Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism) in Dogs


Bryan Huynh

- Updated February 23, 2024

Key Takeaways

  1. Cushing's Disease in dogs is characterized by excessive cortisol production and requires early detection for effective management.
  2. Symptoms include increased thirst, hunger, weight gain, muscle weakness, and behavioral changes.
  3. Diagnosis involves veterinary exams, blood tests, hormonal analysis, and imaging techniques.
  4. Treatment includes medications, dietary changes, and surgery in severe cases, with regular veterinary monitoring.
  5. Preventive measures involve maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding excessive steroid use, and regular vet check-ups.
Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism) in Dogs

Cushing's Disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is a complex and relatively common health condition that affects dogs. Understanding and effectively managing this disease is of paramount importance for responsible pet owners. Cushing's Disease involves the overproduction of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and can lead to a range of debilitating symptoms if left untreated. As with many medical conditions, early detection and intervention are key to providing the best possible quality of life for our canine companions.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the intricacies of Cushing's Disease in dogs, offering insights into its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. Additionally, we will discuss the role of pet insurance in ensuring that dogs receive the necessary care and support when facing this challenging health condition. By the end of this article, readers will be well-informed about Cushing's Disease in dogs and the essential role pet insurance plays in safeguarding their four-legged friends' well-being.

Understanding Cushing’s Disease

Cushing's Disease in dogs, scientifically known as hyperadrenocorticism, is a complex endocrine disorder that involves the overproduction of cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. These small glands, situated near the kidneys, play a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions. In the context of Cushing's Disease, they become overactive, leading to excessive cortisol production. There are two primary forms of Cushing's Disease in dogs: pituitary-dependent and adrenal-dependent.

The former occurs when there is an issue with the pituitary gland in the brain, causing it to release an excessive amount of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. The latter form, adrenal-dependent Cushing's Disease, involves a tumor or abnormal growth on one or both of the adrenal glands, causing them to produce excessive cortisol independently. Understanding the underlying causes and the distinction between these two main forms of Cushing's Disease is crucial for both pet owners and veterinarians in accurately diagnosing and effectively managing this condition, ultimately ensuring the well-being of our canine companions.

Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of Cushing's Disease in dogs is of paramount importance for early detection and effective management. This condition can manifest in various ways, and understanding these indications is essential for responsible pet ownership. Common signs include increased thirst and urination, often leading to accidents indoors, excessive hunger, and weight gain, particularly around the abdomen. Cushing's Disease may also cause muscle weakness, lethargy, and a thinning of the skin, making it more susceptible to bruises and tears.

Some dogs exhibit behavioral changes, such as restlessness, panting, or irritability. Hair loss, particularly on the body's sides, can also be a telltale sign. While these symptoms can vary in severity and may overlap with other health issues, it's essential to consult a veterinarian if multiple signs are present. Distinguishing Cushing's Disease symptoms from those of other conditions ensures accurate diagnosis and enables timely intervention, ultimately improving the quality of life for dogs affected by this endocrine disorder.

Diagnosis and Evaluation

Accurate diagnosis is crucial when it comes to Cushing's Disease in dogs, and veterinarians employ a multifaceted approach to ensure precise evaluation. It typically begins with a comprehensive veterinary examination, where a thorough medical history and physical assessment are conducted. This initial step helps veterinarians gauge the dog's overall health and identify potential symptoms related to Cushing's Disease.

To confirm the diagnosis, blood tests and hormonal analysis play a pivotal role. Specifically, measuring the levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is key. Elevated cortisol levels are a strong indicator of Cushing's Disease. Additionally, an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test may be administered to differentiate between the two primary forms of Cushing's Disease: pituitary-dependent and adrenal-dependent.

Imaging techniques, such as ultrasound and X-rays, are also used to evaluate the size and condition of the adrenal glands. These tests provide essential insights into the presence and location of potential tumors or abnormalities that could be contributing to the excess cortisol production. Through this comprehensive diagnostic process, veterinarians can confidently diagnose Cushing's Disease and tailor an appropriate treatment plan for affected dogs.

Treatment and Management

The management of Cushing's Disease in dogs primarily involves medication to control the condition. Veterinarians typically prescribe medications such as mitotane (Lysodren) or trilostane (Vetoryl), which work by suppressing the overproduction of cortisol in the adrenal glands. These medications are administered orally and require careful monitoring of dosage to achieve the right balance in controlling the disease while minimizing side effects.

In addition to medications, dietary modifications and lifestyle changes can play a crucial role in managing Cushing's Disease. A balanced diet, weight management, and controlled exercise routines can help support the overall well-being of affected dogs.

In severe cases or when medications are ineffective, surgical options may be considered. Adrenalectomy, the surgical removal of one or both adrenal glands, may be recommended to address adrenal-dependent Cushing's Disease. However, this procedure is complex and is usually considered a last resort due to its potential risks and complications.

Effective treatment and management of Cushing's Disease require a tailored approach, considering the individual dog's health, age, and specific form of the disease. Regular veterinary check-ups and diligent monitoring are essential to ensure the best possible quality of life for dogs affected by this condition.

Quality of Life and Long-Term Care

Maintaining a good quality of life for dogs undergoing treatment for Cushing's Disease is a top priority for both pet owners and veterinarians. While the condition itself is manageable, it's crucial to address potential complications and side effects associated with treatment. These may include gastrointestinal upset, changes in appetite, or electrolyte imbalances. Careful monitoring and open communication with your veterinarian are key to addressing these issues promptly.

Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring are essential components of long-term care. These visits allow veterinarians to adjust medication dosages as needed and assess the dog's overall health. Additionally, they provide an opportunity to detect and manage any potential complications early, ensuring the dog's well-being and comfort.

Emotional and psychological support for dog owners is equally vital. Caring for a pet with Cushing's Disease can be challenging, but support groups, resources, and an empathetic veterinary team can help pet owners navigate the journey effectively.

By focusing on maintaining a high quality of life, managing treatment-related challenges, and staying vigilant with regular veterinary care, pet owners can ensure that their dogs with Cushing's Disease continue to enjoy a happy and comfortable life.

Preventing Cushing’s Disease

Preventing Cushing's Disease in dogs primarily involves understanding potential risk factors and taking proactive steps to reduce the likelihood of its development. While some breeds, such as Poodles and Dachshunds, are genetically predisposed to the condition, pet owners can still make informed choices to minimize other risk factors.

Lifestyle modifications play a crucial role in risk reduction. Maintaining a balanced diet, providing regular exercise, and managing stress levels can contribute to overall health and potentially reduce the risk of Cushing's Disease. Pet owners should also be vigilant about medications and avoid excessive or unnecessary steroid use, as long-term steroid administration can increase the risk.

Equally important is the emphasis on early detection through routine veterinary check-ups. Regular visits to the veterinarian allow for timely assessment and monitoring of a dog's health. Should any early signs or symptoms of Cushing's Disease arise, prompt veterinary care is essential for early diagnosis and effective management.

In summary, while Cushing's Disease may have genetic components, responsible pet ownership involves taking proactive measures to reduce risk factors. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle for dogs, avoiding unnecessary steroid use, and prioritizing regular veterinary care, pet owners can contribute to their canine companions' well-being and potentially reduce the risk of Cushing's Disease.

Coping with Cushing's Disease

Coping with Cushing's Disease in a beloved canine companion can be emotionally challenging for dog owners. It's crucial to remember that support is available, both in terms of practical advice and emotional guidance.

First and foremost, dog owners should seek emotional support from friends, family, or support groups specializing in pet health issues. Sharing experiences with others who have faced similar challenges can provide solace and useful insights into managing the disease.

Practical support includes adhering to the treatment plan prescribed by the veterinarian. This typically involves administering medications and monitoring the dog's response closely. Consistency and patience are key during this phase.

Additionally, pet owners must make informed decisions about treatment and, when necessary, end-of-life care. Engaging in open and honest discussions with the veterinarian about the dog's prognosis, treatment options, and potential complications is essential. These conversations allow for the best choices regarding the dog's well-being, taking into account factors such as the dog's age, overall health, and quality of life.


In conclusion, Cushing's Disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is a condition that can affect dogs, impacting their health and well-being. Understanding the disease, its causes, and recognizing the signs and symptoms are crucial for responsible pet ownership. This article has shed light on the definition and causes of Cushing's Disease, the role of adrenal glands, common symptoms, diagnostic procedures, treatment options, and the significance of maintaining a good quality of life for affected dogs. We've also touched upon preventative measures and coping strategies for dog owners facing this challenge.

One of the most critical takeaways is the importance of early detection and veterinary care. If you suspect that your dog may have Cushing's Disease or notice any unusual symptoms, we strongly encourage you to consult with your veterinarian promptly. Timely diagnosis and appropriate management can make a significant difference in your dog's health and overall well-being.

Q: What is Cushing's Disease in dogs?

A: Cushing's Disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is a medical condition in dogs characterized by the overproduction of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. This excess cortisol can lead to a variety of health issues.

Q: What causes Cushing's Disease in dogs?

A: There are typically three main causes of Cushing's Disease in dogs: pituitary-dependent (PDH), adrenal-dependent (AD), and iatrogenic Cushing's Disease. PDH is related to a tumor in the pituitary gland, AD occurs due to tumors on the adrenal glands, and iatrogenic Cushing's results from the excessive use of corticosteroid medications.

Q: What are the common signs of Cushing's Disease in dogs?

A: Dogs with Cushing's Disease may exhibit various symptoms, including increased thirst and urination, appetite changes, a pot-bellied appearance, muscle weakness, hair loss, and skin issues. Behavioral changes and panting are also common.

Q: How is Cushing's Disease diagnosed in dogs?

A: Diagnosis typically involves a combination of blood tests, urine tests, and imaging studies. These tests help identify elevated cortisol levels and determine the cause of the disease.

Q: Can Cushing's Disease in dogs be treated?

A: Yes, Cushing's Disease can often be managed with medication to regulate cortisol levels. Depending on the underlying cause, treatment options may vary, but many dogs can lead a good quality of life with proper management.

Q: Are there any lifestyle changes I should make for my dog with Cushing's Disease?

A: Depending on your dog's specific needs, dietary adjustments, exercise routines, and stress management techniques may be recommended. Your veterinarian can provide guidance on these lifestyle changes.

Q: Can Cushing's Disease be prevented in dogs?

A: It's challenging to prevent Cushing's Disease entirely, but early detection and prompt treatment can help manage the condition effectively. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for monitoring your dog's health.

Q: Is Cushing's Disease in dogs a life-threatening condition?

A: While Cushing's Disease itself is not always life-threatening, it can lead to other serious health issues if left untreated. It's crucial to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your dog's well-being.

Q: Can I provide palliative care for my dog with Cushing's Disease?

A: Yes, palliative care can help improve your dog's quality of life during treatment. This may include managing symptoms, providing comfort, and addressing any side effects of medications.

Q: What should I do if I suspect my dog has Cushing's Disease?

A: If you notice any unusual symptoms or behaviors in your dog, such as increased thirst, changes in appetite, or hair loss, it's essential to consult your veterinarian promptly. Early detection and diagnosis are key to effective management of Cushing's Disease.

About The Author

Bryan Huynh

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a dedicated Product Tester & Writer. Just as insurance has your back, Bryan works to review and inform you about the wide range of insurance products available, ranging from business, auto, health, home, pet, to life insurance.

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