What is Cushing's syndrome?

Cushing's syndrome is a chronic disease caused by a dog's adrenal glands producing too much cortisol. The adrenal glands, which are two small organs located near the kidneys, produce cortisol among other things. The production is controlled by the pituitary gland which signals the adrenal glands to increase or decrease the production of cortisol. In Cushing's syndrome, too much cortisol is produced, the reason is usually a tumour in the pituitary gland or in the adrenal glands. There is also an iatrogenic form caused by the dog being given cortisone treatment.

Cushing's syndrome symptoms

The symptoms vary from dog to dog, depending on the amount of cortisol in their body and how long they have had high levels of cortisol. In addition to clinical symptoms, the disease can lead to complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure and thrombus formation.

  • Increased thirst (polydipsia)
  • Increased appetite (polyphagia)
  • Increased urination (polyuria)
  • Thinner fur or hairlessness
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Overweight and distended abdomen
  • Lethargy and increased respiratory rate occur

How a Cushing's diagnosis is made

The diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome is made based on clinical symptoms and by analysing blood samples and urine samples. Adrenal function is checked. Imaging can be performed by the adrenal glands or pituitary if surgery would be appropriate once the diagnosis is established.

How Cushing's syndrome is treated

Medical treatment is most commonly used to alleviate the clinical symptoms of Cushing's syndrome. It may take time to set the right dose of the medication.

Surgical treatment, where the tumour-transformed adrenal gland is removed, is rarely performed as the procedure is complicated and not completely risk-free.

If a dog has suffered from iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome, they are treated by lowering the cortisone dose in the dog's medication or, if possible, finding a medication other than cortisone.

Picture of dog with Cushing's syndrome

The picture shows the Eddie a Toy Poodle affected by Cushing's syndrome at the age of 12.