Cushing’s Disease or Hyperadrenocorticism is a common endocrine disease in older dogs. The adrenal gland is located at the top of the kidney and is one of the major glands of body. The adrenal gland produces hormones like cortisol, and adrenalin. It is this gland this responsible for the “automatic” fight or flight response that all mammals feel when stressed. It is also responsible for producing our own natural cortisone. The adrenal gland is under the control of the pituitary gland, a small gland that resides in the base of the brain. A tumor in the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland can cause the gland to produce too much cortisol and then the animal suffers the same effect as if he or she were taking too much cortisone. If the animals suffers from the tumor in the pituitary gland the condition is called Pituitary Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism (PDHA). If the tumor is in the adrenal gland itself it is called Non Pituitary Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism. It is important to differentiate between the two conditions as the treatment for each is different.
Clinical signs for both types are the same: excess drinking and excess urination, excess eating, swollen abdomen and thin skin with loss of undercoat, excess panting, lethargy, hairloss on body but not on legs or head, poor wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infections. Some dogs will show many of these signs and others only one. Cushing’s disease may be suspected with routine blood work but actual diagnosis is difficult and involves a lot of different tests to determine if it truly is Cushing’s disease and if so which type.
Conventional treatment of Cushing’s Disease is dependent on the type. If your dog has an Adrenal tumor then the treatment is surgical removal. This is a dangerous surgery and should only be done by a Board Certified Veterinary Surgeon who has had experience with it. PDHA is treated with drugs that have been used for chemotherapy. The 2 most common treatments are Lysodren (OPDDD) and Trilostane. Both of these drugs have side effects. Lysodren has been around for a number of years and works by killing off the adrenal cells that produce the cortisone. These cells grow back and so after the initial treatment a weekly dose of Lysodren is needed for the animals lifetime. This drug can cause inappetence, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. Dogs on this medication need to be closely monitored. Trilostane has fewer side effects but is quite expensive.
Natural treatments for Cushing’s disease include Chinese herbs, acupuncture and sometimes some Western herbs. However, you need to see a TCVM practitioner–a veterinarian trained in this, holistic medicine or homeopathy as each case is individual and without the proper diagnosis you will not see the proper result. That said you can use some herbs and over the counter medications that may work or support the adrenal glands. In actual fact Western medications just control the disease not cure it and this is the same with herbs. PetWellBeing has a product called Supraglan which works in many cases and is worth a try. Remember your dog should not be treated for Cushing’s Disease unless he is having symptoms–no one should be treating a lab test.