Cushing's Disease in Dogs
What is Cushing’s Disease (in Dogs)
To put it in over-simplified terms, Cushing’s Disease is a breakdown in communication between the pituitary and adrenal glands.
A dog with Cushing’s Disease is suffering from the body’s lack of control over the release of cortisol, causing extremely high levels of the hormone in the system. This is basically poisoning the dog.
Signs of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs
Cushing’s Disease is very difficult to distinguish from the effects of old age on a dog. Just like a dog of advanced age, a dog with Cushing’s Disease can lose interest in exercise and activity, lose muscle mass, show hind leg and back weakness, display changes in personality, show changes in skin and coat with patchy baldness, have increased thirst and incidences of urinary accidents inside the home, develop a drooping or pot belly and have changes in appetite, usually gaining weight.
An elderly dog can present these symptoms due to allergies, kidney disease, arthritis, CDS or Cognitive Dysfunction Disorder (dementia), degeneration of the immune and nervous systems and heart disease.
A dog with Cushing’s disease can develop pancreatitis, diabetes and seizures as can a dog of advanced age.
Simplified Description of the Functions of the Pituitary and Adrenal Glands
The hormone ACTH is secreted into the bloodstream from the pituitary gland in response to hormones released from the hypothalamus in response to stress. ACTH flows to the adrenal glands and promotes the adrenal glands’ release of cortisol. Cortisol is vital to life. It affects major functions in the body like cardiovascular health, metabolizing fat, blood sugar levels, kidney function, immune response and the body’s response to stress.
ACTH and cortisol levels rise in response to pain, infection, trauma, surgery, cold temperatures and stress. When proper levels of cortisol have been reached, the pituitary gland slows secretion of ACTH. When proper levels of ACTH have been reached, the adrenal glands slow down production of cortisol.
Forms of Cushing’s Disease
There are three forms of Cushing’s Disease, which further complicates diagnosis. The effects on the body are the same, but the causes are entirely different.
The most common cause of Cushing’s Disease is called Pituitary Dependent Hyperadrenocorticism. This is caused by a microscopic tumor on the pituitary gland which overstimulates the release of ACTH. The adrenal glands’ natural response is to release cortisol. The pituitary gland is compromised and does not slow the release of ACTH. The adrenal glands are generally enlarged from the constant production of cortisol. 85% of cases of Cushing’s Disease are this form. This form of Cushing’s disease cannot be cured but can be managed by treatment and medication for the lifespan of the dog.
Adrenal-Based Hyperadrenocorticism is caused by adrenal tumors. These tumors, whether benign or malignant, are causing the affected adrenal gland to produce high levels of cortisol. An equal number of these tumors can be benign or malignant. The malignant tumors can metastasize to the liver and lungs. Surgery is sometimes successful at removing tumors and in the case of benign tumors, the adrenal glands often return to normal function. In the case of malignant tumors, surgery is usually followed up with a round of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, tumors, malignant or benign are not found early. Testing for Cushing’s disease is painstaking, complicated and time consuming. While ruling out one cause after another, some causes escalate the disease beyond control.
The third cause of Cushing’s Disease is Iatrogenic Hyperadrenocorticism and is reversible. It is caused by over exposure to steroidal medications like prednisone, used to treat allergic reactions, symptoms from ear infections and other itching skin conditions. The manner of prescribing these medications is to taper off slowly, due to the risk of infection caused by high levels of steroids compromising the immune system. The original condition that prompted the use of prescription steroids in the first place almost always returns.
Conventional Treatment: The prognosis and effects of Cushing’s disease are often not very good. Testing alone is an expensive, drawn out process. Depending on the form of the disease, treatment, ranging from surgery to permanent dependence on prescription medications can not only be costly, it can also be stressful, painful and difficult for the dog to endure.
Natural Remedies & Treatment Options:
Herbs for Cushing's Disease:
Borage – Has been shown to stimulate the functions of the endocrine systems, restore the adrenal cortex and help eliminate toxins.
Astragalus – Is known to enhance the functioning of the immune system and is also and anti-inflammatory.
Bistorte – In addition to also being an anti-inflammatory, it also acts as a tonic on the kidneys and liver.
Eleuthero – A root know to support the function of the adrenal gland and to increase the function of metabolism.
Wild Yam – Acts as a tonic for the liver and regulates hormone production.
Licorice – Stimulates the adrenals and is an anti-inflammatory.
Dandelion – Is found to be very nutritious and improve digestion and triggers liver secretions.
Superglan by NHV Naturals contains the above herbs.
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