Often, we treat pets as if they are human. We worry about how they feel, what they like to eat, and whether they are too hot lying under our comforters. Still, most people lead busy lives and sometimes miss signs of a health problem. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from a number of medical conditions or syndromes, some quite serious. One of these conditions is Cushing’s disease. The condition is treatable, but you do need to watch for the symptoms and seek treatment if necessary.
Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, Cushing’s is caused by an overactive adrenal gland. The gland produces too much cortisol, a substance that is meant to regulate body function. Too much cortisol can cause illness or even death.
The list of symptoms is quite long, and the presence of a few of these signs doesn’t always mean your pet has Cushing’s. However, if your pet is exhibiting these symptoms, a trip to the vet is in order. The signs include:
- Increase in hunger
- Increased drinking and urination
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Muscle weakness
- Skin darkening
- Fat pads
- Frequent infections
- Skin scales
Your vet will have to run some tests to verify the illness, so you cannot diagnose the condition on your own. If you notice these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment right away to confirm or eliminate Cushing’s as a cause.
Three things can cause Cushing’s disease in dogs: pituitary gland tumor, adrenal gland tumor or steroids. A pituitary tumor is the most common cause. The tumor may be benign or malignant and causes the gland to overproduce the hormone ACTH, creating too much cortisol. This type of Cushing’s can often be well-controlled, with or without surgery.
The adrenal-dependent form of the disease also leads to an overproduction of cortisol. The tumor can be removed, but it it’s malignant, the prognosis for your pet is not good. It’s particularly important to catch these tumors early.
If your dog has been treated with steroids for a long period of time, he may also develop Cushing’s disease. In this instance, what originally regulated a medical condition can end up causing another.
Some cases are treated with surgery, but often, your vet will prescribe medication to manage the disease. Vetoryl is the only FDA-approved drug to treat pituitary and adrenal Cushing’s in dogs. Another drug, Anipryl , is approved to treat only pituitary-dependent Cushing’s. Vets sometimes use a human chemotherapy drug Lydrosen off label to treat this condition as well.
Often, your dog’s treatment will be life-long, but she can still have a comfortable and happy existence. For most, that means regular trips to the vet for checkups and a reliance on you to keep up with the medication needs. Cushing’s is serious, but it is not usually fatal.
In the hassle of day-to-day living, it’s easy to overlook signs of disease in your pet. So if you do notice excessive thirst, urination, eating and fatigue, you need to take action. Cushing’s disease can cause your dog to become seriously ill, although with the proper treatment, including medication, it can usually be controlled. Don’t take any chances. If you notice these signs, take your best friend to the vet and get him checked out.
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