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December 10, 2020

Cushing’s Disease in Dogs: Here’s What You Should Know

Cushing’s Disease in Dogs: Here’s What You Should Know

Key Points

  • The most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs include drinking and peeing excessively, increased appetite, and panting.
  • There are three main types of Cushing’s disease in dogs: Pituitary Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism, Adrenal Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism, and Iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome in dogs.
  • Diagnosing Cushing’s disease in dogs is done through blood testing, most commonly either ACTH stimulation test or low dose dexamethasone suppression test.
  • The mainstay of treatment for Cushing’s disease in dogs includes an oral medication called trilostane.

Signs of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

If your dog has suddenly started drinking and peeing a lot, this could be a sign that your dog has Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease is a common endocrine disorder seen in older dogs. It occurs more commonly in female dogs than male dogs, and the average age of diagnosis is between 9 and 11 years of age. Here is a list of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs:

  • Drinking a lot of water
  • Increased frequency or amount of urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Panting a lot
  • Potbelly appearance
  • Skin thinning
  • Hair loss
  • Skin infections

Complications of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

This syndrome can affect the quality of life of your pet if their symptoms become too severe. There are several complications that can arise secondary to this disease. Also, there are many diseases that your dog may be at a higher risk of developing along with Cushing’s disease. 


MedVet, a specialty hospital for pets, stated that these health problems can be more common in dogs with Cushing’s disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • Blood clots
  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Bladder infections and kidney infections
  • Recurrent skin infections
  • Kidney failure

Do dogs with Cushing’s disease lose weight?

Though not one of the hallmark symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs, occasionally dogs with this syndrome can lose weight. It may appear as if your dog is losing weight with Cushing’s disease because the hair begins to thin, and there can be some muscle wasting. More commonly, dogs with Cushing’s disease will gain weight because they are eating more frequently. Occasionally, they may not gain or lose weight.

Causes of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Pituitary Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism

The most common form of Cushing’s disease in dogs is Pituitary Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism (PDH). The pituitary gland in the brain releases hormones that tell the adrenal glands next to the kidneys to release hormones into the rest of the body. In pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease, a benign tumor grows within the pituitary gland in the brain. This tumor releases high levels of a hormone that will tell the adrenal glands to produce excessive amounts of hormones within the body. The excessive levels of hormones cause the symptoms of Cushing’s disease.

Adrenal Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism

The second type of Cushing’s disease is Adrenal Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism (ADH). This disease occurs when a tumor grows within one of the adrenal glands. This tumor can be benign or malignant cancer. The tumor within the adrenal gland makes the adrenal gland produce excessive levels of hormones which causes the symptoms of Cushing’s disease.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s Syndrome in Dogs

Occasionally, dogs that are on high doses of steroids long term can develop iatrogenic Cushing’s disease. Iatrogenic essentially means that the disease is caused by some medical therapy. Steroids are given to treat various medical conditions including allergies and other inflammatory conditions. For this syndrome, your veterinarian may recommend that your pet be weaned off the steroids that they are taking.

How do you test a dog for Cushing’s disease?

To diagnose Cushing’s disease in dogs, multiple different tests can be run. The most commonly used tests are the ACTH stimulation test and the low dose dexamethasone suppression test.

ACTH Stimulation Test

The most commonly run test for Cushing’s disease is called the ACTH stimulation test. For this test, your dog will usually have to be dropped off for the day at the vet. Multiple blood samples will be drawn throughout the day to measure cortisol, a hormone within your dog’s body.

Low Dose Dexamethasone Test

Another commonly used test is the low dose dexamethasone suppression test. This test is an 8-hour test where you will drop your dog off at the vet for the day for them to draw multiple blood samples to see how your dog’s hormone levels respond to a very low dose of steroids. 

Treatment for Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Your veterinarian will determine when it is appropriate to start treatment for Cushing’s disease. In the early stages of Cushing’s syndrome in dogs, your veterinarian may suggest just monitoring the disease. If the symptoms affect your dog’s quality of life, your veterinarian may recommend starting medication to treat Cushing’s disease. The most common treatment for Cushing’s disease in dogs is a medication called Vetoryl (trilostane) which is FDA approved. This medication will decrease the production of a hormone called cortisol from the adrenal glands. If your dog is having recurrent skin infections or inflammation of the skin, ask your veterinarian if your dog could benefit from fatty acid supplementation or salmon oil.


After starting treatment with trilostane, your dog will need regular follow-up veterinary visits to monitor the hormone levels within your dog’s system to ensure the medication is working as it should. Treatment and regular monitoring of this syndrome can quickly become pricey.


The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine commented that about half the time for the adrenal dependent Cushing’s disease, the tumors within the adrenal glands are cancerous and malignant. For adrenal tumors, your veterinarian may recommend surgical removal especially if they suspect that it is malignant cancer. 

Do dogs with Cushing’s disease suffer?

This really depends on how bad your dog’s symptoms are and whether or not they are controlled with medication. Many dogs have a good quality of life once treatment is started for Cushing’s disease.

What kills dogs with Cushing’s disease?

The average survival time after diagnosis from Cushing’s disease is around 2 years. In the case of adrenal dependent Cushing’s disease, as mentioned previously, there can be a malignant tumor causing Cushing’s disease. In this case, cancer may spread and result in the death of your pet. Keep in mind that most dogs are older when diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, so they may die for other reasons.

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