Recognizing the End Stage Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Cushing’s Disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is a condition where a dog’s body produces too much cortisol, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s metabolic processes. This overproduction could be due to a benign tumor in the adrenal or pituitary gland or long-term steroid use.

The Progression of Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s Disease is progressive, meaning it worsens over time if left untreated. However, the disease’s progression varies with each dog, making it difficult to provide a precise timeline for its stages. Nevertheless, the disease generally manifests initially through noticeable physical changes and behavioral alterations.

End-Stage Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

While the early and middle stages of Cushing’s Disease may present more subtle symptoms such as increased thirst and urination, increased hunger, and excessive panting, the end-stage symptoms become more severe and are often distressing to witness.

Physical Changes

As Cushing’s Disease progresses, dogs may experience significant physical changes. These may include:

  1. Muscle Weakness: A dog’s body starts to deteriorate, leading to generalized muscle weakness, particularly in the hind legs. You may notice your dog having difficulty standing up or climbing stairs.
  2. Hair Loss and Skin Conditions: Dogs with Cushing’s often experience hair loss, primarily on the body’s main parts. Their skin might also become thin and bruise easily, and wounds may take longer to heal.
  3. Abdominal Distention: The dog’s belly might appear swollen or distended due to enlarged liver or accumulation of fat in the abdominal area.
  4. Weight Gain: Despite the potential loss of muscle mass, dogs with end-stage Cushing’s disease often gain weight due to increased appetite and changes in metabolism.

Behavioral Changes

As the disease progresses, your dog may exhibit several behavioral changes such as:

  1. Lethargy: Dogs may become less active, displaying noticeable tiredness and lack of energy.
  2. Increased Thirst and Urination: Dogs with Cushing’s disease often drink and urinate more than usual. This could lead to house soiling accidents.
  3. Decreased Mobility: Due to muscle weakness and potential joint pain, your dog might show decreased mobility.
  4. Changes in Appetite: While increased appetite is a common symptom, in the end stages, your dog may lose interest in food.

The Complications of Cushing’s Disease

As Cushing’s Disease progresses to its later stages, several complications may arise due to excessive cortisol’s systemic effects on the body. These complications may present as independent disorders but are often connected to the underlying condition of Cushing’s Disease.

1. Neurological Abnormalities

Excessive cortisol levels can result in neurological symptoms in dogs. Your canine companion may exhibit signs such as pacing, restlessness, or even confusion. As the condition progresses, these symptoms may worsen, leading to episodes of uncoordinated movement or bouts of unexplained aggression.

2. Increased Susceptibility to Infections

With elevated cortisol levels, your dog’s immune system response is suppressed, making them more susceptible to infections. This might manifest as recurring skin infections, urinary tract infections, or even respiratory tract infections. These infections might also be more challenging to treat and may take longer to resolve due to the dog’s compromised immune response.

3. Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is another complication seen in dogs with Cushing’s Disease. The excess cortisol results in an increase in blood pressure, which, if left unchecked, can result in additional health complications like damage to the heart, kidneys, and other vital organs.

4. Diabetes

In some dogs, Cushing’s Disease can lead to the development of diabetes mellitus. The excess cortisol impedes insulin function, leading to high blood sugar levels. Signs of diabetes in dogs include increased thirst and urination, weight loss despite a good appetite, and potentially vision problems or cataracts.

5. Gastrointestinal Problems

Cushing’s Disease can also affect a dog’s digestive system. Some dogs may experience vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. In some cases, there might be the presence of blood in the stool, which warrants immediate veterinary attention.

Mitigating the Impact of Cushing’s Disease

While the progression of Cushing’s Disease cannot be completely halted, there are ways to manage these symptoms and improve your pet’s quality of life.

  1. Medication: Treatment for Cushing’s Disease often involves medication to control the production of cortisol. Your veterinarian will decide on the most suitable treatment plan based on your pet’s health status.
  2. Regular Check-ups: Frequent veterinary examinations are crucial for dogs with Cushing’s Disease. Regular check-ups allow for early detection of any complications and timely adjustment of treatment protocols.
  3. Diet and Exercise: A balanced diet and regular, gentle exercise can help maintain your dog’s overall health and alleviate some symptoms of Cushing’s Disease. Specific dietary changes may also be recommended by your veterinarian based on your dog’s condition.
  4. Comfort and Care: Above all, providing a comfortable, stress-free environment and showing patience and care can go a long way in managing your pet’s symptoms and maintaining their quality of life.


The end stages of Cushing’s Disease in dogs can be a challenging and distressing time for both the dog and the owner. However, understanding the symptoms can allow you to better care for your pet during this difficult period. Remember, each dog’s experience with Cushing’s Disease is unique, so the progression and symptoms can vary. It’s crucial to maintain regular communication with your veterinarian to understand your pet’s condition better and manage their symptoms effectively. Ultimately, your support and care can help maintain your furry friend’s quality of life during their battle with Cushing’s Disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How painful is Cushing’s Disease for dogs?

A: Cushing’s Disease itself is not usually painful for dogs. However, its symptoms can lead to discomfort and reduced quality of life. For instance, recurrent skin infections, muscle weakness, excessive thirst, and urination can all lead to discomfort for your pet. Moreover, complications like hypertension and diabetes can cause other health issues that may result in pain or discomfort.

Q: What causes death in dogs with Cushing’s Disease?

A: While Cushing’s Disease itself is typically not fatal, its complications can be life-threatening. Prolonged high cortisol levels can lead to a range of health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, kidney damage, or infections. In some cases, the presence of adrenal or pituitary tumors, often associated with Cushing’s Disease, can also cause severe health issues leading to death.

Q: Can Cushing’s Disease in dogs be cured?

A: While there is no absolute cure for Cushing’s Disease, it can be managed effectively with proper treatment. Treatment generally involves medication to regulate cortisol production and relieve symptoms. In some cases, surgery might be an option to remove adrenal tumors. Each dog responds differently to treatment, and regular veterinary check-ups are crucial to monitor progress and adjust the treatment plan as necessary.

Q: How can I help my dog with Cushing’s Disease at home?

A: In addition to following your vet’s prescribed treatment plan, there are several ways you can help your dog at home. Maintain a consistent routine to provide a sense of security and reduce stress. Regular, gentle exercise can help to maintain muscle strength. Additionally, provide a balanced, nutritious diet that meets the specific needs of your dog’s condition. Always ensure your dog has access to fresh water to help manage increased thirst. Regular grooming can help to keep the skin and coat healthy, and monitor for any signs of skin infection.

Q: How long can a dog live with Cushing’s Disease?

A: The prognosis for dogs with Cushing’s Disease varies significantly, depending on the severity of the disease and the dog’s overall health. With appropriate management, dogs can live for several years after a diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease. However, it’s important to note that older dogs or those with other health conditions may have a shorter lifespan.

Q: Can a dog’s Cushing’s Disease symptoms come and go?

A: Generally, the symptoms of Cushing’s Disease do not come and go but progressively worsen over time without appropriate treatment. However, some symptoms, such as increased thirst and urination, may seem to vary in intensity. Any changes in symptoms should be reported to your veterinarian to ensure optimal disease management.

Q: What diet should a dog with Cushing’s Disease have?

A: Nutrition plays a crucial role in managing Cushing’s Disease in dogs. A diet low in fat and high in fiber is generally recommended. This helps to manage weight, as obesity can exacerbate the symptoms of Cushing’s Disease. A high-fiber diet also aids in controlling blood sugar levels, particularly important for dogs that develop diabetes as a complication. Specific diet recommendations may depend on other health conditions your pet has, so consult your vet for a tailored diet plan.

Q: Can Cushing’s Disease cause seizures in dogs?

A: While not a common symptom, Cushing’s Disease can sometimes lead to neurological issues, including seizures, especially if a pituitary tumor is present. This is more likely to occur in cases of uncontrolled Cushing’s Disease. If your dog is experiencing seizures, it’s crucial to seek immediate veterinary care.

Q: Are there natural treatments for Cushing’s Disease in dogs?

A: Some pet owners are interested in natural or holistic approaches to manage Cushing’s Disease. While there’s no definitive natural cure for the condition, certain supplements, like melatonin or lignans from flaxseed, may help manage symptoms. However, these should always be used under the guidance of a veterinarian and should not replace traditional treatments without veterinary approval.

Q: Can Cushing’s Disease affect a dog’s eyesight?

A: While Cushing’s Disease doesn’t directly affect eyesight, it can lead to complications that cause vision problems. For instance, one of the complications, diabetes, can result in cataracts, leading to blurry vision or even blindness if left untreated. Regular eye examinations are therefore essential for dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease.

Q: What should I do if I suspect my dog has Cushing’s Disease?

A: If your dog exhibits symptoms such as excessive thirst and urination, increased appetite, hair loss, or a pot-bellied appearance, it’s important to consult a veterinarian. They can conduct appropriate tests to diagnose Cushing’s Disease or rule it out. If your dog is diagnosed, the vet can then guide you on a suitable treatment plan.

Q: Can Cushing’s Disease in dogs be prevented?

A: As Cushing’s Disease is typically caused by the body’s natural reaction to certain conditions, such as the presence of a tumor in the pituitary or adrenal gland, it can’t truly be prevented. However, regular vet check-ups can lead to early detection and management of the disease, reducing its impact on your dog’s overall health and quality of life.

Q: Is Cushing’s Disease in dogs contagious?

A: No, Cushing’s Disease in dogs is not contagious. It is a condition caused by the body’s overproduction of the hormone cortisol, typically as a result of a tumor in the pituitary or adrenal glands. This means it cannot be transmitted to other animals or humans.

Q: Is excessive panting a sign of Cushing’s Disease in dogs?

A: Yes, excessive panting can be a symptom of Cushing’s Disease in dogs. This is due to the overproduction of cortisol, which can affect the body’s metabolic and cardiovascular functions, causing panting. However, excessive panting can also be a sign of other health issues, so it is important to seek veterinary advice if you notice this symptom in your dog.

Q: Are there breed predispositions for Cushing’s Disease in dogs?

A: Certain dog breeds appear to be more prone to developing Cushing’s Disease. These breeds include Dachshunds, Boxers, Poodles, Beagles, Boston Terriers, and Yorkshire Terriers, among others. However, Cushing’s Disease can occur in any dog breed.

Q: Does Cushing’s Disease cause muscle weakness in dogs?

A: Yes, muscle weakness, especially in the hind legs, can be a symptom of Cushing’s Disease in dogs. This is due to the excess cortisol, which can lead to muscle wasting over time. Dogs with this condition may have difficulty climbing stairs or jumping up onto furniture.

Q: Is incontinence a symptom of Cushing’s Disease in dogs?

A: While Cushing’s Disease does not directly cause incontinence, its symptoms can indirectly lead to it. The condition often leads to excessive drinking and urination. Therefore, if your dog can’t go outside or to the toilet frequently enough, it may lead to incontinence.

Q: How often should a dog with Cushing’s Disease see the vet?

A: After initial diagnosis and treatment start, your vet will likely want to see your dog every few months to monitor the disease and adjust treatment as necessary. However, if your dog’s symptoms change or worsen, you should contact your vet immediately. Every dog is different, so the frequency of vet visits may vary based on your dog’s specific condition and overall health.

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