A Guide to Cushing’s Disease in Dogs


Most dog owners would do just about anything for their dog. That includes taking every precaution and jumping through every hoop to make sure their dog is healthy.

But sometimes that is still not enough to keep your pup in strong condition. One ailment that can develop in dogs is Cushing’s disease. But don’t worry too much!

what is causing cushing's disease in dogs

There are treatments as well as things you and your veterinarian can do to help get your dog back into great health.

What is Cushing’s Disease in Dogs?

Before we get into what Cushing’s disease looks like, let’s first define what it is.

Cushing’s disease (also known as hyperadrenocorticism) develops in dogs when they overproduce the hormone cortisol (which helps them respond to stress and regulates the immune system).

Cortisol is good but, as with anything, too much of it can be harmful.

Cushing’s disease can also develop when a dog is given high doses of a corticosteroid medication or is given the medication over long periods of time.

These types of medications are usually prescribed for allergies, immune disorders, some forms of cancers, to reduce inflammations, or as a replacement for a dog that has naturally-occurring, low cortisol levels.

Symptoms of Dogs with Cushing’s Disease

Now, let’s talk about symptoms and what you can look out for if you think your dog may have Cushing’s disease.

Symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst and urination (polydipsia and polyuria, respectively)
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased panting
  • Protruding abdomen
  • Obesity
  • Fat pads on the neck and shoulders
  • Repeated infections on the skin, ears, in the urinary tract, etc.
  • Loss of hair
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to sleep
  • Muscle weakness
  • Infertility
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Appearance of blackheads on the skin
  • Thin skin
  • Bruising
  • Hard, white, scaly patches on the skin, elbows, etc.
  • Neurologic abnormalities (circling, behavioral changes, seizures, etc.)

Note: Cushing’s is one of the most common endocrine disorders to affect dogs, so you and your dog are not alone if they are diagnosed with the disease. It generally affects middle-aged or older dogs.

cushing's disease in dogs

The most common occurrence of Cushing’s disease is usually a benign pituitary tumor (a nonthreatening tumor on the pituitary gland).

Malignant tumors (tumors that spread from the original point from where they started) are less frequent with Cushing’s disease.

When Cushing’s develops on the pituitary gland, it is known as PDH (pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism) and it’s responsible for around 80-85% of all the cases of Cushing’s in dogs.

The disease can also occur on the adrenal gland, but that only happens about 15-20% of the time with an equal chance of the tumor being benign or malignant.

How to Diagnosis Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

To test for Cushing’s, your vet will take a blood sample to check your dog’s cortisol levels. But unfortunately, there is not a fool-proof test that will definitively say for sure whether your dog has the disease or not.

Your vet may run many different tests to come to a diagnosis of Cushing’s. They should be able to walk you through whatever tests they want to do and what they are for, as well as any side effects or dangers that are involved with them.


Treatment pretty much depends on how your dog got Cushing’s in the first place.

If your dog’s cortisol levels are high due to a medication, the vet will slowly wean your dog off the medication under their care.

Coming off the medication too quickly can cause other problems to arise (just like with humans coming off a medication), so they will want to watch your dog’s progress carefully.

Other than that, the dog’s symptoms should be taken into account to determine whether treatment should be sought out or not.

If your dog has high blood pressure, experiencing kidney damage, is noticeably drinking or urinating more, panting excessively, and/or is intolerant to exercise, then treatment should be sought out.

cushing's disease in dogs

Side Effects

Medication-wise, the vet will likely prescribe one of two drugs: Mitotane (Lysodren) or Trilostane (Vetoryl).

As with any medication for humans or dogs, there are side effects.

Your dog needs to be closely monitored to make sure the medication is not causing further issues to their quality of life.

These medications will need to be taken for life and, as they are powerful medications, you will need to be always alert for any adverse reactions.

Signs of an adverse reaction include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Weakness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sometimes difficulty walking

If any of these side effects do occur, you should discontinue the medication and contact your veterinarian immediately.

He or she may give you prednisone to give to your dog under circumstances like these (or during times of stress). Follow your veterinarian’s directions when giving your dog prednisone.

If your dog’s tumor is on their adrenal gland, they will usually be put through a CT scan or an MRI, and then, if it is not a malignant tumor, will be given medication to shrink the tumor.

Surgery will be finally done to remove it.

The video below gives more details on Cushing’s disease.


Don’t stress out too much if your dog turns out to have Cushing’s disease.

Most dogs are very good at picking up on their owner’s mood and it is better for them (and let’s be honest, you) to go through this process with the least amount of stress possible.

You will get through this illness together.

Do you have any tips on dealing with Cushing’s disease in dogs?

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