Cushing’s disease is a condition that results from long term exposure to high levels of specific hormones that are produced by the adrenal gland, called glucocorticoids. These high levels of adrenal hormone may occur naturally in the body’s production of hormones or may occur as a result of over-medication of certain medicines that contain glucocorticoids. Tumors in the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland may also account for the excess of adrenal hormone that causes Cushing’s disease. Although Cushing’s disease is most commonly found in middle aged to older dogs, cats are also susceptible to this condition, especially if they already have a specific type of diabetes (concurrent diabetes mellitus).
If your pet has Cushing’s disease, they will likely demonstrate the following symptoms: increased urination, increased appetite and drinking, hair loss on both sides of the body, high blood pressure and a pendulous “pot belly” figure. If you suspect that your pet may have Cushing’s disease, take them in to see your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can make a diagnosis of Cushing’s disease from a series of blood tests, ultrasounds or magnetic resonance imaging. Most veterinarians will use blood tests to determine whether your pet has Cushing’s disease, as magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasounds are used more often to evaluate possible tumors in the pituitary and adrenal glands.
Cushing’s disease is caused by an excess of specific hormones called glucocorticoids, which may occur as a result of medication, a tumor in the pituitary or adrenal gland, or in the body’s natural process. Certain medications that contain glucocorticoids, along with several other adrenal hormones, can cause the excess of glucocorticoids, which leads to Cushing’s disease. Medications such as prednisone, which are used to treat allergies, skin conditions, breathing disorders and arthritis, contain adrenal hormones, and can lead to Cushing’s disease. This condition may also be caused by tumors in the pituitary or adrenal glands, which stimulate the adrenal gland in order to produce excess glucocorticoids.
Cushing’s disease is treated according to its cause. If your pet’s condition has likely been caused by overmedication of medicines containing glucocorticoids, your veterinarian may simply recommend lowering or switching your pet’s current prescription. Other treatment methods may include taking other medications. If your pet has Cushing’s disease, your veterinarian will likely recommend that your pet start taking Lysodren, a medication that inhibits the adrenal gland in a similar way to chemotherapy, and reduces the amount of glucocorticoids that are produced. If the Lysodren treatment is effective, your veterinarian will recommend that your pet continue to take Lysodren in order to effectively manage their condition.