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Cushing’s Disease in Dogs & Cats

Jan 13, 2022Pet Health

Both dogs and cats can get Cushing’s disease. However, we find the condition more commonly in dogs than in cats.

What is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s disease is a serious health condition where an animal’s body produces too much cortisone, which is a steroid. This condition leads to other health problems such as kidney damage and diabetes and can become life-threatening.

A benign or malignant tumor in the pituitary gland commonly causes Cushing’s disease. The pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain. The pituitary makes several hormones, including ACTH. A pituitary tumor causes overproduction of ACTH, which travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands, stimulating them to produce more cortisol than the body needs.

In rare cases, about 15-20%, we find a tumor on the adrenal glands located on top of the kidneys. This tumor causes the adrenal glands to produce excess cortisol.

Cushing’s Disease Symptoms

Cushing’s disease occurs typically in middle-aged or older pets. It is a slow-developing disease and can be hard to detect. These are the symptoms for you to watch out for:

  • Increased thirst

  • Frequent urination

  • Increased appetite

  • Reduced activity

  • Excessive panting

  • Thin or fragile skin

  • Hair loss

  • Recurrent skin infections

  • Enlarged abdomen, resulting in a “potbellied” appearance.

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact us immediately and tell us as much as you can about the symptoms. The sooner we can diagnose the symptoms, the sooner we can start treatment.

When you bring your pet in, your veterinarian will do several tests to rule out any other possible diseases before moving forward with any treatments.

Treatments for Cushing’s Disease

The only “cure” for Cushing’s disease is by surgically removing the tumor. However, this is a complex and risky procedure. For this reason, we usually treat Cushing’s with medication. Although it is a lifelong condition, we can manage it together.

Treatment will usually require frequent blood tests and checkups in the first few months after starting treatment. Then the need for blood tests usually tapers down to every few months depending on the animal’s response to treatment and tolerance to the medication.

The FDA has only approved one drug to treat both adrenal and pituitary caused Cushing’s disease:

“Vetoryl (trilostane) is the only drug approved by FDA to treat both pituitary- and adrenal-dependent Cushing’s in dogs. This prescription drug works by stopping the production of cortisol in the adrenal glands. Vetoryl should not be given to a dog or cat that:

  • has kidney or liver disease

  • takes certain medications used to treat heart disease

  • is pregnant”


Cushing’s disease is serious, but your pet can still live a happy and healthy life with correct treatments.

The most important thing is to bring your pet in so we can diagnose the problem. Then follow your pet’s treatment plan. By continuously working with your veterinarian and bringing in your pet for checkups, their health will be kept in the best condition possible.


 Ashley Tuma, D.V.M.

 Pine Creek Animal Hospital