When a dog is diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, there are two main root causes. It is helpful to know which is causing the increased cortisol production (pituitary vs adrenal Cushings) to better plan treatment for your pup.
Pituitary Dependent Cushing’s Disease
The American Kennel Society shares that more than 90% of dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s have what’s referred to as pituitary-dependent Cushing’s where a small and usually benign tumor grows on the pituitary gland. While the tumor isn’t usually harmful, it does cause an overproduction of ACTH, the hormone that tells the adrenal cortex to make and release more cortisol. This is the root cause of Cushing’s disease that creates a host of other symptoms like hair loss, excessive thirst, energy loss, etc.
Addressing pituitary-dependent Cushing’s in dogs is often treated with a medication to destroy parts of the adrenal cortex but must be closely monitored. This careful dance between stopping the drugs from destroying the cortex and maintaining an ideal cortisol level is treated by drugs that can also come with a range of side effects.
Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s Disease
A rarer manifestation of the disease, adrenal dependent Cushing’s is often more aggressive and harder to treat. In half the cases of this form of Cushing’s, a malignant tumor grows on the adrenal gland located on top of the kidneys. Surgery to remove the tumor is risky and usually doesn’t cure the dog.
Fortunately, this form of Cushing’s only shows up in a small number of dogs who develop the disease. Right now, surgery is the main form of treatment for adrenal dependent Cushing’s.
Iatrogenic Cushing’s Disease
When corticosteroids are administered for a long period of time or given in excessive amounts to combat another health problem, dogs run the risk of developing Cushing’s due to overexposure. Common uses for corticosteroids are to treat allergies, certain cancers, inflammation, or low-levels of cortisol. Thankfully, this condition can be reversed by stopping the medication or lowering the dosage, unlike the other main forms of Cushing’s, which are managed, but are usually never fully cured.
What All Cushing’s Dogs Face
Regardless of the type (pituitary vs adrenal Cushings vs Iatrogenic), a dog suffering from Cushing’s disease faces an overproduction of cortisol. A variety of methods can be used to stop or slow the overproduction to get to the heart of the disease. Surgery to remove tumors that stimulate overproduction is an option, as are drugs used to destroy glandular tissue. Finally, some pet parents use natural supplements that blunt cortisol production as an approach to the Cushing’s problem.
Effectiveness and side effects vary with each method, so it’s best to consult your veterinarian or holistic practitioner to discuss options.
CushAway offers a nutritional supplement as an option for addressing the symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs. Our formula uses naturally occurring ingredients to counteract corticosteroid overproduction at the root cause. Find out more about how CushAway can help your Cushing’s dog here.