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Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Cushing’s disease in dogs is a condition when a dog has unusually high levels of cortisol or similar hormones in his system.

Cortisol is a hormone that helps dogs deal with stress and aids in controlling their immune system. However, too much cortisol in a dog can cause a lot of damage.

Cushing’s disease, also called hyperadrenocorticism, is one of the most common endocrine disorders that affect dogs, mainly middle-aged or older dogs.

The higher levels of the glucocorticoid hormones can result in gastrointestinal issues, hypertension, discomfort, and if left untreated, even death.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Some of the symptoms that can occur when a dog has Cushing’s disease are the following:

  • Increased hunger, thirst, and urination
  • Excessive panting
  • Obesity, especially in the abdominal area
  • Fatty areas around neck and shoulders
  • Loss of hair
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of energy and muscle weakness
  • Lack of heat cycle in females, shrinking testicles in males
  • Blackheads on the skin
  • Darkened skin
  • Thinning or weak skin due to weight gain
  • Bruising
  • Hard, white scaly patches on elbows and skin

Causes of Cushing’s Disease

vet examines dog for Cushing's disease in dogThere are a few causes that can contribute to a dog developing Cushing’s disease:

Pituitary Gland dependent

This is the most common cause of Cushing’s disease and occurs when there is a tiny tumor located on the pituitary.

Most of the time, these tumors are benign.

Adrenal Gland dependent

This is when Cushing’s disease occurs from a tumor in one adrenal gland and affects 15% to 20% of diagnosed dogs.

This type of cancer in dogs has a fifty percent chance of being malignant.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s disease

When a dog has taken steroids for too long, this form of Cushing’s can occur as an adverse reaction to the steroids.


Cushing’s disease can be challenging to diagnose accurately, but there are a few tests that your vet will probably perform.

A blood test and urinalysis

Your veterinarian will test your dog’s blood and take a urine sample.  If these tests show diluted urine or a problem with your dog’s alkaline level, your dog could have Cushing’s disease.

If the sample is positive for Cushing’s, there are two follow up hormone screenings that will be conducted:

ACTH stimulation test

This test will show how the adrenal glands will work with a hormone, ACTH that is supposed to prompt the production of cortisol.  Blood samples will follow this test to see the effects.

Low dose dexamethasone suppression (or LDDS) test

This test determines how your dog’s body produces a version of cortisol that is called dexamethasone (man-made cortisol).  Again, blood samples will be taken before and after your dog receives a shot of dexamethasone to see the outcome.


If your pup seems that he has developed Cushing’s, your veterinarian might also take an ultrasound of your dog’s belly. This test will help your vet to see if there’s a tumor on the adrenal glands.

Treatment Options with Cushing’s Disease

The treatment of Cushing’s depends on how the disease was developed.

Dogs that have Cushing’s disease due to an overuse of corticosteroid medication will be slowly weaned off these medications under a veterinarian’s guidance.

If a dog has mild symptoms of Cushing’s disease, then the dog would be monitored to make sure that the symptoms do not worsen.

Some examples of the disease become more serious are kidney damage, urinary accidents, excessive panting, urinating more often, and reoccurring infections.

If Cushing’s syndrome is a result of a tumor on your pet’s adrenal glands, the vet will usually surgically remove it which should help cure your dog of Cushing’s. However, if the Cushing’s has spread, surgery is not an option.

Once Cushing’s has been diagnosed, and none of the other treatment options is suitable, your vet will usually prescribe a medication called trilostane. While trilostane can help cure Cushing’s when it is pituitary related, the drug is known to have some severe side effects so your dog will need to be monitored.

Can Pet Insurance Help With Cushing’s Disease?

If you have pet insurance before a diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, you will be very relieved to have pet insurance.

If your dog develops Cushing’s disease, and you are not enrolled in pet insurance, the condition will be considered pre-existing, and it will not be covered.

Pet insurance can help offset the cost of treatment, which can range anywhere from $500 to $1,900 depending on the severity of the condition.

Pet insurance plans like Healthy Paws will pay up to 90% of the treatment, and with their unlimited benefits included in all plans, you can be sure your dog will be treated for the duration of his or her life.


There is no way to prevent Cushing’s disease.

The best thing you can do for your dog for this or any other disease or condition is to bring your dog to the vet if you notice your dog acting strangely or his or her urination patterns have changed abruptly.

Living and Management

If your veterinarian decides to give you dog trilostane for Cushing’s, your dog will be on the treatment for the duration of his or her life.

You will need to be mindful of any side effects that might occur and keep up with your vet visits.

Some of the adverse side effects that can occur are lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes walking can be difficult.

However, if you keep up with the vet visits and follow your vet’s advice, your dog can still live a happy and long life.

If you are interested in learning about some other dog health issues that can occur with your dog, our dog health glossary is an excellent place to start!


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