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Everything to Know About Cushing’s Disease and Your Dog

Cushing’s Disease, also known as Cushing’s Syndrome and hyperadrenocorticism, is a condition that causes a dog’s adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol. This is caused by either a tumor in the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland. Too much cortisol lowers a dog’s immune system, predisposing them to infectious diseases. It also causes muscular weakness, weight gain, and increased drinking and urination and can leave dogs at a greater risk for other health conditions as well. 

 Most dogs with Cushing’s Disease are over the age of 6 when they are diagnosed, although the condition can impact younger dogs as well. Cushing’s can impact cats as well, but it’s less common in cats. 

Cushing’s is more common in females than males. While Cushing’s can affect any dog, there are specific breeds prone to developing Cushing’s Disease, including:

  • Dachshund
  • Beagle
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Miniature Poodle

Cushing’s Disease: Signs and Symptoms

One of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s is excessive thirst and more frequent urination. Both symptoms can be indicators of many different canine health problems, which can make diagnosing hyperadrenocorticism more difficult. Common signs of Cushing’s include:

  • Eating more
  • Drinking more water than usual or drinking more often
  • Frequent peeing
  • Hair loss
  • Sleeping more often
  • Bruising easily
  • Noticeable weakness in legs
  • A visible potbelly

Animals with CD can experience a thinning of the skin as well. Diagnosing the condition early is important but can be a lengthy process as many symptoms develop over a year. Pet parents should be aware that dogs with Cushing’s are also at risk for developing diabetes, kidney problems, pancreatitis, blood clots, and high blood pressure. 

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Does Cushing’s Disease cause hind leg weakness in dogs?

Hind leg weakness in dogs with Cushing’s Disease is common. In Cushing’s excessive cortisol causes muscles to weaken which can make it difficult for a dog with Cushing’s to stand up unassisted or climb the stairs. In some cases, a dog with Cushing’s can experience paw knuckling, especially in their back legs, and may also walk with stiff legs.

Changes in a dog’s mobility and leg strength can occur with any number of canine mobility conditions, including getting older. Although muscle loss and hind leg weakness are common in dogs with CD, you will need to speak with your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. 

Are Dogs in Pain?

Most dogs with Cushing’s are not in any pain and their symptoms can be easily managed through medication. Dogs that have developed the condition due to a tumor on the adrenal gland may require the tumor to be surgically removed as these tumors are aggressive.

Luckily, most dogs with Cushing’s can be treated with very few side effects and remain pain-free. Once diagnosed with Cushing’s your dog will need to be monitored closely to watch for signs of any other health issues that may develop. 

Dogs with Cushing’s heal slower than a healthy dog would. If your dog is injured or unwell, expect a longer recovery period and a need for increased vigilance during the healing period for any complications or pain.

Does Cushing’s Cause Blindness in Dogs?

Dogs with Cushing’s Syndrome are at an increased risk for going blind. A side effect of this condition includes immunodeficiencies that lead to a high risk of corneal disease. Both conditions can cause a dog to lose their eyesight. There are similarities and correlations between dogs with Cushing’s and dogs experiencing sudden blindness from SARDS. The main difference between the two is that there are some treatments available for dogs with Cushing’s, whereas SARDS has no known cure.

The Early Stages: What You Need to Know

At the earliest stages of the disease, the signs of Cushing’s Syndrome are very easy to misdiagnose as the normal signs of aging. The symptoms of CD develop slowly, it can take as long as a year for the symptoms to become noticeable. Early signs of Cushing’s Disease often include drinking more water, peeing more, and weakening back legs. A dog may experience one or more of these symptoms and the change can be insignificant at the beginning.

Pay attention to any change in your dog’s behavior. Don’t assume that your dog is sleeping more just because they’re older. Note changes in your dog’s routine and keep your veterinarian informed.

What to Expect If Your Dog Has Cushing’s Disease

If your dog has developed Cushing’s due to steroid administration, the good news is that once you stop giving steroids, the signs resolve. In most cases, however, Cushing’s Disease is a chronic, progressive disease, which means it will worsen over time. Luckily, the disease progresses slowly. If your dog has pituitary-dependent Cushing’s, there is no cure available, only medical management, which means that pet owners need to understand that some forms of Cushing’s are a long-term condition that will require regular medical care over the remainder of your dog’s life.

Medication will usually not cure your dog, but it will help manage their symptoms. Some of the newer medications available have a very low incidence of side effects, and in some cases, after extended administration, require lower doses, or in a best-case scenario, your dog may be able to cease medications after a couple of years – it all depends on the dog. If your dog is under treatment for Cushing’s disease, follow all instructions from your veterinarian regarding patient follow-up and monitoring. This is important because the dosage may need to be adjusted. It is also important to watch your dog’s symptoms and check for signs that their health is deteriorating or their symptoms are worsening, and call your veterinarian if that happens.

What is the Life Expectancy for a Dog with Cushing’s Disease?

Statistically, dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease do experience a shorter lifespan. Because Cushing’s Syndrome lowers a dog’s natural immunity, they are at a greater risk for developing other health conditions that can impact a dog’s life span. However, with newer treatments available, dogs that are diagnosed with Cushing’s and treated appropriately are enjoying longer and better lives than ever – yay science! Since Cushing’s is most common amongst senior dogs, in many cases the dog passes from old age, not the disease itself.

Dr. Sarah J. Wooten DVM, CVJ's Profile Picture

Guest Author:
Dr. Sarah J. Wooten DVM, CVJ

Dr. Sarah J. Wooten DVM, CVJ is a small animal veterinarian, writer, public speaker, and established leader in veterinary medicine. Her passion in writing and speaking from the heart on client communication and service.

Did we answer all your questions on "Cushing's Disease"?


  1. My dog has been diagnosed with Cushings and he was started on Vetoryl and developed diarrhea. I stopped the meds for a couple of days and diarrhea got better. We resumed meds at a lower dosage and the diarrhea is back

  2. My dog has also been diagnosed with cushings and the vetoryl made him worse. Unfortunately vetoryl is the only legal medication in the UK

    Get in touch. Would be great to speak to someone in the same position

  3. My Shitzu poodle mix developed Cushing’s disease about a month ago&went blind were giving her minotine liquid from Vet&her blindness isn’t getting any better & it’s so heartbreaking to see her that way she was so active&now all she does is sleep &just lay around is there anything else we can do for her blindness would appreciate some feedback please

  4. Vetoryl dose it affect dogs appetite. Giving my dog 50mg. 25 in am 25 in pm. Now she’s dosen’t want to eat much. And now has loose stools. She’s a 9 and 1/2 choc lab.
    Shes had skin infections, ear infection. The vet bills are killing me.
    I do I know if the ear infection is back.
    Her balance is off again but the vet said ears look good last ck up. She was on ears antibiotics drops for 2 weeks.
    Please help. This diease is horrible. Us dog parents need more options

    • Hi Michele,

      I’m so sorry to hear about everything your Chocolate Lab is going through. Cushing’s Disease is an incredibly challenging diagnosis for the pet and pet parent, I would recommend speaking to your vet and ask what additional resources may be available to you and your dog. There are many organizations available that help support pet parents with financial aid and guidance, here is a list of just a few that might be able to help: There are also many support groups of pet parents on social media for specific health conditions, and it can be really helpful to have a group of others to go to for advice and support, I would highly recommend it!

  5. My dog Foxylyn is 10 years old Pomeranian Corgi mix, she was diagnosed with Cushings and has been on Vetoryl for almost two months, her dry skin, dandruff, frequent urination, excessive water drinking, insatiable eating habits have gotten better however her weight is still on the high side. About a week ago she started developing raised good sized bumps on her back, neck and head… could this be a side affect from Cushings or medication? And will her weight start to drop?

  6. I have. a 10-year-old female treeing walker coonhound. She was recently diagnosed with Cushing’s and started on vetoryl. She seems to be tolerating the medication well and is scheduled for follow-up lab work. She has been getting aggressive with the other dog in the house that happens to be her mother.
    The periods of aggression can be due to her mother trying to climb in the bed when she’s in it or coming in the same room that she is in. Prior to this they had only been around her mother going near the 10-year-old’s food or water bowl. Any suggestions on how to manage this new behavior would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • Hi Denise, I would start with by talking to your veterinarian. A change in behavior can be caused by any number of things, and they’ll be able to guide you in the right direction.

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