Cushing’s Disease in Dogs — Signs, Diagnosis And Treatment

When a dog starts drinking more water than usual and peeing more often, it may be a sign that something abnormal is going on. Excessive drinking and urination are symptoms of many different issues, from diabetes to kidney disease, but another concern is Cushing’s disease in dogs, which is also called hyperadrenocorticism.

First, what is Cushing’s disease in dogs?

A beagle or hound dog looking sick and under the weather.

Senior dogs, and certain breeds, like Beagles, have a higher risk for Cushing’s disease. Photography by Igor Normann/Shutterstock.

Cushing’s disease is named for Harvey Cushing, the human neurosurgeon who first described the endocrine disorder in 1912. Dogs with Cushing’s disease have a problem with their adrenal glands, two small glands nestled in front of each kidney. These glands produce important hormones that regulate crucial body functions. With Cushing’s, the glands produce too much of a hormone called cortisol. When the hormones in the body are out of balance, bad things start happening.

“The most striking symptom in Cushing’s disease is excessive urination and concurrently drinking tremendous amounts of water,” says Jeff Grognet, DVM, co-owner of Mid-Isle Veterinary Hospital in Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada. “As the disease progresses, dogs lose muscle, become weak, the skin thins, and you see hair loss on the flanks, neck and perineum [the area around the genitals and rectum].” You might also notice panting, increased hunger and a pot-bellied appearance.

What dogs are at risk for Cushing’s disease?

Cushing’s disease typically affects senior dogs, usually 8 years and older. It’s also seen more frequently in certain breeds, including Beagles, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Dachshunds, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, German Shepherd Dogs, Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers and small terriers.

Cushing’s disease in dogs is caused by one of three things:

  1. A tumor on the pituitary gland at the base of the brain (this gland is responsible for telling the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol). This type of Cushing’s disease is pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH). This is the most common cause of Cushing’s disease in dogs. Sometimes, this form of Cushing’s occurs in younger dogs.
  2. A tumor on the adrenal gland. This type of Cushing’s disease is adrenal-dependent hyperadrenocorticism. Large-breed dogs often have this form of Cushing’s.
  3. Overuse of steroid medications. This type of Cushing’s disease is iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome.

Diagnosing Cushing’s disease in dogs

Unfortunately, Cushing’s disease can be difficult to diagnose, requiring complex tests. If your vet suspects Cushing’s disease in your dog, the first step will be blood and urine tests. If your vet sees anything abnormal on those tests, the next step is usually a special test called an ACTH-stimulation test. For this test, your vet will draw your dog’s blood to check his cortisol levels, then give him an injection of adrenocorticotrophic hormone. A few hours later, your vet will draw your dog’s blood again to test the cortisol another time. If your dog is diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, other tests, including ultrasound, can help your vet discover the cause of the Cushing’s disease, which will determine the treatment.

Treatment of Cushing’s disease in dogs

“More than 90 percent of dogs with Cushing’s disease have a benign pituitary gland tumor,” explains Dr. Grognet, who also operates the ACE Academy for Canine Educators. “Being extremely small and not tending to spread, they don’t cause a physical problem. Most dogs with pituitary-dependent Cushing’s are therefore treated with medication.”

If an adrenal tumor is the cause of your dog’s Cushing’s, your vet will want to run further tests to confirm if the tumor is cancerous or benign (non-cancerous). Surgery to remove an adrenal tumor might be an option. If the tumor is cancerous, the prognosis is poor.

“Once treatment has been initiated, the symptoms of Cushing’s disease slowly dissipate,” Dr. Grognet says. “The first thing is that the drinking falls dramatically. It takes longer for the skin lesions to resolve. The average survival time for a dog with Cushing’s disease is about two years, but this statistic does not mean that Cushing’s causes death. In fact, most dogs die of unrelated disease processes brought on by aging — they are already geriatric when Cushing’s is first diagnosed.”

Thumbnail: Photography by Nailia Schwarz / Shutterstock.

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Home Treatment For a Dog Abscess — If It’s a Visible Skin Abscess

When my Pit Bull Hudson developed an abscess, I didn’t really know what it was. The only kind of “abscess” I’d heard of was the one in my mom’s tooth. So, on the sudden discovery of the swelling in Huddie’s left front leg from shoulder to paw, I frantically jumped online to do research about how to treat a dog abscess at home before heading to the vet. I’ve found that you can often get quicker results with medical issues by searching by image. And there they were — pictures of mostly ruptured dog abscesses which could make the strongest stomach turn.

First, what is a dog abscess?

A dog looking confused or sad.

Yikes! What exactly is a dog abscess? Photography © JZHunt | Thinkstock.

An abscess is a collection of pus that occurs anywhere on your dog’s body. Causes include parasites, bites and bacteria. It’s actually protecting the body by localizing an infection. White blood cells move into the area and collect in the tissue.

You’ll usually see a swelling under the skin; if an abscess has formed on top of the skin or the skin has broken away, you would likely see a red, raised bump. And remember, an abscess is squishy and warm.

Abscesses can be painful, so your dog will let you know — but if you have a dog who is pain-tolerant, such as my Hudson, that may not be a good clue.

Does a dog abscess need to be treated by a vet or other professional?

Talk to your vet to determine whether the abscess can be drained and treated at home or needs to be done at the office. He’ll probably still need to see the abscess and do some tests so he knows what antibiotics to give your dog and discover what is causing the infection. Your dog will need professional treatment if you are not able to be very diligent about keeping things sterile and sanitary, or if it is very large and you cannot drain the abscess on your own. In this case, your vet will make an incision. Surgery may be necessary.

Even if your vet says you can treat the abscess at home, it’s best to have your veterinarian show you how to treat it first before you do it at home by yourself. When your dog has a visible skin abscess, it’s always good to have a complete blood test run. Sometimes samples of the pus will need to be taken to evaluate its cause. Internal abscesses must only be treated by your doctor.

How to treat an abscess on a dog at home

Close up of a dog abscess.

Close up of a dog abscess. Photography by Kelly Pulley.

I had my vet’s blessing to home-treat Hudson, even though his abscess was so huge. Remember that even if you just call your vet or send him pictures, you’ll still need your vet to prescribe a course of antibiotics, which must be finished. (And note that you should always check with your vet first rather than launching into any kind of home medical treatment.)

Home treatment for a dog abscess is likely okay if you are obsessive about making everything sanitary and sterile. Make sure you remember to flush the abscess and apply a wound cream several times a day. Also note that you are not likely to get sick treating the abscess because of the way it looks, feels and smells. Really! We’re talkin’ Essence de Dog Pus here! Often, skin and fur will fall off at first, too, so be sure you can handle that.

Your dog can be easily treated by you if, for example, he’ll let you flush the abscess with saline and stick your finger waaaaaay up into the pocket of the abscess to apply ointment.

Before you begin home treatment for a dog abscess, make sure you have the right tools:

  1. Alcohol. To sterilize your hands whenever you are going to touch the abscess or anything or any area that comes in contact with the abscess’ excretions.
  2. Sterile saline solution. To rinse all those pockets of the abscess.
  3. Wound ointment. My vet gave me an all-natural foam; yours may have a different solution. It also must be sterile.

Follow these instructions for dog abscess home treatment:

  1. Apply pressure and squeeze. If the abscess hasn’t ruptured on its own, apply a warm compress (a towel soaked in warm to hot water) and gently press down and squeeze the abscess. It will probably take quite a few applications to get it to drain depending on the size. Pus will flow like wine when it ruptures, so be sure to have another towel under the abscessed area.
  2. Keep it centered. You may or may not see an accumulation of pus in the center of a pocket. If so, be sure to remove all of this.
  3. Clean like a crazy person. An abscess on a dog should NOT be covered. It has to heal in the same way as a puncture wound, from the inside out. That means as pus continues to emit from the wound, you’ll have to clean up constantly at first.

More tips on treating an abscess on a dog yourself

  1. Follow your vet’s instructions. My vet told me to rinse the abscess twice a day, apply the wound foam once to twice a day, and to make sure Hudson took all of the antibiotic.
  2. Despite all the attention it needs, try not to obsess on the abscess. It takes a long time for an abscess to heal. It’s been a month since I started treating Hudson’s and it’s still got a way to go.
  3. You will get to know this abscess intimately. And don’t let the extreme grossness and shocking nakedness of an abscess deter you from treating it at home. Think of it as another opportunity to bond with your dog.

Tell us: Has your dog ever had an abscess? Did you treat it at home or at the vet? Let us know in the comments!

Thumbnail: Photography by pixbull / Shutterstock.

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