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Cushing’s Disorder in Dogs (or hypercortisolism or hyperandrenocorticism)… Symptoms, Treatments and all That!

As a pet owner, it’s often up to us to be the first person in your dog’s life to recognize that something isn’t “right” about their health.

After all…

There shouldn’t be anyone in a better situation to notice subtle changes in your dog’s appearance or behavior which is why we here at IndulgeYourPet like to write articles like these so that if you begin to “notice” that something isn’t right, you can begin to look for additional signs that might indicate what is actually wrong with your dog.

This is why…

We here at IndulgeYourPet wanted to write this “brief” article about the medical condition know as Cushing’s Disorder so that you might have a better understand of what this medical condition is and what you should be looking for in order to determine whether or not your dog suffers from it.


It’s important to understand that while you may be your dog’s best friend, you’re not his or her doctor!  This is why if you do feel like something isn’t “right” about your dog you’re going to want to definitely wan to have him or her checked out by a professional.


We should point out that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians or medical professionals.  All we are is a bunch of folks who just happen to be passionate about animals and only want what’s best for them.  So, if you feel like your pet is suffering from any medical condition always remember…

“When in doubt, have a vet check it out!”

So, now that we’ve got that covered…

Let’s turn our attention to the question at hand which is…

What is Cushing’s Disorder?

Cushing Disorder/Disease (also known as hypercortisolism or hyperandrenocorticism) is an endocrine disease that is caused when the adrenal gland is producing and secreting too much of a hormone called Cortisol.  Which is bad!

Because normally…

Cortisol is a substance that will help an individual (dog or person) with their response to stress.  It also helps in regulating:

  • The immune system,
  • Control weight,
  • Fight infections,
  • And moderate blood sugar levels.

Which is quite a list when you think about it which is why Cushing’s disease can be pretty serious condition if not treated properly.

Causes of Cushing’s Disorder

There are two major causes that result in dogs getting this disorder:

  • Pituitary Dependent is the most common and is when there is a small tumor located within the pituitary gland.
  • Adrenal Dependent while less common is also caused by an adrenal gland tumor but it is in a gland that is above the kidneys.

In both cases, the end result is that the patients body produces too much cortisol.

But because…

Cortisol is also a medication that can be prescribed to an individual or dog, it’s also possible that a dog can also develop Cushing’s disorder when they are given corticosteroid medication (e.g.  Prednisone, dexamethasone, triamcinolone, etc.).  Over a long period of time or at high doses, this is called Iatrogenic Cushing’s Syndrome.

There are also…

Certain breeds that Cushing’s Disorder is more commonly found in certain breeds including the:

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in dogs

Some symptoms that can be related to Cushing’s Disorder may include:

  • muscle wasting
  • thinning of the skin
  • potbellied appearance
  • excessive drinking
  • urination
  • weight gain
  • hair loss
  • prevalence of typically minor infections.

As noted before…

Cortisol is a very important substance within the body which when “out of whack” can cause a wide variety of “problems” without being centrally located in one area.  This is why diagnosing Cushing’s disorder quite difficult.

Diagnosis of Cushing’s Disorder in dogs

Unfortunately, there is no “one test” that can be administered by your veterinarian in order to get a 100% “positive” diagnoses of Cushing’s disease.

Which is why…

Your veterinarian is likely going to order a few tests so that he or she can begin “ruling out” possibilities of what is causing your dog to have the symptoms her or she is suffering from which trigger your concern.

A blood and urine test…

Which will be able to detect cortisol levels in your dog will like be ordered.  Typically, this test will need to be performed twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon/evening. That is because levels of cortisol change throughout the day. This will then be followed up with a test of the saliva near 11pm which will lead to a roughly 90% correct diagnosis.

From there…

If nothing simple is ruled out, your veterinarian will likely order a few tests that will screen for hormonal levels which can also help determine if your dog may be suffering from Cushing’s disease.

Two tests that are commonly administered include:

An ACTH stimulation test (also called the cosyntropin, tetracosactide, or Synacthen test)  is to get a measurement of the adrenal gland operating in response to the hormone ACTH (or the Adrenocorticotrophic hormone produced by the pituitary gland) which stimulates the making of cortisol. Your veterinarian will take a sample of your dog’s blood both before and after the shot of ACTH to see how the hormone impacts it.

The other test…

That can be done is called a low dose dexamethasone suppression test (dexamethasone is a man-made version of cortisol), or LLDS. Again, blood samples will be drawn both before and after the shot is given to monitor the response in your dog.


If your veterinarian is still thinking Cushing’s disease they’ll probably do an ultrasound scan of your dog’s abdomen. This will be to see if there is a tumor on the adrenal glands because this will affect the treatment needed. The average cost of a diagnosis of Cushing’s is around $1500-$2500 (Ouch!).

Treatments of Cushing’s Disease in dogs

If your dog has Cushing’s disease as a result of adrenal gland tumors then surgery may be an option and could possibly cure your dog. If the pituitary tumor has spread from more than one location then surgery will not be an option and medication will need to be the route taken.

If medication is taken…

As prescribed by your veterinarian then your dog can usually live a relatively normal life. The typical cost of surgery for Cushing’s is $2500-$10,000.

The most common drug prescribed is called Trilostane /Vetoryl. To note, the FDA withdrew Trilostane for human use in 1994. It has since been replaced by Vetoryl which uses a different binding agent in its make-up.

Even though Trilostane was withdrawn over 20years ago for humans it is still permitted for animals.

There is also Mitotane/Lysodren which is an older drug and, while it costs less, has a lot of side effects.  If you go the prescription route your dog will need regular veterinary visits with blood tests to confirm that the medications are working at the correct dose. The monthly cost of the different prescriptions is seen below;

  • Trilostane: $30-$40
  • Vetoryl: $70-$100
  • Mitotane: $15-$20
  • Lysodren: $10-$15

Remember with the use of prescriptions your dog will have to go in for regular blood work $200-$400 every 4-6mos after the appropriate dosage is finally determined.

At this point…

It never hurts to remind folks again that we’re not doctors or veterinarians which is why you should always have your pet examined by an expert if you feel he or she has any possible medical issues what so ever.

That said however…

What we do feel confident in saying is that if your dog does end up developing Cushing’s disease, things can tend to get a bit expensive!

This is why…

We here at IndulgeYourPet always like to encourage folks to consider purchasing a pet insurance policy anytime they the choose to adopt or purchase a new animal.  This way if they do ever develop a sickness or injury, you as their parent/owner won’t be on the “hook” for 100% of their medical expenses.

For more information about who we “feel” currently offers the “best” pet insurance policies in the industry, we would encourage you to check out our Best Pet Insurance Companies article.

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