My Smily Riley. At 13 years old she was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease.
Euthanizing her was not an option for me even though she was pretty far along in the disease.
Thankfully, we spent 1.5 more wonderful years together even after her condition was discovered.
Below is everything I learned from my veterinarian about Cushing’s disease. I hope it helps you.
- What is Cushing's Disease In Dogs?
- Symptoms of Cushing's Disease In Dogs
- What Are The Symptoms Of A Dog Dying With Cushing's?
- Diagnosing And Treating A Dog With Cushing's Disease
- Treatments For Cushing's Disease
- Is My Dog In Pain If They Have Cushing's?
- How Long Does A Dog Live With Cushing's Disease?
- What Are The Final Stages Of Cushing's Disease In Dogs?
- Final Thoughts
So, how do you know when to put a dog down with Cushing’s disease?
My story of failing as a dog mom.
I did not see the signs she was sending letting me know it was time, or maybe I did and just chose to ignore them.
Knowing that pit bulls can live to be about 12-14 years old, I knew we were right there.
I did not want to think we were at the end of her life.
One day I got up to go to the bathroom, she followed behind me and collapsed in the kitchen.
She convulsed, she urinated and began frothing at the mouth.
MY dog, who had battled Cushing’s disease for so long was leaving me…….
I was numb and felt horrible that I let her go this way.
I knew her life was nearing the end and my last minutes with her were gut wrenching, not only for me but for her sister Ginger who saw it all.
While I knew she was going downhill fast and her quality of life was diminishing, I did not hear her signals that it was time.
She was never a clingy dog but those last few weeks she was EXTRA clingy, like she was trying to get my attention to tell me something.
I wish I had listened so she could go with dignity and under a more controlled environment.
RIP Riley and I am sorry I did not listen better girl!
Below are what I have learned about Cushing’s disease in dogs and my thoughts on when it is time to put them down to prevent suffering.
If you have an amazing bond with your dog, you will be able to tell when his mood, behavior or physical characteristics change.
When these changes happen it may be a sign that they are ready, whether you are or not.
Early treatment of Cushing’s disease in dogs may also increase the time you have with your pet, so be sure to get those annual exams and be aware of changes that can be signs of the disease!
What is Cushing’s Disease In Dogs?
Any time you hear a vet or other dog expert using the words hypercortisolism or hyperadrenocorticism, don’t be scared.
These are just the scientific names for Cushing’s disease in dogs.
It is caused by the overproduction or excessive amounts of a hormone known as cortisol.
The cortisol level plays a vital role in a dog’s body.
Some of these include fighting infections, maintaining a healthy weight, and dealing with high levels of stress
Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease In Dogs
The symptoms of Cushing’s disease are:
- Increased appetite and thirst
- Increased urination
- Abdominal distention
- Muscle loss
- Thinning of the skin
- Mild to severe loss of hair
Whenever you notice any of these symptoms of Cushing’s, notify your vet immediately.
You can also check in with a virtual vet to get some feedback before making an in-person appointment.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Dog Dying With Cushing’s?
The symptoms of a dog dying of Cushing’s may be different in each dog.
While my Riley had every symptom listed above, there were a couple that became much more frequent before she passed.
Her muscle loss became more extreme in that last week or two and her abdomen was definitely much larger than ever.
A few days before she passed she actually became VERY clingy, which was not her by nature.
She wanted to be with me every minute she could.
I guess she knew her time was coming and I chose to ignore her signs.
My biggest regret ever.
A few people have asked about their dog vomiting and having diarrhea as signs.
My Riley showed neither of those.
I followed up with my vet who advised those are not typical signs to look for.
Speaking of vets, this can be a costly disease.
Especially when your dog can live a few years with it.
Check out our article on options for getting some help with the vet bills if you need it.
Diagnosing And Treating A Dog With Cushing’s Disease
A visit to your veterinarian should be the first thing you do if you think your dog may have Cushing’s disease.
While there is no one test that will be able to give a proper diagnosis, the vet will use a physical exam and some blood and urine tests to properly diagnose whether Cushing’s is present.
One thing I wish I had done was keep track of all of her tests and medications that we tried in some kind of pet planner.
One thing you will find is that there is a lot going on when trying to make a diagnosis and it can be overwhelming.
You will want to keep track of what is happening!
Commonly used testing procedures:
- ACTH stimulation test
- Urine cortisol
- Low dose dexamethasone suppression
- Blood work tests
- Blood pressure
You should know that once the vet diagnoses this disease, there is no permanent cure.
These tests will help your veterinarian determine whether Cushing’s disease is present and what type they may have.
Typically there are 2 kinds of Cushing’s disease, pituitary dependent and adrenal dependent.
Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s
This type of Cushing’s usually signifies there is a tumor on the adrenal gland.
If your dog has an adrenal tumor growing on the adrenal glands, your vet may suggest abdominal surgery to remove it.
Adrenal tumors as a cause of the disease is rare and affects only about 10% of the dogs treated for the disease.
Pituitary Dependent Cushing’s
This one is the more common type of Cushing’s disease which arises from a growth in the pituitary gland part of the brain.
Pituitary tumors cause an overproduction of the ACTH hormone which then triggers an overabundance of the stress hormone cortisol.
Too much of this stress hormone can weaken the immune system of your dog.
It has been estimated that as many as 90% of dogs with this disease have pituitary tumors.
With early intervention and proper treatment, this type of disease can have a good prognosis with a good quality of life for several more years.
Treatments For Cushing’s Disease
Depending on the type of Cushing’s your dog has been diagnosed with will determine the treatment your vet prescribes.
Unfortunately, the treatments for Cushing’s may not increase the life span of your dog.
This is one of the prescriptions that vets administer to pets with the disease.
It is common and has been in the market since the 1970’s.
You may be interested to know what the drug does, and here it is.
It destroys the adrenal gland up to a level where it ceases to overproduce cortisol.
You should be careful when the vet administers this drug as a treatment of Cushings disease.
If there is an overdose from the drug, it may completely wipe out the adrenal glands, and this may eventually lead to death, which is just one of the serious side effects this drug has.
Trilostane (Can Also Be Known As Vetoryl)
This is a newer treatment that is less risky than Lysodren but more expensive.
Instead of killing the adrenal glands, Trilostane inhibits the production of cortisol.
However, this does not mean that it does not have side effects.
Like any other medication, wrong administration of the drug may cause severe effects including death.
This option has much less serious side effects, but your dog may show some lethargy or a lower appetite while on this drug.
There are also many who swear a change in diet helped their dog with Cushing’s.
When I did my research I found some had tested out fresh dog foods as an option and said their was a difference in the energy level of their dog and some swear it prolonged their lives.
I tried to find research on this, but was unable to come up with anything concrete.
It is recommended to feed your dog a higher protein diet as well as foods that are low in fiber and fat, which can help reduce your dog’s symptoms.
I personally did not do any of this, not because I did not love my dog, but she always had major issues when we changed her diet.
She was 14 years old and already passed her expected life expectancy, I did not want her to have to deal with the discomfort of a new diet.
Frequent trips to the vet after she was diagnosed were part of our plan so she could get check ups and various screening tests so we can see how the disease was progressing.
Is My Dog In Pain If They Have Cushing’s?
Personally speaking my girl did not seem to have any pain or discomfort from Cushing’s and the vet also stated that he does not see my girl in pain at all.
Typically dogs do not experience pain from Cushing’s, so that is a bit of good news.
Her quality of life really stayed good right until the end.
If you do feel like your dog is in pain, maybe they are whining or uncomfortable there are a few things you can try to reduce your dogs pain or stress.
But again, quality of life is everything, so keep on eye on them to look for changes in behavior which can signal some type of pain.
How Long Does A Dog Live With Cushing’s Disease?
There is no definitive answer for how long a dog can live with Cushing’s.
My girl survived for a bit under 2 years after her diagnosis with no treatments.
It will depend on your dogs age, how early you caught it and the general overall health of your pet.
What Are The Final Stages Of Cushing’s Disease In Dogs?
As Cushing’s disease advances, you may notice your dog becoming very weak and lethargic.
They may start to have skin lesions, stop eating and drinking and become less social.
These were all signs that I noticed in my own dog’s final stages before I decided to euthanize, but was too late.
No doubt, this is one of the hardest things you and your canine companion may ever have to deal with.
Losing a family member is an emotional experience and knowing if you are putting them down at the right time, that is even harder.
I hope my story helps you understand better when to put down a dog with Cushing’s disease.
If you are dealing with this my heart and thoughts are with you.
Hug your baby tight, make those last days amazing and let them go with dignity and grace and hugs