puppy having an in practice check up

Identifying Cushing’s disease in dogs

Cushing’s disease – also called Cushing’s syndrome or hyperadrenocorticism  – is caused when your dog produces too much of a hormone called cortisol. Cushing’s disease is most common in middle-aged and older dogs, and can be hard to diagnose, as it has the same symptoms as other conditions.

Warning signs that your dog has Cushing’s syndrome may be tricky to spot.

Spotting the signs and symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs

Because many symptoms of Cushing’s disease mimic the usual signs of ageing, the condition can be hard to identify. Speak to your vet if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased appetite 
  • Increased urination 
  • Lethargy and tiredness
  • Increased panting
  • Hair loss
  • Bulging belly (pot belly)
  • Skin lumps or infections

The technical bit…

Cortisol is a hormone – produced by the adrenal glands – that helps your dog deal with stress, and helps to control their weight, fight infections, and regulate blood sugar levels. Problems can occur when your dog produces too much cortisol (known as hyperadrenocorticism or ‘Cushing’s disease’) or too little cortisol (known as hypoadrenocortism or ‘Addison’s disease’).

Types of Cushing’s disease in dogs

There are two main types of Cushing’s syndrome in dogs:

Pituitary dependent is the most common – affecting 80 to 90 per cent of diagnosed dogs – and is caused by a benign tumour in the pituitary gland. 
Adrenal dependent Cushing’s disease stems from a tumour in the adrenal glands, and affects between 10 and 20 per cent of diagnosed dogs.

Because many symptoms of Cushing’s disease mimic the usual signs of ageing, the condition can be hard to spot.

Diagnosing Cushing’s disease in dogs 

Your local vet will run a few tests to establish the cause of your dog's symptoms, and to rule out any other health problems. Treatment may require surgery to remove the tumour, or - more usually - medication to control your dog’s cortisol levels. Either way, most dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s disease go on to live an active, normal life. 

Left untreated, Cushing’s syndrome can lead to life-threatening disorders such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, and liver or kidney failure, so it’s always best to seek advice from your vet right away if you suspect your dog has the condition.

Want information or advice on Cushing’s disease in dogs?

For more information or advice on Cushing’s disease in dogs, contact your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.