Cushing’s Disease

Often Difficult to Diagnose & Treat, Cushing’s is fairly Common


I lost a 9-yr-old Boston Terrier to Cushing’s disease. What is that? Could I have done something to save her? Should I have recognized early symptoms?

Dr. Nichol:

I am so sorry for your loss. I’ve seen other grieving pet lovers second-guess themselves. I hope a few answers will help.


Cushing’s disease results either from excess hormone production from the adrenal glands or from overdosing of corticosteroid medications like prednisone. The adrenals, which sit next door to the kidneys, regulate essential electrolytes and produce adrenaline, cortisol, and low levels of sex hormones. Most dogs with Cushing’s disease drink, urinate, and eat excessively. They are prone to have potbellies and urinary infections and are at greater risk of developing diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes). Cushing’s disease is fairly common in middle aged to older dogs. It can be tricky to diagnose and difficult to treat.


We all do the best we can for our pets. The love you shared with your Boston was the greatest gift she could ever have. Please don’t abuse your spirit with guilt. She’ll be there for you anytime you bring her cute round face to mind.





Diagnostic Testing & Treatment can be Expensive but Essential


My dog might have Cushing’s disease. First tests were inconclusive and expensive & further tests are also expensive.  What are the symptoms as it progresses?  Is it painful?  My vet said some clients don’t treat it.  My dog has lower energy & a partly bald tail & dry coat.  Will something get worse if that’s actually his problem?


Dr. Nichol:

Cushing’s disease is serious business and not only because it can be fatal; complications include diabetes, liver disease, bladder stones and infections, skin problems, and hair loss. All this trouble results from excessive levels of the hormone cortisol from malfunctioning adrenal glands. Cushing’s is usually seen in middle aged to older small breed dogs, and occasionally cats. Dogs of any age and size can be affected.


Each of us, and our pets, has one adrenal gland living next door to each of our kidneys. Our adrenals secrete important hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenals of most Cushing’s dogs make too much cortisol usually because a benign pituitary gland tumor (near the brain) orders too much production. Adrenal glands can do it on their own too. Cushing’s can also result from high doses of corticosteroid drugs like prednisone or Depo Medrol.


Diagnosing Cushing’s can be tricky in part because there are different hormones and sources that can be involved. You are right; some of the necessary blood tests are expensive. Treatment with oral medications is essential in many cases while it should be postponed in others.


An accurate diagnosis is important for your dog. Worsening Cushing’s may cause him to drink and urinate more, lose hair around his chest and abdomen, develop a pot belly, and become weak. This boy sounds important to you. I urge you to take your veterinarian’s advice. Do whatever it takes.