Treatment for Dogs With Cushing's Disease

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Blood tests, X-rays and ultrasounds help your vet make a diagnosis of Cushing's disease.
Blood tests, X-rays and ultrasounds help your vet make a diagnosis of Cushing's disease. (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

The treatment for dogs with Cushing's disease depends upon the form of the illness. Formally know as hyperadrenocorticism, Cushing's disease primarily affects middle-aged and elderly canines. It generally results from overproduction of cortisol, a hormone originating in the adrenal glands. Fortunately, the majority of cases of Cushing's disease respond to treatment.

Cushing's Disease

Cushing's disease develops progressively, so you might notice changes in your pet over a period of months. No matter what form the disease takes, symptoms are similar. These include hair loss, lethargy, panting, development of a potbelly, increased drinking and urination, constant hunger, frequent bruising, skin infections and skin thinning and darkening. Intact female dogs experience irregular heat cycles, while the testicles of intact male canines might shrink.

Pituitary Tumor Treatment

Approximately 80 to 85 percent of dogs diagnosed with Cushing's disease have the pituitary form, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In this type of Cushing's disease, the pituitary gland, located in the brain, either enlarges or develops a tumor. The pituitary gland controls how much cortisol the adrenal glands should produce. The enlarged pituitary glands instructs the adrenal glands to manufacture excessive amounts of the hormone, affecting various parts of the dog's body.

Trilostane, marketed under the brand name Vetoryl, or selegiline hydrochloride, marketed as Anipryl, are the primary medications prescribed for Cushing's disease. The dog receives either drug for the rest of his life. Pregnant dogs, or those with heart or kidney disease, should not receive Vetoryl. Anipryl's primary contraindications involve drug interactions, particularly with antidepressants. Both medications can cause vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. Contact your vet if your dog experiences any of these side effects.

After starting medication, your dog requires regular blood tests for the first months to determine treatment efficacy. After that, you must bring him to the vet a few times a year for testing. Your vet might prescribe antibiotics to rid your pet of secondary infections caused by Cushing's disease. A small percentage of dogs develop neurological issues because of tumor growth.

Adrenal Gland Tumor Treatment

In dogs with the adrenal gland tumor type of Cushing's disease, the culprit is either a benign or cancerous tumor on the cortisol-producing gland. The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys. Your vet can surgically remove the growth. If it is benign, the result is a cured dog, and it's likely there's no additional treatment necessary. However, if the tumor is malignant, the prognosis isn't as good, as it's possible the cancer has metastasized, or spread, throughout the animal's body. Your vet might opt to treat the adrenal gland tumor with Vetoryl rather than surgery, especially if your dog is not a good surgical candidate.

Iatrogenic Cushing's Disease

The third type of Cushing's disease occurs in dogs undergoing long-term steroid treatment. A dog taking prednisone for an extended period, for example, is vulnerable. The dog has received too much cortisol over the course of his treatment for another medical condition, putting his system out of whack. Treatment for the iatrogenic form of Cushing's is similar to that of the pituitary-dependent type, but the dog must be weaned off the steroids.

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