Cushing’s symptoms put pup on treatment roller coaster ride

Last July, Hope (our 10-ish-year-old mixed breed rescue girl) was diagnosed with Cush-ing’s Syndrome — she became a certified “Cushie” — not something to get excited about, but it certainly made her even more special with this chronic condition.

Dogs (or people) with Cushing’s Syndrome produce excessive amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone, due to either a malfunctioning tumor on the pituitary gland or tumor on the adrenal glands located on either side of the kidneys.

Cushing’s is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed endocrine syndromes in older dogs because so many of the symptoms mimic old age or another disease.

Except for the lethargy her symptoms seemed to come on rather quickly even though I’m sure they were building up for some time. She started drinking an excessive amount of water and having excessive and frequent diluted urination, which led us to believe she was exhibiting signs of sugar diabetes.

Cushing’s can produce other troubling symptoms such as thin skin, hair loss or recurrent skin diseases, muscle wastage and excessive panting. It can also have harmful effects on other organs and on the ability of the body to regulate itself if not brought under control.

Cushing’s is sly like that, masking itself as other possible conditions making it a little more difficult to diagnose as quickly.

After all the testing, our vet was able to more confidently point her finger at Cushing’s, based on Hope’s blood work.

Hope, who is approximately 45 pounds, started taking 40 milligrams of Vetoryl, one of a couple medications used to treat Cushing’s.

Hope responded positively almost immediately. Her water consumption decreased, her aggressive appetite eased up, she slimmed down, and her diluted urination output decreased. Hope was doing well.

Then, a few months ago, Hope began losing her fur in clumps. At first, I thought it was another symptom of Cushing’s, which is a very common one with this syndrome, but I think she was just blowing (shedding) her winter coat because she never developed any bald spots and her coat remained normal after shedding.

However, recently, she has plumped up again, (probably water weight) and her thirst and urination output have increased at a rapid rate. It’s time to make an appointment to have her blood work retested and her medication dosages re-evaluated.

I’m guessing we’ll have to readjust the amount of Vetoryl we are giving Hope. I hope this is the worst her symptoms get. I know of a lot of people whose dogs with Cushing’s begin to develop quite severe symptoms. Mixed with old age, the body is no longer strong enough to fight the syndrome the way a younger immune system can.

I fear what we’re going to find out at the vet’s from the blood tests, but we’ll be prepared either way to help Hope deal with her Cushing’s the very best way we can.

The most important thing you can arm yourself with is knowledge about the syndrome and have a good relationship with your veterinarian who can help guide you through all the testing and treatments.

Monitoring a Cushing’s patient is critical as cortisol levels can fluctuate causing symptoms to come and go, increase and worsen.

We’ll keep you updated on Hope’s Cushing’s saga as we learn more.

Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode can be contacted at ahanna@altoonamirror.com.