I thought of myself as an educated pet owner - I've had pets since I was about nine years old. Many kinds too: you name it, I've had it. I'm familiar with kidney problems in pets and what signs to look for, especially since my cat died in my arms from kidney failure three years ago. I know that dogs can get heartworm if you don't give them their monthly medications. I know about hip displaysia, ad other well-knonwn diseases and health problems. But Canine Cushing's Disease? I didn't know, and never heard of, this disease ... until last week.
Two weeks ago, my 12 year-old shepherd/husky mix had a peeing accident in our bed. She was lying right next to it, like she didn't even realize she did it. What struck me as odd was that the pee had no color to it at all. She also had a funky smell to her breath. Well, because of my cat's kidney failure (and the memory of her funky-smelling breath), I started to panic. My dog has been healthy her whole life! Then the next night, she decided to wake me up at 2 a.m. to let her go out to pee. She's never done that - ever. What's going on here? The next day, I decided to make an appointment for her Senior Wellness exam, where she'd be x-rayed and a complete blood count (CBC) would be done to determine if she had any diseases or other health issues.
The test was done on July 10th. The next day was an excruciatingly emotional one for me - waiting for the test results was taking a mental toll on me. When I didn't hear from the vet by 1:30 p.m., I starting thinking the worst thoughts. Oh my God, is she in the early stages of kidney failure? Is she dying soon? It was too much to take. Then finally, the call came.
"Her numbers are off the charts, blah blah blah, but her kidneys are fine, blah blah blah, we think she may have Cushing's Disease." What? What does that mean? The vet said my dog needs to take an 8-hour test (known as a Low Dose Dexamethasone Suppression Test or LDDST) to confirm whether or not she has Cushing's. Well, she took the test on Monday, July 16th, and needless to say, Tuesday was another day of hell for me just waiting for the test results. The vet called around 4 p.m. and confirmed that yes, my dog does have Cushing's. More than likely, she'll be on medication for the remainder of her life. It's not a curable disease, but thankfully, it is manageable. Once she starts her medication, she'll be back to her normal self.
During this past week, I've done a lot of research about this disease and also joined an online support group dedicated just to this condition. I want to use this recently-acquired knowledge to make people aware of this disease and what the symptoms are so I might be able to help more pet owners out there.
So what exactly is Cushing's Disease? Basically, it's a disease that is caused by a tumor (on either the adrenal or pituitary glands) which causes excess cortisol to be released into the dog's bloodstream. Cortisol is a necessary hormone that helps the body respond to stress ("fight-or-flight"), but in large amounts, it becomes "toxic" to dogs. Unfortunately, people often mistake the symptoms of this disease as being common conditions of the aging process of dogs. This disease is primarily found in dogs, but cats can get it as well.
The following are some of the symptoms to look for (as referenced at
increased/excessive water consumption (polydipsia)
increased/excessive urination (polyuria)
urinary accidents in previously housetrained dogs
increased/excessive appetite (polyphagia)
appearance of food stealing/guarding, begging, trash dumping, etc.
o sagging, bloated, pot-bellied appearance
o weight gain or its appearance, due to fat redistribution
o loss of muscle mass, giving the appearance of weight loss
o bony, skull-like appearance of head
o exercise intolerance, lethargy, general or hind-leg weakness
o new reluctance to jump on furniture or people
o excess panting, seeking cool surfaces to rest on
o symmetrically thinning hair or baldness (alopecia) on torso
o other coat changes like dullness, dryness
o slow regrowth of hair after clipping
o thin, wrinkled, fragile, and/or darkly pigmented skin
o easily damaged/bruised skin that heals slowly
o hard, calcified lumps in the skin (calcinosis cutis)
o susceptibility to infections (especially skin and urinary)
diabetes, pancreatitis, seizures
This disease is common in older dogs (usually around 10 years old), but it has been found in young dogs as well. So knowing the symptoms is key to diagnosing this disease before it progresses. If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms (it only needs to exhibit a few of these symptoms, not all of them), please make sure to have a complete blood count (CBC), LDDST, and other relevant tests performed to determine whether or not your dog has Cushing's.
I hope that I've been able to make you aware of this disease and the signs you need to look for. This disease is not a death sentence for your dog and is treatable the majority of the time (depending on the dog's age and other health issues). Once the diagnosis is made and treatment is started, your dog can have many years of living a happy and healthy life!
Michelle Wood is a handbag designer and founder of Lil' Diva an online retailer of unique and funky handbags
diaper bags, totes, and other related fashion accessory products.
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