Cushing's Disease can be fatal. Learn about what is and the treatment options so that your dog can live a happier life.
Our endocrine system is made up of glands that are located throughout the body to releasing hormones. One of these are the Adrenal Glands which produced the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol works to reduce stress and maintain healthy blood pressure.
If this gland are disrupted there is a potential for an excess of cortisone to be produced and may affect our dogs health dramatically. This increase in cortisone production is called Cushing disease. It is also known as “Hyperadrenocorticism”. Cushing disease is one of the more common endocrine disorders to affect dogs and is more common in older dogs.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is the ‘fight or flight’ hormone that is released by the adrenal glands in small amounts when your dog is stressed. It is naturally occurring steroid that suppresses the immune system therefore reducing inflammation, pain and swelling. Cortisol is produced in time of stress. Dogs need cortisol but too much of it becomes toxic to our dogs. It also affects:
- Blood pressure
- Glucose production
- Electrolyte balance
- Immune funtion
- Fat matabolism
What causes Cushing’s Disease?
1. Pituitary Gland Tumour
The most common causes (about 85% of cases ) is a tumor of the pituitary gland. The tumor is generally quite small
A tumor on the pituitary gland causes the gland to produce too much of the hormone responsible for cortisol production [ACTH]. Too much ACTH in the system makes the adrenal glands produce cortisol in high levels.
Cushing's disease can also occur with excess growth of the pituitary gland. The excessive growth also causes the release of too much ACTH, which then leads to over-production of cortisol.
2. Adrenal gland tumour
Cushing's disease may be the result of a tumour of the adrenal gland similarly overproducing cortisol hormone.
Cushing may also be caused by administering the synthetic cortisone steroid in high doses for a long period of time. This is usually administered to treatment pain. inflammation or allergies.
4. Chronic Stress
If your pet experiences chronic stress, his adrenal glands will release too much cortisol in response. Your dog has the same response to both good and bad stress. That is either being super excited about playing or being sick and going to the vet, it is all stress. Prolonged stress may cause the symptoms of Cushing's disease in dogs.
5. Other tumours
Sometimes tumors in the lung, pancreas, thyroid, or thymus gland can also stimulate ACTH production and cause Cushing's Disease..
Signs and Symptoms of Cushing's Disease
The following are the signs and symptoms that your dog may have Cushing's disease.
- Thirstier than usualy
- Hungrier than usual
- Pees more often
- Losing hair
- Pot belly
- Tired and inactive
- Pants a lot
- Skin infections
Many of these dogs develop a bloated or "pot-bellied" appearance to their abdomen due to an increase of fat within the abdominal organs and a stretching of the abdominal wall as the organs get heavier. The pot-bellied appearance also develops because the muscles of the abdominal wall become weaker.
A common signs of Cushing’s disease include hair loss or thinning hair primarily on the body rather than the head and legs. The skin is not usually itchy as it is with other skin diseases.
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Diagnosing Cushing's Disease
There’s no one method that 100% determines the diagnosis of Cushing's. Your vet will run several tests to see what may be causing your pet's symptoms and to rule out other health problems.
Your vet will start by testing your dog’s blood and his pee. These exams can detect high cholesterol, diluted urine, urinary tract infection and live proteins .
If the results show signs of Cushing's, your vet will follow up with hormone test , such as ACTH stimulation test which measures how well the adrenal glands work in response to the hormone ACTH. Low dose dexamethasone suppression (LDDS) test looks at how your dog’s body works with a man-made version of cortisol. If it is likely that your dog could have Cushing’s, your vet may conduct an an ultrasound of your dogs belly. This will help her see if there’s a tumor on the adrenal glands and will affect the kind of treatment he needs.
Traditional Treatment for Cushing's Disease
Cushing’s can be tricky for a vet to diagnose, because it has many of the same symptoms as other conditions. Ensure that you take note of anything that’s different about your pet and their normal condition so that you can tell your vet..
The only way to "cure" Cushing's disease is to remove the tumor. If the disease is caused by an adrenal tumour that is not spreading surgery will be performed in most cases.
Dogs may be treated with medication prior to surgery to minimize the symptoms of Cushing's disease, as one significant symptom of Cushing's is delayed wound healing.
There are always risks associated with surgery, particularly since dogs with Cushing's are often elderly dogs. If successful and the tumor is not malignant, there is a good chance that the dog will regain normal health.
If the adrenal tumour has spread, most owners opt for non-surgical treatment.
Cushing's disease caused by a tumour in the pituitary gland is generally not treated with surgery however, both adrenal and pituitary tumour can be treated with medication. If your dog can’t have an operation, he may be able to take medicine to control his cortisol levels.
Generally, if the activity of the adrenal gland can be controlled, many dogs with this form of Cushing's disease can live normal lives for many years, as long as they take their medication and stay under close medical supervision. Your dog will need to take the medication for the rest of his life
Growth or spread of the tumour would is not a good thing for you dogs prognosis. The most common drug is trilostane. Trilostane is a synthetic steroid analogue that reduces the production of cortisol. It requires daily or twice daily dosing for life
Lysodren is a drug that is less prescribe now days as it has many side effects. While taking these medication, your dog will need regular check-ups and blood tests to make sure his treatment is working. If too much of this drug is given, the result may be permanently reduced hormone production which will then require daily medications for life.
Pituitary macroadenomas may be treated with radiation in an attempt to shrink them and thus relieve the neurological symptoms caused by their presence and the pressure they place on brain tissue. Radiation involves thousands of dollars and repeated anesthesia, either of which may be difficult to justify with an elderly patient. Once the neurological symptoms abate, the dog would then be treated for hyperadrenocorticism itself.
Natural Treatment for Cushing's Disease is dogs
More and more dog owners are seeking natural ways to treat illnesses and maintain their pet’s health. Consulting a holistic veterinarian is recommended to understand more about a natural approach to your dog’s medical care.
Stop using chemicals on your dog and this includes flea control and some vaccinations.
Diet can play a huge part in your dog’s health. Remove grains, additives and fillers found in commercial foods from your dogs diet as these may be detrimental to a pet's health. Improvement may be seen by simply modifying a pet's diet to a raw diet or a diet that is grain free, potato free, high protein, high quality canned food.
Several readers of the earth clinic have provided their raw and natural diets that have been helping their dogs with Cushing’s. These include:
- I went to all organic sweet potatoes and fish by Wellness, mixed with pumpkin, baby carrot organic, milk thistle(liver clease) apple cider vingar organic only, cap full to each meal, enzyme for digestion (very important) and probotic (acidollius)( very important), little olive oil (1/2 tsps to a meal) and dog vitamin pill
- Switched to diet that is blend of wet food, raw meat, raw eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, raw vegetables, raw fruit, and a supplement. add the probiotics and ACV.
- She recommended Denamarin for my beagle and it's made a great difference. Now 3 years later, we are looking at adding selegine, but from this website I'm going to look at Cushex and raw diet
- I looked into holistic treatments and found Cushex drops. I use 3-4 drops on his food, which also includes raw frozen chicken or beef, home-made plain yogurt and canned pumpkin. Within two weeks his appetite was level, he greatly reduced his constant gulping of water, his coat grew back and his energy level and mood are fantastic.
- We put him on 10 mg Vetoryl capsule, 250 mg Milk Thistle, Krill Oil, Omega treats, supplement for joints, and 225 mg Denosyl. He show no signs of the disease. We feed him high quality dog food, treats and human grade meat and veggies.
- Turmeric - do the research on what kind, how much and with what - and their tumors shrank. It needs to be given with black pepper extract so it can be absorbed and healthy cold pressed fats like coconut, olive or sunflower oil. I started her at 500 mg 2 times a day, as well as cushex drops and at about a week or 10 days doubled her tumeric to 1000mg 2 x per day when she seemed to tolerate it.
- Lean beef mince, cooked brown rice or quinoa, diced or shredded vegetables
- Eggs, herbal supplements including dandelion, stinging nettle and burdock root.
- fish oil and flaxseed oil, glucosamine supplements
Homeopathic support for Cushing's Disease
Cushex Drops contain a blend of both herbal and homeopathic ingredients specially selected to treat Cushing's Disease. Each ingredient of this natural remedy has a specific role to play in normalizing adrenal function, balancing corticosteroid levels or reducing the troublesome symptoms of this condition.
- Blend of both herbal and homeopathic ingredients
- Treats Cushing in pets and assists with normalizing adrenal function
- Help balance corticosteroid levels
- Help balance blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Reduce excessive thirst and urination
- help reduce circulating levels of corticosteroids
- encourage health of coat and prevent hair loss
- promote optimal strength and health of the skin
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- Dandelion - Helps normalize adrenal function. It is also an excellent tonic for the liver and kidneys. Dandelion reduces inflammation in the body and also contains vitamins and minerals necessary for hair growth.
- Burdock - Is a cleansing herb that detoxifies the tissues and eliminates unwanted substances from the body. It is effective in balancing blood sugar levels and preventing diabetes.
- Arsenicum - Treats excessive thirst and urination.
- Hepar Sulph - Heals wounds and irritated skin. It is also effective for treating infections.
- Astragalus - Besides strengthening the immune system, it also aids in promoting adrenal balance. It additionally regulates blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Mercurius - Addresses thirst and irritability. It is also used for treating bladder infections and diarrhea.
- Sulphur - Reduces thirst, improves skin condition and aids digestion.
One Chinese herbal formula for Cushings is called Si Miao San. It helps to decrease inflammation in the body, regulates insulin, and improves digestion. Si Miao San works best for the hot, panting, overweight dog. For thin, weak dogs there are other herbals that work better. Contact a reputable advisor.
Acupuncture has been very successful to helps to regulate the endocrine system and reduce inflammation in the body. Many dogs will only need acupuncture about every two months once we get them stable unless we are treating other health issues as well.
Ginkgo Biloba can be helpful in treating Cushings as it slows the release adrenal hormone. Look for a product like Animals’ Apawthecary Hawthorn Plus.
Consult with a Homeopathic or Herbal veterinarian to ensure that the best natural treatment is given to your dog. if your dog is already on other medication such as Trilosten or Lysodren, work with your vet to monitor signs of adverse reaction when starting to treated naturally.
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Living with and Managing of Cushing's Disease
If your dog is being treated with medications for this condition, you will need to be prepared to continue treatment for the life of your pet. You will need to be observant of any adverse reactions to medications including;
- Lack of energy, weakness
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty walking
If you notice any of these occurring, contact your veterinarian.
Left untreated, Cushing's disease will progress and your dog will be prone to infection. Dogs with Cushing's are also predisposed to developing thyroid and pancreatic conditions, diabetes, seizures, hypertension, heart failure, blood clots and liver and kidney failure.
If your dog response to treatment well Cushing's may be better in about 4 -6 months. It may take several months for hair to regrow and the coat to improve. Once the disease is under control your dog will be happier and may live for many more years.
Unfortunately other conditions such as arthritis, allergies, or other inflammatory conditions may occur once the excess cortisol is removed which will reducing your dog’s quality of life. Most dogs with Cushing's will last only a few more years generally because dogs with Cushing’s are elderly dogs and have other health issues.
Except where an adrenal tumor can be completely removed, Cushing's disease is managed, not cured. The goal of treatment is to improve quality of life and perhaps lengthen life.
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