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Cushing’s disease or Cushing’s Syndrome is a serious health condition in dogs that occurs when the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol in the animal’s body. Excess cortisol can put a dog at risk of several serious conditions and illnesses, from kidney damage to diabetes, and can be life-threatening.

Most canine Cushing’s disease occurs naturally and is either pituitary-dependent or adrenal-dependent. About 80–85 percent of Cushing’s is pituitary-dependent, meaning it’s triggered by a tumor on the pituitary, a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain.

In the other 15–20 percent of Cushing’s dogs, a tumor in one or both adrenal glands produces excess cortisol. The type of Cushing’s disease may determine what kind of treatment is prescribed.

Cushing’s, which is also known as hypercortisolism and hyperadrenocorticism, can be tricky for a vet to diagnose, because it has the same symptoms as other conditions. The key is to let your vet know about anything that’s different about your pet.

Certain breeds are at a higher risk of developing Cushing’s Disease. The Poodle, Dachshund, Boston Terrier, Boxer, and Beagle are some breeds to watch. Almost all patients are older than eight years when Cushing’s Disease develops

Causes of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Cushing’s disease is a naturally occurring syndrome, but it can also be caused by administering excessive amounts of prednisone or dexamethasone for prolonged periods. Chronic application of steroid-containing ear drops can also cause the condition because the medication is absorbed through the skin. Affected dogs develop symptoms that are identical to those of the tumor-based disease. This form resolves once the steroids are stopped.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Dogs with Cushing’s disease will experience at least one of the following symptoms but sometimes more:

  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive thirst or drinking
  • Thinning of the skin 
  • Hair loss
  • Frequent urination 
  • Muscle weakness
  • Enlarged abdomen, potbellied appearance
  • Panting
  • Lethargy

If you spot any of these symptoms in your dog contact your vet immediately.

Treatment for Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Treating Cushing’s disease in dogs is largely dependent on the underlying cause. Treatment options include:

  • Surgery; Pituitary and adrenal tumors can be surgically removed, and if benign, surgery can be curative.
  • Medication; If surgery is not an option, medical management with either trilostane or mitotane can be pursued
  • Radiation; Radiation treatment for pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease in dogs has been shown to improve or eliminate neurological symptoms and improve the prognosis, especially when treated early

If Cushing’s disease is caused by the excessive use of steroids, the steroid dosage should be carefully tapered down and discontinued. This may result in relapse of the primary disease the steroid was originally used to treat


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