What is Cushing’s Disease?
Cushing’s disease is the common name for a disease called hyperadrenocorticism that most commonly affects people, dogs, cats, and ferrets. It’s caused by a hyperactive adrenal gland that pumps too many steroids and other hormones into the bloodstream. It can be caused by a growth in the adrenal gland or the pituitary gland.
The adrenal gland produces a wide range of hormones, and Cushing’s disease can cause the overproduction of any one or more of them. Because of this, the symptoms of the disease can vary widely, and they can be extremely subtle. In dogs, Cushing’s disease will often cause the overproduction of hormones called glucocorticoids, which are steroids. This will cause some of a dog’s muscle to break down, giving him a thin-legged, potbellied look.
It can also hurt a dog’s ability to concentrate urine, making him drink a lot and produce a lot of urine. The steroids can suppress the immune system, as well, so dogs can sometimes get secondary infections. And the pancreas can be affected, causing vomiting and often diarrhea. Other symptoms include hair loss, calcified lumps under the skin, increased appetite, panting, and high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, Cushing’s disease is difficult to diagnose. There is no one test to identify it. Veterinarians will generally perform several blood and urine tests and compare their results to normal levels. Treatment varies, based on how severe symptoms are and the general health of the animal. Two options are removing the growth that stimulates the hormone and prescribing medications that slow down production in the adrenal gland.
The good news is that Cushing’s is in itself rarely life threatening. By weakening the immune system, it can make animals more vulnerable to other diseases, and it can cause fatigue and exercise intolerance. Sometimes it doesn’t cause any symptoms at all. The main issue with the disease is whether it’s damaging your pet’s quality of life. If so, then consult with your veterinarian about the best way to help your pet return to a healthy, comfortable life.