Cushing’s Disease In Dogs, 5 Symptoms, Treatment, and Cost

Cushing’s disease in dogs can cause severe symptoms and health complications that can put your puppy’s longevity at risk. Our Huntersville vet explains what causes Cushing’s disease in dogs, as well as treatments and complications.

What is Cushing’s Disease in dogs?

Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a very serious health condition in dogs. This occurs when the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol (cortisone) in the dog’s body. Excess cortisol can put a puppy at risk of a number of serious conditions and diseases, from life-threatening and can be kidney damage to diabetes.

Dog’s Cushing’s disease is usually caused by a benign or malignant tumor in the pituitary gland, a normal pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain. In some rare cases, the tumor may be located in the adrenal glands located above the kidneys.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome in dogs is caused by excessive cortisol production resulting from prolonged use of steroids.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

A dog with Cushing’s disease can show a variety of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs:

  • Blackheads
  • Drinking more water
  • Firm, irregular plaques on the skin (called calcinosis cutis)
  • Hair loss or poor regrowth
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy
  • Panting
  • Pot-belly appearance
  • Recurrent skin infections
  • Recurrent urinary infections
  • Seborrhea or oily skin
  • Sudden blindness
  • Thin skin
  • Urinary incontinence

Cushing’s Disease Diagnosed in Dogs

Although there is a not only a single test that will diagnose 100% of cases, your pet veterinarian will recommend some combination of the following:

Abdominal ultrasound (can identify changes in adrenal and liver gland enlargement or tumors)

ACTH stimulation test (can have false negatives)

Baseline bloodwork (CBC/Chemistry)

Computerized tomography scan (can detect pituitary tumors)

High-dose dexamethasone suppression test

Tiny-dose dexamethasone suppression test (can be affected by other illnesses)

Urinalysis +/- urine culture (to this rule out urinary tract infections)

Urine cortisol to creatinine ratio

Treatment for Cushing’s Disease in Dogs

Treatment of Cushing’s disease in dogs largely depends on the underlying cause. Treatment options include:

  1. Surgery
  2. Medication
  3. Radiation

If Cushing’s disease is caused by excessive use of steroids, the steroid dosage should be carefully reduced and discontinued. This may result in a relapse of the primary disease, which was originally treated using steroids.


Adrenal tumors and Pituitary can be surgically removed, and if benign, surgery may be curative.


If surgery is not an option for this, medical management with trilostane or mitotane may be followed. These drugs interfere in dogs with the production of cortisol, but very close monitoring is necessary to ensure that adrenal function does not deteriorate too quickly.

Depending on which medication is started, your pet veterinarian will create a plan for monitoring your dog’s blood and reaching the appropriate dosage (this will vary depending on the patient, length of time on the medication, etc. ).

Once the vet has determined the appropriate dosage for your dog, an ACTH stimulation test should be performed every 2 to 6 months or if you notice signs of Cushing’s in your dog beginning to develop again. As adrenal tumors and pituitary progress, they will require increased doses of medication to control symptoms.

When starting medication or changing doses, please be sure to monitor your pet for lethargy, vomiting, loss of appetite, or trouble breathing, and call your vet immediately if any of these symptoms appear.


Radiation treatment for pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease in pups has been shown to improve or eliminate neurological symptoms and improve prognosis, especially when treated early. The median survival time in these dogs’ cases is 744 days.

How Longtime Do Dogs with Cushing’s Disease Live?

The prognosis for pets with Cushing’s disease is dependent on Pituitary versus non-pituitary-dependent Cushing’s and whether the tumor is benign or malignant.

Pituitary Tumors

If caused by a small pituitary tumor in dogs, medical management can provide long-term control with good quality of life. For pituitary tumors-dependent Cushing’s disease, the median survival time for patients treated with either trilostane or mitotane is approximately 2 to two and a half years.

If the pituitary tumor is large and affects the brain and surrounding structures, the prognosis is poor.

Adrenal Tumors

About 50% of adrenal tumors are benign, and normal surgical removal is curative. The other 50% of adrenal tumors are very malignant, especially if they have already metastasized at the time of diagnosis.

The median survival time is approximately 1 year when treated with trilostane. The prognosis is worse in patients dogs with metastasis of the primary tumor, local invasion of vessels, or tumors greater than 5 cm in length.

Can You Prevent Cushing’s Disease in Dogs?

Unfortunately, you cannot prevent Cushing’s disease in dogs if it is caused by an adrenal gland tumor or Pituitary.

However, you can also avoid long-term use of steroids to reduce your risk of developing iatrogenic Cushing’s disease.

Cushing’s disease in dogs Affected Breeds

Cushing's disease in dogs Affected Breeds
Affected Breeds

Cushing’s is more prevalent in these breeds:

Cushing’s disease in dogs Veterinary Cost

Depending on this, the cost of diagnosis may or may not be affordable. The extent to which a dog’s symptoms confuse the doctor. Or a dog may experience a number of related problems. $500 to $1500 is considered typical for a complete diagnosis. (Though the low end of this estimate would not include ultrasound).

Medical treatments can cost as much as $50 per month or as much as $200, depending on the pup’s response to treatment and the drug selected. Frequent bloodletting should also be taken into account to ensure that patients are responding appropriately.

The cost of surgical options such as adrenalectomy or hypophysectomy can be very high because of the need to see a board-certified vet specialist for these complex surgeries. Estimates for these procedures range from $2,500 to $10,000 (the higher end for the more unusual approach to hypophysectomy).

Note: The advice given in this content is for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding dogs. For an accurate diagnosis of your pup’s condition, please make an appointment with your near veterinarian.


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