All dogs get old dog syndrome

The Cushing syndrome

Cushing's Syndrome - one of the most common hormonal diseases in the dog

Dogs with Cushing's syndrome - often referred to as "Cushing" for short - are usually from the age of eight. Bitches are more often affected than males. Dachshunds, terriers, poodles and boxers get sick more often, they have a genetic predisposition (disposition) for this disease.

Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone" and is increasingly released into the body in a completely natural way in stressful situations.
The basis for this is a normally functioning hypothalamus (control center of the vegetative nervous system), which produces the corticotrope releasing hormone. This CRH acts on the pituitary gland, the executive organ of the hypothalamus, so to speak, which in turn now forms the adenocorticotropic hormone. ACTH acts on the adrenal cortex, which starts producing cortisol.

Causes of Cushing's Syndrome

  • Pituitary Cushing's syndrome (Cushing's disease) is present in 90% of cases. The main trigger is a (mostly benign) tumor of the pituitary gland, which also produces more ACTH and is therefore responsible for excessive cortisol production.
  • More rarely, the cause is a tumor in the adrenal cortex that produces cortisol in an uncontrolled manner.
  • Cushing's syndrome is also found as a result of drug therapy in which cortisol or ACTH are administered. Here one speaks of an exogenous Cushing's syndrome (produced from the outside through the administration of medication).

How does Cushing's syndrome show up?

There are several signs of Cushing's syndrome. Typically, the affected dog will have two or three symptoms. Not every animal shows the same clinical pictures and the visually perceptible manifestations are also different.

Appetite: significantly increased, up to a downright voraciousness

Thirst: affected animals drink excessively. Accordingly, they have to urinate more frequently, which can lead to incontinence and housekeeping.

Skin and fur: so-called parchment skin develops, the skin can turn dark, be oily and prone to blackheads. A frequently observed symptom is hair loss or very thin fur, especially on the trunk. Fur growth can be delayed and wound healing disorders can occur. A tendency to bruise, increased skin inflammation and fungal infections was also observed.

Muscles: The muscles recede, and animals that used to be agile often become dull.
Sex organs: In males testicular atrophy occurs (testicles shrink), in bitches the heat sets in with a delay or does not occur.

Belly: A so-called trunk obesity develops.

Liver: The liver enlarges.

Skeletal system: Tendency to break bones (osteoporosis) and torn ligaments.

Affected dogs can develop diabetes mellitus (diabetes), the tendency to thrombosis increases (blood clots, can occur in all blood vessels), these can be fatal. Some animals pant more. There may be calcifications in the lungs.

Cushing's syndrome often develops insidiously and for a long time it can be misinterpreted by the animal owner as an effect of the normal aging process.

Diagnosis of Cushing's Syndrome

The diagnosis is made on suspicion on the basis of the apparent symptoms (e.g. changes in the skin / coat, excessively increased appetite, increased thirst or increased urination or incontinence) and is not very easy, because both in Cushing's syndrome and in healthy dogs the cortisol levels fluctuate in the course of the day in a completely normal way.

The safest diagnostic tool is blood tests. These require a certain amount of effort and it may be necessary to leave the dog in the veterinary practice for a few hours.
For the necessary diagnosis in the blood count, two methods are available in which the dog is administered synthetic hormones in a targeted manner. Based on the results, the treating veterinarian can draw appropriate conclusions about the disease. Depending on the procedure, the veterinarian can determine whether the cause of the disease can be seen in a pituitary or adrenal tumor.

Another diagnostic option is to examine several urine samples. The first morning urine is examined here. If there are three positive urine samples - taken on different days - there is a high probability that the dog has Cushing's syndrome.

Therapy of Cushing's Syndrome

Therapy depends on the final result. In some cases, surgery to remove the tumor located on the adrenal cortex is an option. The meaning and success of such an operation depends on the exact location of the tumor. In the case of pituitary and brain tumors, surgical intervention is usually more than problematic.

Drug therapy is used most often. This is required for life.
Regular check-ups together with a check of the cortisol level in the blood are advisable in order to be able to adjust the medication administration accordingly.
The intervals between the necessary therapy controls (blood count) are determined individually by the veterinarian. As a rule, they are required more frequently at the beginning of therapy, and check-ups every three months can be expected in the further course.

If Cushing's syndrome is present due to cortisone therapy, the cortisone-containing drugs are slowly and carefully withdrawn.

Once Cushing's syndrome is recognized, the further life expectancy is very good with appropriate (timely) treatment!

Responsible dog ownership requires a certain amount of observation. Nothing that the beloved four-legged friend shows in his daily behavior happens “just like that”. Often the attentive dog person can provide his four-legged friend with meaningful health care through his observations, which he communicates to the veterinarian, and prevent worse.

With this in mind: keep an eye on your darling!

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© Diana Düpmann

Photo: Diana Düpmann