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This review guide was updated in February 2019.
What is Cushing’s Disease?
Cushing’s disease in dogs is the overproduction of a glucocorticoid (hormone) called Cortisol.
Cortisol is a steroidal hormone produced by the adrenal gland.
Its primary function is to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, fight off inflammation caused by immune system disorders, and maintain the dog’s strength and vitality. It also helps the dog’s body to respond to stress and anxiety.
However, unregulated and excessive cortisol production causes an imbalance in the dog’s body systems.A dog which has this disease is similar to a human having diabetes type 2. With cortisol overproduction, complications such as pancreatitis, kidney failure, heart disease, and nervous system disorders arise.
These complications aggravate the dog’s organ systems and cause pain and suffering.
Severe muscle weakness, inactivity, and anxiety are some of the effects of this disease.
How Does a Dog Get Cushing’s Disease?
Cushing’s disease is usually acquired by middle-aged to old canines.
This illness comes gradually and may be mistaken as normal signs of aging.
However, it is not normal for dogs to get this disease if they are given proper care.
A dog needs a healthy diet and sufficient exercise to stay in tiptop shape.
The common cause of overproduction of cortisol in dogs is a diet with too much carbohydrate and glucose content.
Commercial dog foods are akin to human fast food, especially cheap options. These have deficient nutrition levels, and also contain harmful chemicals such as pesticides.
The intake of these substances on a daily basis will eventually lead to nutrient deprivation and the development of abnormalities.
When a dog cannot effectively metabolize the high glucose content of his food, the excessive amounts of glucose cause inflammations.
These inflammations trigger the production of cortisol. Initially an anti-inflammatory hormone, cortisol can be detrimental to your dog’s health if too much is produced.
Another cause of Cushing’s disease is the development of a tumor, which is usually benign, in the dog’s pituitary or adrenal gland.
Because of the tumor’s presence, the pituitary gland signals the adrenal gland to release unregulated amounts of cortisol.
Substantial amounts of cortisol are pumped into the blood system and cause inflammations. With more inflammations in the body, the adrenal gland is triggered to release more cortisol.
A dog which is undergoing treatment for a particular illness may be medicated with steroidal drugs. An overdose of these steroidal drugs can also lead to the development of Cushing’s disease.
What Are Its Symptoms?
Detecting Cushing’s disease early is best since intervention can be immediately applied.
The symptoms are manifested during the sixth or seventh year of canine life.
The disease itself can progress over that span of time. One of the observable symptoms is a loss of fur at the sides of the body, while the head and legs commonly remain unaffected.
The dog’s belly will also be bloated due to the expanding organs and fats inside the dog’s body.
Eventually, the dog may become heavy or obese, and this is accompanied by incessant panting indicating that the dog feels hot all the time.
The dog will most likely be listless and inactive due to the obesity.
You may observe the dog’s increased appetite and water intake.
Consequently, the dog may pee more often. It may develop some skin infections or some calcified or raised skin bumps. This can be seen in parts where there has been a loss of fur.
Cushing, like diabetes, causes the dog to exhibit slow healing of cuts and wounds.
This may cause frequent infections if the wounds are not properly medicated or covered.
How Can It Be Treated Naturally?
Treating Cushing’s disease typically starts with diagnostics.
The veterinarian may require blood and urine samples for testing cholesterol, sugar, and protein contents.
A hormone test for the glucocorticoid Cortisol will also be done.
If the results state that the dog has Cushing’s disease, the following natural means of treatment may be prescribed:
- Diet change – The pet owner should ensure removal of grains and high-gluten content from the dog’s diet.A holistic veterinarian can help with the diet plan of the dog. This diet may consist of organic and raw foods. Raw chicken or beef meat, raw eggs, cottage cheese, vegetables like pumpkin and carrots, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar are highly recommended for a healthier canine diet.
- Natural Herbs – Holistic veterinarians also prescribe certain herbs to be given in tincture amounts.Some herbs known to treat Cushing’s disease are dandelion, burdock, arsenicum, stinging nettle, astragalus, and hepar sulph.
- Herbal Formulas – There is also a Chinese herbal formula called Si Miao San which helps reduce inflammation and regulates insulin.This can be used for overweight dogs whose symptoms show excessive panting. Weaker and thinner dogs may require other herbs in the treatment of their disease.
- No chemicals – It’s also helpful to stop the use of any chemicals for your dogs. This may include artificial chemicals found in dog food, dog products for flea control and bathing, and even vaccinations.
- Stop Using Steroidal Drugs – If the dog is receiving medications with the use of steroidal drugs, stopping the intake of these drugs may already reverse the effects of Cushing’s disease.
- Acupuncture – You may have to search for a vet in your area that specializes in acupuncture for canines.This can be the primary therapy for dogs with Cushing’s disease. It involves insertion of needles in the dog’s acupoints to treat inflammation and pain.The procedure is very relaxing for the dog. A treatment session usually lasts for 10-30 minutes, and this therapy can be done 1-3 times a week. However, it may take a while before improvements can be seen.
- Stress & Anxiety Reduction – A dog’s adrenal gland also produces cortisol when it is stressed, which is why dogs with Cushing’s disease must be stress-free as much as possible.Help relieve your dog’s stress by constantly playing and being with it.A dog is especially stressed when exposed to activities with high noise levels such as a party.Avoid having too many people in the house. Simple exercises, such as walking around the house, is already a great stress reducer for your dog.
It’s important to note that every dog may require a different approach towards the treatment of this disease.
The response to these natural treatments may vary depending on the breed and size of the dog, as well as the severity of the disease.
If Cushing’s disease is detected early on, complications such as diabetes, pancreatitis, heart disease, kidney failure, and nervous system disorders can be prevented. The chance of cure for this ailment is around 60-90%, and complete recovery is expected with dogs responding well to the treatments.
The key to maintaining a healthy dog is by being a responsible pet owner.
As the saying goes: “Prevention is better than cure.” One way to take care of your dog is by dutifully planning, implementing, and monitoring your dog’s food intake.
A balanced diet similar to that of the ideal human diet can also be practical for dogs.
A pet owner must always make time for bonding and exercising with his dogand ensuring that the dog is as much as possible happy and free of stresses.
Cushing’s disease can also be caused by tumor development – the cause of which is, up to now, still a mystery in the field of medicine.
There is no way to predict or prevent this. In the event of a benign tumor development in the dog’s adrenal gland, surgery can be performed to remove the tumor or the whole gland. This is the only way for the adrenal gland to stop producing cortisol.
However, some tumors tend to be malignant (harmful), and in some instances, the tumor cells have metastasized to other parts of the dog’s body. These can only be cured by surgery, radiation, and medication.
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