Dog owners need to know about hyperadrenocorticism (HAC), also known as Cushing’s disease. It’s an endocrine disorder that causes excessive production of the hormone cortisol, which is produced when the pituitary gland in the brain sends information to the adrenal glands in the abdomen. While HAC can affect humans and cats, it is most common in dogs. Here are four facts about Cushing’s disease.

#1: The signs of Cushing’s disease can mimic other conditions

Excess cortisol can cause dogs to show the following signs:

  • Weight gain
  • Symmetrical hair loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Lethargy
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Excessive panting
  • Thin skin
  • Skin infections

#2: Tumors are the primary cause of Cushing’s disease

About 85% of dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s disease have a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, and the remaining 15% have adrenal gland tumors. Some cases of Cushing’s are caused by the overuse of steroids. Female dogs are more prone to adrenal tumors than male dogs, and poodles, dachshunds, and Boston terriers are diagnosed with Cushing’s more than other dog breeds.

#3: Diagnosing Cushing’s disease can be difficult

If your dog is exhibiting signs that may indicate Cushing’s disease, call us and schedule an appointment. We’ll conduct a comprehensive physical exam and will ask questions about your dog’s history and when you noticed the clinical signs. We’ll collect blood and urine samples for routine blood work, and we’ll also likely need to conduct additional testing, including urine cortisol: creatinine ratio, a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, or an adrenocorticotropin releasing hormone stimulation test. In some cases, we may recommend an abdominal ultrasound or MRI. Diagnosing Cushing’s disease can take time, and the results of these tests may still be inconclusive.

#4: Treatment of Cushing’s disease depends on the cause

When Cushing’s disease develops because of the overuse of steroids, we’ll likely attempt to wean the dog off the steroid medication gradually. When the condition is pituitary- or adrenal-dependent, medical or surgical intervention will be necessary. We may recommend a daily oral medication to help decrease the amount of cortisol the body is producing. These medications, along with routine monitoring, can often control the disease for dogs with a small, benign pituitary tumor. Dogs with benign adrenal tumors can often be cured with surgery. Malignant tumors, however, carry a poor prognosis.

Do you believe that your dog is showing signs of Cushing’s disease? Contact us to schedule an appointment.