Is your dog showing signs of excessive hunger, low energy, hair loss, heightened thirst, and frequent urination? These are common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs – an illness caused by an excess of cortisol in your dog’s system. Have no fear – if you are concerned that something may be amiss but are not quite sure what you may be dealing with or what the best course of action is, this article is here to help! It can be difficult and scary when your beloved pup starts showing signs of illness and distress – all you want to do is ease their discomfort, but you must first equip yourself with knowledge and preparation.

Being able to recognize the associated signs and symptoms of your dog’s potential illness will help you care for your pup in a correct and timely fashion. If your pet is displaying any of the symptoms listed above, they might be suffering from Cushing’s disease in dogs.  A disorder of the endocrine system, Cushing’s disease has very particular causes, and there are many treatment options available. If you suspect your dog might have this disorder and want to know more, this guide will provide you with the tools you need to cure your furry friend and put them on the road to recovery.

What Is Cushing’s Disease?


veterinarian checking dog


Cushing’s disease in dogs receives its namesake from the neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, who identified the endocrine illness for the very first time in 1912. In dogs dealing with Cushing’s disease, their adrenal glands are not functioning properly. These two glands are situated in front of the kidneys and excrete key hormones that manage many important bodily functions.

When a dog has Cushing’s, their adrenal glands create excess cortisol, throwing off hormone balance. When cortisol is properly regulated, it enables your pet to respond well to stress factors and maintain a fortified immune system. The presence of too much cortisol, however, is when problems arise. Cushing’s disease in dogs is a very common disorder that tends to affects older dogs, typically those 8 years or older.

Signs and Symptoms

husky on the couch


While symptoms tend to vary, there are some key signs that indicate whether your pup might be suffering from Cushing’s disease in dogs. However, it is important to note that these symptoms can also result from other types of diseases. Therefore, it is always a good idea to seek the opinion of a veterinarian who can examine your dog and run a multitude of tests.

Many of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs include heightened thirst and urination, night urination or accidents, intensified hunger and panting, a distended abdomen, obesity and weight gain, and areas of fat centered on the neck and shoulder area. Some other pertinent signs to look out for include hair loss, low energy, weakness of the muscles, infertility, darkened and thin skin, bruising, and white, scaly areas on the skin.

Is Cushing’s Disease in Dogs Dangerous?

What You Need to Know

One of the difficulties of Cushing’s disease in dogs is that it can be difficult to diagnosis the illness. Since the disease usually appears in older dogs and many of the signs appear to be those of aging, it is often difficult to reach a concrete answer.

The good news is most cases are not super severe. The nature of the disease is such that it rarely spreads quickly, allowing you time to do your research, consult with a veterinarian, and determine what the optimal course of action is.


Cushing’s disease in dogs is not dangerous in the immediate sense, but if left untreated over time, it can cause severe problems and worsened symptoms. If treatment is delayed or neglected, a dog will eventually slow down and display more obvious physical alterations such as a round belly and significant amounts of hair loss. Panting may become heavy and frequent urinary accidents can occur. An excess of the hormone cortisol is tough on the immune system, so your dog will be more susceptible to infections as well.

A vast number of dogs deal with Cushing’s disease for anywhere from months to years on end. This is tolerable for the majority of dogs and is usually not dangerous. However, it is important to note that a smaller percentage of animals suffering from Cushing’s disease in dogs will become ill with more alarming signs like head pressing or circling. Some dogs have passed away suddenly from blood clots in their lungs (casued by Cushing’s disease in dogs).

Treating Cushing’s disease in dogs can be very costly, so it is important to know what your options are. If a veterinarian recommends therapy and monitoring, it is important to conduct regular blood tests to ensure your dog maintains healthy cortisol levels. Worst-case scenario, too little cortisol can be very dangerous and cause dogs to fain or go into comas.

It is important to assess your financial situation when considering the veterinarian’s recommendations. Choosing to put your dog on medication without conducting frequent blood tests would be unwise. If you decide to forego treatment, it is likely that nothing catastrophic will occur. As mentioned previously, many dogs live with the disease for months or years. Symptoms will continue, however, if left untreated, potentially causing severe complications.

Identifying Causes and Arranging Treatment

Risk Factors

Cushing’s disease in dogs occurs most frequently in certain types of breeds. These include Beagles, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Dachshunds, and German Shepherds. A few other susceptible breeds include Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, and other small breed terriers.

Common Causes

Cushing’s disease in dogs occurs for multiple reasons, the most common being a tumor on the animal’s pituitary gland. This gland is located at the base area of the brain and communicates with the adrenal gland regarding the release of cortisol. This is the most typical cause of Cushing’s disease in dogs and is known in technical terms as pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism. At times, this type of Cushing’s disease may develop in dogs younger than the usual age.

Another cause of Cushing’s disease in dogs is a tumor growth in the adrenal gland itself, which occurs most typically in larger breeds.  The misuse and overconsumption of steroid drugs can also cause your pup to come down with Cushing’s disease in dogs.

Diagnosis Process

Reaching a diagnosis for Cushing’s disease in dogs is usually difficult and can be a lengthy process. If you take your dog to see a veterinarian, the initial course of action will be to run blood and urine tests. If any abnormalities show up in the results, the following step is to run a specialized test known as the ACTH-stimulation test.

This ACTH-simulation test involves the veterinarian taking a blood sample from your dog to determine its cortisol levels. Afterward, your veterinarian will probably administer an adrenocorticotrophic hormone injection. After a few hours have passed, the veterinarian will take another blood test to measure your dog’s cortisol levels. If your dog’s cortisol levels are higher than normal, your dog will be diagnosed with Cushing’s disease in dogs. Further tests will be  needed, however, to pinpoint the exact cause of Cushing’s disease. Determining the cause of the disease will help your veterinarian decide how to best treat your pup.

Treatment Options

When it comes to treatment for Cushing’s disease in dogs, it is important to know that over 90 percent of sufferers are dealing with a benign tumor on the pituitary gland. As a result, the tumor is usually quite small and not prone to spreading, often preventing further physical deterioration. In most of these cases, your dog would be prescribed regular medication to regulate their cortisol levels.

If the tumor is located in the adrenal gland, however, the veterinarian will likely opt for additional testing to see if the tumor is benign or cancerous. Surgical options are available, but in the rare case of a cancerous adrenal tumor, results are not usually favorable (and it may be best to avoid the stress and costs of surgery and to spare your pup the suffering).

With the more common treatment of medication and maintenance, Cushing’s disease in dogs less frequently causes symptoms. Your dog will hopefully resume normal drinking habits, and eventually, the associated skin issues should dissipate as well. On average, dogs survive up to two years when dealing with Cushing’s disease, but this life expectancy is not normally a result of the sickness itself. As Cushing’s disease in dogs is seen most often in much older animals, death typically occurs because of unrelated sicknesses associated with age.


hand patting a black dog on the head


Staying informed about Cushing’s disease in dogs is crucial if your pet is one among the common breeds that deal with the illness, or more importantly if your pup begins displaying signs and symptoms of the disorder. Always consult with a veterinarian before treating your dog with any medications or adjustments.

In the case of Cushing’s disease in dogs, time is usually on your side. You will typically be able to examine your options with a veterinarian professional to determine what decision will work to bring the best results for your beloved pet.