Learning About Cushing Disease in Dogs and Cats

mt. carmel animal hospital Cushing disease

Cushing disease is caused by the enlargement of the pituitary gland, which results in excess ACTH.

Cushing disease, known as hyperadrenocorticism, occurs in dogs and cats due to excessive ACTH product in the pituitary gland. In this article, Mount Carmel Animal Hospital explains the causes, signs, diagnosis, and treatment process of Cushing disease in dogs and cats.

Causes and Signalment of Cushing Disease

Cushing disease is caused by the enlargement of the pituitary gland, which results in excess ACTH. For instance, 85% of dogs with the disease are pituitary-dependent, while the remaining 15% have adrenal tumors. This health condition is often seen in middle-aged to older dogs, ranging from 7–12-year-old.

Breeds where Cushing disease is more commonly seen include poodles, dachshunds, boxers, Boston terriers, Yorkshire terriers, and Staffordshire terriers. Cushing disease is also seen more often in female dogs. Cushing disease also affects middle-aged to older cats, with it being slightly more common in females.

Clinical Signs of Cushing Disease

Prevalent clinical signs of Cushing disease in dogs and cats include:

  • Lethargy
  • Panting (dogs only)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Alopecia
  • Heat intolerance
  • Thin, fragile skin (especially cats)
  • Bruising
  • And much more


Unfortunately, no single examination or combination of tests is 100% accurate to diagnose Cushing disease. Diagnosis is based on several clinical signs along with associated blood abnormalities. Your veterinarian will need to do multiple tests such as blood work, radiographs, and ultrasound in order to rule out other possible causes of your pet’s symptoms. Once other diseases are eliminated as the cause and the results are suggestive of Cushing disease LDDS test is the preferred screening test for canine hyperadrenocorticism. This test measures the production of cortisol after being exposed to a low dose of a steroid. Plus, blood samples are taken in four-hour increments. Dogs with Cushing disease will show a suppression in their cortisol levels throughout the testing.

Moreover, diagnostic imaging of the pituitary and the adrenal glands may be accomplished through abdominal radiography, ultrasonography, MRI, or CT scan. Also, abdominal ultrasonography is a sensitive method to identify adrenal tumors. So, this will allow our veterinarians to determine if your pet is one of the 15% of cases that have Cushing disease as a result of an adrenal tumor.

Treatment for Cushing Disease in Animals

Three successful treatment options are available for Cushing disease in dogs: surgical, medical, and radiation therapy. The most common treatment is medical. Your dog will go on a daily medication for the rest of its life with regular blood work to monitor your pet’s response to treatment. Medical treatment is a lifelong commitment. Radiation therapy is indicated if your dog displays neurologic signs and a large pituitary tumor is identified.

Hypophysectomy, or known as surgical removal of the pituitary gland, is available. Also, this has many benefits over traditional therapies, like rapid reversal of clinical signs, but also comes with risks.  Lastly, this may include infection, transient diabetes insipidus, and complications due to rapid reversal of the hyperadrenocorticism.


Mount Carmel Animal Hospital has been serving the Northern Baltimore/Southern York community for over 30 years and is proud to be an independently operated, small animal practice committed to excellence in veterinary medicine and client service. From grooming to wellness services, along with Canine Life Skills Training Courses, and surgical procedures, we have the expertise that will best serve the needs of you and your pet. Contact us at 410-343-0200 and follow us on Facebook!

This entry was posted on Friday, October 13th, 2023 at 9:43 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.