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Introduction to Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

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What is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s Disease is a condition that occurs when our bodies produce too much cortisol, usually due to a tumor in the pituitary gland. Cortisol is an important hormone and participant in the endocrine system. It is produced by our bodies to metabolize proteins and carbohydrates and helps with weight control, blood sugar levels, stress response, and to fight infections among many other important roles.

When too much cortisol is produced, our bodies can suppress our immune systems and also cause metabolic distress, which can lead to multiple problems including high blood pressure and gastrointestinal issues. Cushing’s Disease can affect people as well as many animals, including our beloved dogs. This condition is most likely to affect middle-aged and older dogs, and subtle symptoms can present themselves for years without recognition.


An old dog laying on the floor.

Here is a list of symptoms for which you should be on the lookout-but remember that many of these symptoms can look like regular signs of aging, like muscle weakness and loss of energy. Be very observant of your dogs and these warning signs!

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Stomach bloating
  • Thinning skin and hair
  • Darkening and bruising of skin
  • Blackheads or white scaly patches on the skin
  • Lethargy
  • Increased panting
  • Incontinence or increased frequency of urination
  • Skin infections
  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle weakness

If you see these symptoms in your dog, it may be a sign of Cushing’s Disease, but it may also be warning signs for many other illnesses or health issues. Get your dog in to the vet quickly if you begin seeing these symptoms so diagnosis and treatment can begin!

Types and Treatments

A yellow lab at a vet office.

There are two main types of Cushing’s Disease in dogs, and your veterinarian can perform a variety of tests to diagnose this disease.


This type of Cushing’s Disease is caused by a tumor in the adrenal gland and is the cause of about 20% of cases. Surgery is usually the best treatment option in this case, unless the tumor has already spread from the adrenal gland to other parts of the body or your dog has other health conditions that prevent surgery.


This type of Cushing’s Disease is the cause of 80% of cases and the prognosis is normally good. It can be caused by a tumor in or enlargement of the pituitary gland, which controls hormone production. Medication is usually the best treatment option in these cases (and if surgery is not an option in adrenal-dependent Cushing’s), and there are a variety of options you can discuss with your veterinarian. Remember that these medications will probably have to continue for the duration of your dog’s life.


There is another, less common, form of Cushing’s Disease called Iatrogenic Cushing’s Syndrome, which is caused by long-term steroid use. Treatment of this requires gradually discontinuing the steroids.

You definitely do not want to ignore Cushing’s Disease! It can lead to many serious and life-threatening health issues if it goes untreated. This is just a brief explanation of the causes, symptoms and treatment. For more in depth information, see what the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine has to say here.

*This blog is not a substitute for veterinary care. Please consult your veterinarian if you suspect a health issue with your pet.

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