producing. These medications, along with routine monitoring, can often control the disease for dogs with a small, benign pituitary tumor. Dogs with benign adrenal tumors can often be cured with surgery. Malignant tumors, however, carry a poor prognosis. 

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