Identifying Cushing’s Disease in your Dog

How do you know your dog has Cushing’s disease?

Cushing’s is an endocrine disorder that causes a dog’s body to overproduce the hormone cortisol. This can be caused by tumors on the adrenal or pituitary glands, or from administering excessive amounts of steroids for an extended period of time. These tumors are usually benign and adrenal are the most common Cushing’s symptoms.

Signs of Cushing’s that typically show up in middle-aged to older dogs are many and varied, thus Cushing’s can be overlooked or hard to diagnose. There are several ways to identify, diagnose, and treat Cushing’s so that your dog can continue to lead a vibrant life living with the disease.

1. Cushing’s Symptoms

The American Kennel Club shares that dogs tend to show an excessive thirst and consequently an increased need to let it out a sign of Cushing’s. “Often owners report that their first clue that something might have been wrong was their dog wanting to go out at night to urinate.” PetMD also lists excessive thirst and urination among other symptoms. Common Cushing’s symptoms may include some or many of the following in these categories:

Urinating, Eating and Drinking
– Increased or excessive thirst and urination
– Urinating at night or accidents
– Increased panting
– Increased hunger
– Bloated abdomen

Energy and Muscles
– Decreased energy
– Muscle weakness

Body, Coat, and Skin
– Hair loss
– Obesity
– Fat pads on the neck and shoulders
– Scaly, white, hard patches on skin
– Darkened skin
– Thin skin
– Bruising

2. Diagnosing Cushing’s

The first step to diagnosing Cushing’s in a dog comes from the vigilance of their owner. Watch for signs that your pet isn’t themselves. If you notice any of these signs in your dog that signal a change in their normal behavior or health, talk to your vet. To confirm Cushing’s disease, your veterinary professional will need to perform one or more tests.

Urine Cortisol:Creatine Ratio Test

Using a urine sample, vets check to see the cortisol:creatine ratio in your dog. High levels of this ratio may indicate Cushing’s and will probably lead to further, more in-depth testing.

ACTH Blood Test

This test checks the cortisol levels in a dog’s blood. First, a sample is drawn from the pet. Next, the dog is given an injection of an adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and another blood sample is drawn after a few hours. The cortisol levels are then compared between the first and second sample. A normal response would be a slight rise in cortisol levels. An abnormally high starting level that continues to rise above normal signals Cushing’s.

Dexamethasone Suppression Test

In this test, dogs are injected with low levels of the steroid dexamethasone which blocks adrenal production. Normally a dog’s cortisol levels will decrease in the following hours. If cortisol levels do not go down, this may indicate the existence of an adrenal tumor due to Cushing’s disease.


A vet may also order an ultrasound to check for tumors in the adrenal or pituitary glands.

3. Treating Cushing’s

There are several schools of thoughts as to how to treat Cushing’s symptoms. Though the disease is never technically cured, some methods have shown to reduce or nearly eliminate signs of Cushing’s.

Diet and Supplements

Many owners are considering a more holistic approach to treating Cushing’s symptoms using supplements and changing the diet. Since probiotics have been proven to increase the overall health of their human companions, veterinary professionals have begun to address the significance of probiotics in a dog’s diet.

CushAway is once such supplement developed with naturally occurring ingredients that block cortisol production in a dog’s body. Combined with a vitality-boosting probiotic, CushAway presents little to no side effects in comparison to traditional chemo drugs.

Adrenal Suppressing Drugs

Several medications are also on the market to treat adrenal tumors and suppress cortisol production. They can be effective, however, these drugs also come with side effects that should be carefully monitored.

Vetoryl, a chemo drug containing trilostane, is used to treat Cushing’s symptoms. In a study of 107 dogs given the medication, 93 were reported to show at least one adverse reaction including musculoskeletal problems, vomiting, and anorexia. The FDA warns that Lysodern, another medication often prescribed to Cushing’s dogs “requires careful monitoring and can have severe side effects.”

Just like any human best friend, you know when something changes that affects the health and behavior of your pet. If you suspect a variation in your dog’s normal self, be vigilant and have a conversation with your vet. Once you diagnose Cushing’s, decide how you will help your canine companion overcome the symptoms of this disease. If you make the choice to use natural supplements, CushAway is here to help you and your pooch on your journey.