A dog drinks out of a water bowl.

When we talk about the cardiovascular system or the musculoskeletal system, most people know what we mean. Other organ systems are a little less familiar, however. This doesn’t make them any less important.

Perhaps the most nebulous body system is the endocrine system, composed of all of the glands that produce the hormones that control things like metabolism, growth, and reproduction. In veterinary medicine, problems like diabetes and thyroid dysfunction fall under the endocrine disease category. At Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital, another common endocrine disease that we see is canine Cushing’s syndrome. This disease is often not familiar to our pet parents, but it is an important one to understand. 

Defining Canine Cushings Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is a term used to describe a hormonal condition more accurately termed hyperadrenocorticism. In this condition, the adrenal glands, two tiny organs located near the kidneys, produce more cortisol than is needed by the body.

Cortisol is the hormone form of hydrocortisone, a steroid stress hormone that is stored in the adrenal glands and released when the fight-or-flight response is triggered.

Too much cortisol has many of the same effects as taking a steroid like prednisone might have. Symptoms of canine Cushing’s syndrome often include things like:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Panting
  • Liver enlargement
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Skin problems
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • High blood pressure

Many times Cushing’s syndrome is diagnosed in middle-aged to older dogs. Although less common, our kitty friends can also be affected. 

Diagnosing The Disease

In pets with symptoms of canine Cushing’s syndrome, a diagnosis is often made via specialized blood testing that looks at the body’s ability to suppress cortisol production appropriately.

Sometimes more advanced diagnostics such as abdominal ultrasound may be recommended. This can be particularly helpful in determining whether the hyperadrenocorticism is being caused by a tumor of the adrenal gland itself or there is a problem with the pituitary gland that tells the adrenal glands how much cortisol to produce. 

Understanding that a pet has Cushing’s syndrome is helpful even if, for whatever reason, treatment is not pursued. Secondary problems such as urinary tract infections and hypertension can be better managed if it is known that a pet is at high risk.

While hyperadrenocorticism is not curable, most pets respond well to medical management. If your pet is diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome, our knowledgeable team will work closely with you to find an appropriate dose of medication to help calm your pet’s adrenal gland cortisol production. This can really help to improve the quality and quantity of life.

Canine Cushing’s syndrome can sound a bit unfamiliar and seem daunting, but rest assured it is a condition that we are very well-versed in managing. If you feel your pet may have symptoms, do not hesitate to let the team at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital know so that we can get to work in helping. Call (732) 531-1212 to learn more or to schedule an appointment.