Cushing's syndrome in dogs

Cushing’s syndrome (hyperadrenocorticism) is an excess of the hormone cortisol, either because of a pituitary gland or adrenal gland tumour, or long-term use of steroid medication (iatrogenic). 

The pituitary gland stimulates cortisol production by the adrenal glands and pituitary tumours represent 85% of Cushing’s syndrome cases in dogs.

Up to 6% of pituitary tumours can be cancerous and up to 20% can become large enough to affect the brain. About half of adrenal tumours can be cancerous. 

Complications can include chronic urinary tract infections, skin disorders, hypertension and liver disease


What are common Cushing's syndrome signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Excessive drinking and urination
  • Urination or defecation in the house, or incontinence
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive panting

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Hair loss
  • Skin disorders
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle wasting
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Disorientation or seizures

Excessive panting can be a sign of Cushing's disease in dogs.


How is Cushing's syndrome managed in dogs?  

Cushing’s syndrome management is designed to control cortisol production. Pituitary or adrenal forms of the disease can be treated with medications or specialised surgery for tumour removal. Radiation may also be an option. Iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome can be resolved by slowly withdrawing steroid medication. 

Dogs with Cushing’s syndrome need regular veterinary visits and diagnostic tests to monitor their status and prognosis. Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian is important for the best outcome for your dog.

What is the prognosis for dogs with Cushing's syndrome?

Medical treatment of Cushing’s syndrome usually has a good prognosis, but excess suppression of adrenal hormones can result in Addison's disease

Surgery can provide a complete cure for an adrenal tumour and resolve more than 85% of pituitary tumour signs, but the procedure is complicated, and higher risk. A pituitary tumour that affects the brain has a poorer prognosis. 

Cancerous adrenal or pituitary tumours also have a poor prognosis.


Management tips for dogs with Cushing's syndrome

At-home needs include:

  • Easy access to food and water, and a comfortable location
  • Strict consistency with prescribed medications
  • A weight-loss diet, if recommended by your veterinarian
  • Monitoring appetite, drinking, urination, weight and energy level

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog stops eating, has diarrhoea, collapses, or is lethargic, vomiting, or vocalising in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.


This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.