Healthy skin and normal hair coat are the result of many factors, both external and internal. There are several glands in the body responsible for the production of hormones that are vital for the regulation of other body functions as well as a normal skin surface and hair coat.
Cushing's Disease results from an overproduction of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands (located next to the kidneys). The pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain) stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cushing's disease may be a result of overproduction by the adrenal glands by themselves or over stimulation of the adrenal glands by the pituitary gland.
Signs associated with Cushing's disease may include increased thirst and urination, a voracious appetite, an enlarged sagging belly, hair loss, lethargy/weakness, panting, and sometimes recurrent infections (skin, urinary, and/or periodontal). Without treatment most dogs will die within one or two years. With treatment, your pet's life can be prolonged. Treatment consists of a medication to control the overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal gland or surgery to remove the abnormal adrenal gland. Which treatment is best depends upon where the problem is in the dog's body (pituitary or adrenal).
DIAGNOSIS: Cushing's disease can be difficult to diagnose, especially in early cases. Tests which may be needed may include complete blood count, chemistry panel, urinalysis, ACTH stimulation test (a 1 to 2 hour test), low dose dexamethasone suppression test (an 8 hour test), a high dose dexamethasone suppression, radiographs, ultrasound, and possibly other tests. The bold print tests are the ones usually needed.
Once a diagnosis of Cushing's disease has been made, your veterinarian will tailor a treatment plan to your pet's specific condition. Once treatment has begun, your dog will need to be reevaluated every 3 to 6 months since most dogs will require adjustments in their medication dosages. Remember we are controlling a disease, not curing it and therefore rechecks are in the best interest of your dog.