Cushing’s Disease or Hyperadrenocorticism

This syndrome is characterized by an increase in thirst and appetite, sometimes a break in housebreaking (especially with urination), weight gain, pot-bellied appearance, muscle weakness, and thin hair coat. It is seen in many breeds of dogs, including poodles, German Shepherds, doxies, and labs. It can usually be controlled, but not always cured. If left untreated, it can lead to bladder and kidney infections, diabetes, skin infections, and obesity.

It is caused by a tumor in one of two places, the pituitary gland or adrenal gland. The pituitary gland is located underneath the brain, deep in the skull. The adrenal glands are located next to the kidneys. The pituitary gland produces ACTH, which travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands, which then produce the appropriate amount of cortisol, the body’s natural cortisone. An analogy would be a car, with the driver being the pituitary gland, the gas pedal being ACTH, the engine being the adrenal glands, and the speed of the car is the cortisol level produced by the adrenal glands. The pituitary gland determines how much cortisol is needed, then puts out the appropriate amount of ACTH into the bloodstream. With Cushing’s disease, there is an excessive amount of cortisol produced. Either the pituitary gland tumor produces excessive ACTH, or the adrenal tumor produces excessive cortisol. It is this excessive cortisol which produces the clinical signs mentioned above. It is similar to your dog being on high doses of cortisone medication (prednisolone, prednisone, or dexamethasone, for example).

The pituitary tumor is usually microscopic and does not grow in size. Therefore due to its location and lack of size, surgery is rarely recommended. Medical treatment in the form of pills is usually used to control the problem.

The adrenal tumor usually involves only one of the two adrenal glands. Adrenal tumors are less common than the pituitary gland tumors. It is possible sometimes to surgically remove an adrenal tumor and therefore cure the disease. The same medical treatment can be used on adrenal tumors.

Cushing’s disease is usually NOT fatal. However, it can impact their overall health and the quality of life.


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