What Does Cushing’s Disease Mean for Dogs and Cats?

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Since Cushing’s disease can develop gradually over time, it’s important to know the common signs that are associated with it. Normal signs of aging in your pet are often mistaken for those of Cushing’s disease, making the diagnosis of the disease difficult, especially in its early stages. If left untreated, however, Cushing’s disease can lead to life-threatening disorders such as kidney and liver disease, congestive heart failure, or diabetes, along with other chronic infectious conditions in your pet. Here’s a helpful guide in understanding what Cushing’s disease is, how it is treated, and how you can help prevent it.

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Download our Cushing's Disease Handout for an in-depth look at this pet health condition and how you can partner with your veterinarian to help prevent it.

What Is Cushing’s Disease?

In normal pets, the pituitary gland produces a hormone called ACTH, which is released into the bloodstream and stimulates the adrenal glands, producing a steroid in the body called cortisol, or glucocorticoid. Cushing’s disease is a disorder caused by the overproduction of this steroid. Glucocorticoid helps the body respond to stress and regulate blood sugar levels, fat metabolism, skeletal muscles, the nervous system, kidney functions, immune responses, and the cardiovascular system.

How Can Cushing’s Disease Develop?

There are generally three ways in which pets can develop Cushing’s disease: an over-secretion of ACTH by the pituitary gland, causing the adrenal glands to overproduce glucocorticoids; an adrenal tumor that causes an over-secretion of glucocorticoids; or when a pet has been given high doses of steroids, either by injection or orally.

What Are the Signs of Cushing’s Disease?

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive hunger
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy
  • General muscle weakness
  • Enlarged, sagging abdomen
  • Hair loss
  • Thin, fragile, darkly pigmented skin
  • Excessive panting

How Is Cushing’s Disease Treated?

Several lab tests will need to be performed by your veterinarian to properly make a diagnosis. Depending on the type of disease, treatment options might include surgery to remove a tumor or oral medications. Once medical management has begun, follow-up examinations are recommended to assess your pet’s response to the treatment and any potential post-treatment therapy that may be necessary.

Need More Information?

If you have any questions or concerns about Cushing’s Disease, contact your local veterinarian, feel free to browse our Pet Health or Ask a Vet libraries, or check out some of the links below.