Cushing’s Disease in Pets

By Elizabeth Benson

What is Cushing’s Disease?

Hyperadrenocorticism (HAC) also known as Cushing’s disease in pets is a disorder in which excessive adrenal hormones are produced. It can be caused by abnormal pituitary gland function, tumors of the adrenal gland, or by high levels of doctor-prescribed steroid use.

Pituitary-dependent HAC accounts for about 80% of all cases. It is a slowly progressive disease and the early signs are often unnoticed. These include increased appetite, increased drinking and urination, reduced activity, and a swollen abdomen.

Extensive laboratory tests, radiographs (x-rays) ultrasounds may be needed to diagnose the condition, find its cause, and plan treatment.

 

What Symptoms Can Present as the Disease Progresses?

Early Stages

  • Progressive weakness of the hind limbs
  • Worn nails
  • Difficult rising
  • Stumbling
  • Knuckling of the toes
  • Scuffing hind feet
  • Wearing of the inner digits of the rear paws
  • Loss of muscle in the rear legs
  • Tremors of the rear legs

Late Stages

  • Persistent early stages
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence
  • Eventual front leg weakness from compensatory strain
  • Mental stress/anxiety
  • Pressure sores on bony prominences
  • Inability to rise
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Poor hygiene-soiled appearance
  • Pneumonia
  • Depression
  • Infection/sepsis
  • Constipation
  • Organ failure

Crisis – Immediate veterinary assistance needed regardless of disease

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Prolonged seizures
  • Uncontrollable vomiting/diarrhea
  • Sudden collapse
  • Profuse bleeding – internal or external
  • Crying/whining from pain*

*It should be noted that most animals will instinctually hide their pain. Vocalization of any sort that is out of the ordinary for your pet may indicate that their pain and anxiety have become too much for them to bear. If your pet vocalizes due to pain or anxiety, please consult with your tending veterinarian immediately.

 

Common Signs of Pain

Panting, lameness, difficulty sleeping, pacing, abnormal posture, body tensing, poor grooming habits, tucked tail, dilated pupils, licking sore spot, muscle atrophy, decreased appetite, vocalizing/yowling, reclusive behavior, aggressive behavior, avoiding stairs/jumping, depressed, unable to stand.

How is Cushing’s Disease Treated?

Some animals respond to medical management alone while others need both surgical and medical treatment. Control, rather than cure, is the outcome of treatment in most cases of HAC. Medical treatment consists of either mitotane (Lysodren) or trilostane.

Patients on these medications must be closely monitored. Non-invasive adrenal tumors are best removed surgically. If adrenal hormones are suppressed too much, a condition called Addisons’ disease develops and can be life-threatening if untreated.

What Is the Prognosis for Cushing’s Disease?

The long-term prognosis is poor and most animals are euthanized within 6 months to 3 years of diagnosis, as the disease progresses to the point of permanent paraplegia. When the patient can no longer walk, and mobility carts are not an option, long-term hospice care or euthanasia should be considered.

A personalized treatment plan is important to slow the progression of degenerative myelopathy. Talk to your veterinarian regarding the best treatment protocol for your pet.

Testimonials

I can't recommend them enough. I had to say goodbye to my 21 year old cat companion. I read the reviews here on Yelp and chose Paws Into Grace and they made an unbearable situation not worse - from the people on the phone to the amazing doctor who... read more

Renee C.

My absolute love Dante had heart failure three months ago. After having him on many medications to help him, his enthusiasm and appetite declined last couple of days. He was in pain and we decided to help him go to heaven rather than torturing him... read more

Diane C.

I wanted to thank you for sending Dr. Brown to euthanize our beloved Myleigh on March 4, 2021. She was compassionate and accommodating, she explained every step of the procedure, and gave us some alone time with Myleigh after she sedated her, but... read more

Terry A.

Renee C.

I can't recommend them enough. I had to say goodbye to my 21 year old cat companion. I read the reviews here on Yelp and chose Paws Into Grace and they made an unbearable situation not worse - from the people on the phone to the amazing doctor who came out to the house. She was so understanding and supportive. They were all so helpful, understanding and nice. My girl got to stay at home and say goodbye in the backyard (a hummingbird flew over and it seemed like a good sign too). So glad I didn't have to take her to a cold vet office.

Diane C.

My absolute love Dante had heart failure three months ago. After having him on many medications to help him, his enthusiasm and appetite declined last couple of days. He was in pain and we decided to help him go to heaven rather than torturing him with more medications which would make him even more miserable. I called and spoke to a very kind lady who was patient as I cried through making an appointment. We made an appointment for 1:30pm. Dr. Toni arrived. She was very kind, explained everything to us and gave us the time to be with our boy after the first shot. He wasn't relaxing enough so she gave him a second shot. We stayed with him throughout the entire process and I carried him to her car in the end. It was a very difficult decision but knowing that our boy is not in pain, gives us some peace. We are thankful to Dr. Toni for her kindness and compassion. They will arrange the cremation for us. Since we are in a pandemic, we had our masks on and said goodbye to our boy in our garden.

Terry A.

I wanted to thank you for sending Dr. Brown to euthanize our beloved Myleigh on March 4, 2021. She was compassionate and accommodating, she explained every step of the procedure, and gave us some alone time with Myleigh after she sedated her, but before she attached the IV. We were relieved that we made the decision to let her go to doggy heaven at home. It was a tranquil and serene passing for her, and it very much aids us in the grieving and healing process knowing that she passed away so peacefully. Based on the grace and compassion Dr. Brown demonstrated on one of the most awful days of our lives we would not hesitate to recommend Paws Into Grace for others facing this very painful time.
Font Resize
Contrast
Text Us