Understanding Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

What is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s disease is caused by an overproduction of a hormone called cortisone. Cortisone is released by a the adrenal gland, which is located next to the kidneys. Sometimes Cushing’s disease is caused by a tumor by the adrenal glands, which can cause excess cortisone production. To complicate matters a bit, the production of the adrenal glands is controlled by the pituitary gland, located in the brain. Under normal circumstances, the pituitary gland will create a hormone called ACTH, which will make the adrenal glands produce cortisone. Sometimes there is a tumor in the pituitary gland, which causes an overproduction of ACTH. In this case, an overproduction of the hormone ACTH is what in turn causes the adrenal gland to overproduce cortisone. So two dogs can have the same symptoms, but have different causes of the disease.

Symptoms of Cushings’s disease in dogs

Cushing’s usually shows in older dogs, and is more common in smaller dogs. If your dog is eating and drinking more than they have in the past and is urinating more frequently, have a closer look at their body. Look for hair loss, especially around the belly area. Also have a look at their stomach area from the side. If you see a “pot-bellied” appearance, you should consider taking your dog to the vet for a checkup. You might also notice that your dog’s muscle’s are weaker, and your dog can’t walk as far or climb stairs as well as before.

At the vet

Your vet will do a physical examination of your dog, and will take their blood. Your vet will be looking for excess hormone in your dog’s blood to determine the cause. Your vet may also do an examination to see if any tumors can be found. Most tumors that cause Cushing’s disease are benign, but your vet may want to check.

Natural help for dog’s with Cushing’s disease

An important thing to note about the hormone responsible for Cushing’s is that it is a stress hormone- under normal conditions, it is released when your dog is stressed. Therefore, if your dog has Cushing’s you should really try and keep them calm and reduce aspects of their environment that might make them nervous. Try and get out to calm, natural environments like the beach, or a forest. These types of environments have been shown to reduce stress in humans. [1]

Herbs for dogs with Cushing’s

A number of herbs will help with animals that have Cushing’s. the most important of which is a class of natural herbs called adaptogens. Most people define adaptogens as herbs that can be used to modulate stress. A great example of an adaptogen is Ashwaganda. The root of Ashwaganda has been used for centuries, and has been shown to be an effective way to reduce stress and support adrenal function. [2, 3] Other herbs include burdock root and gingko biloba, which act as a blood purifiers, and dandelion which can support adrenal function.

Prognosis

If your dog has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, it is best to get some sort of treatment. Dog’s with Cushing’s that have not been treated tend to have lower life expediencies [4]. The good news is that dogs with Cushing’s disease usually respond well to treatment. Cushing’s isn’t usually fatal, and a with Cushing’s that is being cared for should live a healthy life.

[1] R. Berto. The role of nature in coping with psycho-physiological stress: a literature review on restorativeness. Behav Sci (Basel). 2014 Oct;4(4):394-409.

[2] K. Chandrasekhar, J. Kapoor, S. Anishetty1; Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul-Sept; 34(3): 255-262.

[3] K.A. Head, G.S. Kelly. Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep. Alternative Medicine Review. 2009 14(2).

[4] N. Nagata, K. Kojima, M. Yuki. Comparison of Survival Times for Dogs with Pituitary-Dependent
Hyperadrenocorticism in a Primary-Care Hospital: Treated with Trilostane versus Untreated. J Vet Intern Med 2017;31:22–28.

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