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Canine Cushing's Syndrome: A Comprehensive Guide and the Role of Acupressure


hound dog looking at you without cushings

Canine Cushing's Syndrome, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is a hormonal disorder that affects dogs, primarily in their middle to senior years. This condition arises when the adrenal glands produce an excess of cortisol, a stress hormone. The overproduction of cortisol can lead to a cascade of physiological imbalances, affecting various organ systems in dogs. Common causes include pituitary tumors or adrenal gland tumors, and the symptoms can be subtle, making early detection crucial for effective management..


The primary aim of this blog is to serve as a comprehensive resource for dog owners seeking information about Canine Cushing's Syndrome. In addition to shedding light on the symptoms, diagnosis, and conventional treatment options, we will delve into the realm of alternative therapies, with a special focus on acupressure.


While traditional veterinary care plays a crucial role in managing Cushing's, the growing interest in holistic and complementary approaches has led many dog owners to explore options beyond medication. Acupressure, a non-invasive technique rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, has shown promise in alleviating symptoms associated with Cushing's Syndrome. This blog will provide insights into the principles of acupressure, its potential benefits, and practical guidance on incorporating this holistic modality into your dog's care regimen.


Join us on this informative journey, as we navigate the complexities of Canine Cushing's Syndrome and discover how alternative therapies like acupressure can contribute to the holistic well-being of our beloved canine companions.


Canine Cushing's Syndrome: An In-Depth Look

Canine Cushing's Syndrome is a complex endocrine disorder characterized by the excessive production of cortisol, a hormone crucial for various bodily functions. This overproduction is often triggered by abnormalities in the pituitary gland or adrenal glands. The two primary causes are:

dog diagram of pituitary and adrenal glands
Photo credit: Wellness Veterinary Hospital & Diagnostics Centre
  1. Pituitary-Dependent Cushing's (PDH): This form occurs when a tumor develops in the pituitary gland, leading to an overstimulation of the adrenal glands. The pituitary tumor prompts increased secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which, in turn, stimulates cortisol production.

  2. Adrenal-Dependent Cushing's (ADH): In this case, a tumor develops directly in one or both adrenal glands, causing them to produce excess cortisol independently of pituitary control.


Understanding these causes is crucial for veterinarians to tailor treatment approaches effectively, as the management of Cushing's Syndrome may vary based on its origin.


Breeds Most at Risk

While this condition can affect dogs of any breed, some breeds appear to be more commonly affected. Breeds that are often considered at higher risk for developing Cushing's Syndrome include:

poodles are at risk of cushings disease
  • Poodles: Miniature and toy Poodles, in particular, are reported to have an increased susceptibility to Cushing's Syndrome.

  • Dachshunds: This breed has been observed to be more prone to developing Cushing's, especially those with hyperadrenocorticism caused by adrenal tumors.

  • Boston Terriers: Some studies suggest that Boston Terriers may have an increased risk of developing Cushing's Syndrome.

  • Boxers: Boxers are among the breeds where Cushing's Syndrome is more commonly diagnosed.

  • Yorkshire Terriers: Small breeds, including Yorkshire Terriers, are sometimes reported to be at a higher risk.


It's important to note that while certain breeds may have a higher predisposition, Cushing's Syndrome can occur in dogs of any breed or mixed breed.


Genetic factors may play a role in the predisposition of certain breeds, but the exact cause of Cushing's Syndrome can vary, including pituitary or adrenal tumors. Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring for symptoms are crucial for early detection and management of the condition, especially in breeds with higher susceptibility. If you have a dog of a breed known to be at risk, it's advisable to discuss proactive monitoring with your veterinarian.


Other Risk Factors

Beyond breed predisposition, several other factors contribute to the likelihood of Canine Cushing's Syndrome, shedding light on the complexity of this endocrine disorder.

intact male dogs are higher risk of cushings
  • Age: Cushing's Syndrome is frequently associated with aging. While it can occur at any age, it is more commonly diagnosed in middle-aged to older dogs. The risk tends to increase as dogs progress into their senior years.

  • Sex: While Cushing's Syndrome can affect both male and female dogs, some studies suggest a slightly higher incidence in females. The reasons for this gender disparity are not fully understood, but hormonal influences may play a role.

  • Neuter Status: The correlation between neuter status and the development of Cushing's Syndrome is an area of ongoing research. Some studies suggest that intact (non-neutered) dogs may have a slightly higher risk. Hormonal influences, particularly related to sex hormones, are believed to contribute to this association.

  • Underlying Health Conditions: Dogs with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes mellitus or certain adrenal conditions, may have an increased susceptibility to Cushing's Syndrome. Understanding the interplay between these conditions is crucial for comprehensive veterinary care.

  • Environmental Factors: While the influence of environmental factors on Cushing's Syndrome is not fully elucidated, exposure to certain environmental toxins or chronic stress may contribute to the development or exacerbation of the condition. Research in this area is ongoing.


Age Distribution

The typical age at which Canine Cushing's Syndrome is diagnosed can vary, but it is more frequently identified in senior dogs. Dogs between the ages of 6 and 9 years old are often within the age range when Cushing's becomes more apparent. However, it's crucial to note that cases have been documented in younger dogs as well. Regular veterinary check-ups become increasingly important as dogs age to monitor and detect any potential health issues, including Cushing's Syndrome, in their early stages.


Common Symptoms and Signs of Cushing's

Early detection of Canine Cushing's Syndrome is paramount in ensuring the well-being of our furry companions. Canine Cushing's Syndrome manifests through a range of symptoms, some of which can be subtle and easily overlooked. Common signs include:

  • Excessive Thirst and Urination: Dogs with Cushing's often display increased thirst and urination. This can lead to frequent bathroom breaks and water consumption.

  • Increased Panting: Excessive panting, especially when not associated with physical exertion or warm weather, may be a symptom of Cushing's.

  • Potbelly and Weight Gain: Abdominal distention, often referred to as a "potbelly," can occur along with unexplained weight gain, even with a decreased appetite.

  • Lethargy and Muscle Weakness: Dogs with Cushing's may exhibit reduced activity levels, lethargy, and weakness in the muscles.

  • Skin and Coat Changes: Skin abnormalities such as thinning, bruising, and a predisposition to infections may occur. Hair loss, particularly along the trunk, is also common.

  • Increased Appetite: Some dogs may experience an increase in appetite, leading to overeating and weight gain.

  • Bruising and Fragile Skin: The skin may become thin and prone to bruising, and wounds may take longer to heal.

  • Behavioral Changes: Changes in behavior, including irritability or restlessness, may be observed.

  • Urinary Tract Infections: Dogs with Cushing's may be more susceptible to urinary tract infections due to increased urine production.

dog with cushings disease diagram of symptoms
Photo credit: Rangiora Vet Centre

It's essential for pet owners to be vigilant and consult with a veterinarian if they observe any of these symptoms in their dogs. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve the prognosis and quality of life for dogs with Canine Cushing's Syndrome.


Diagnosing Canine Cushing's

Diagnosing Canine Cushing's Syndrome involves a thorough examination by a veterinarian and may include the following steps:

x-ray of a dogs brain showing pituitary gland enlargement
Photo credit: AVMA Publications
  • Clinical Observation: The veterinarian will begin by examining the dog's overall health and noting any visible symptoms. This may include changes in coat quality, skin condition, body weight, and overall demeanor.

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests are crucial for assessing cortisol levels. The Low-Dose Dexamethasone Suppression Test (LDDST) and the ACTH Stimulation Test are commonly employed to measure cortisol concentrations and determine the type of Cushing's (pituitary-dependent or adrenal-dependent).

  • Urinalysis: Analyzing the dog's urine can provide additional insights into cortisol levels and help confirm the diagnosis. Increased cortisol levels in urine may suggest Cushing's Syndrome.

  • Imaging Studies: X-rays and ultrasound examinations are often conducted to visualize the size and condition of the adrenal glands. This helps identify the presence of tumors or abnormalities.

  • Additional Tests: In some cases, additional tests such as an abdominal ultrasound or an endogenous plasma ACTH concentration test may be recommended to further refine the diagnosis.


It's important for pet owners to work closely with their veterinarian to understand the diagnostic process and any necessary follow-up steps. Left untreated, Cushing's can lead to serious complications such as diabetes, hypertension, and muscle weakness. Timely diagnosis allows for a proactive approach to managing the condition and can significantly improve the quality and length of a dog's life.


Traditional Treatment Options and Their Limitations

When it comes to managing Canine Cushing's Syndrome, veterinarians often employ traditional treatment options that aim to regulate cortisol levels and alleviate symptoms. Two commonly prescribed medications are mitotane (Lysodren) and trilostane (Vetoryl). While these medications can effectively manage symptoms, they may come with potential side effects and lifelong administration. Additionally, they may not address the underlying cause, especially in cases of adrenal tumors.

  1. Mitotane (Lysodren): Mitotane is an adrenal cytotoxic agent that selectively targets and destroys cells in the adrenal cortex, thereby reducing the production of cortisol. This medication is often administered in a phased approach, starting with an induction phase followed by a maintenance phase. Regular monitoring, including blood tests to assess cortisol levels, is crucial during treatment to adjust the dosage and ensure the dog's well-being.

  2. Trilostane (Vetoryl): Trilostane is another medication commonly used to manage Canine Cushing's Syndrome. It works by inhibiting an enzyme involved in cortisol production. Like mitotane, trilostane requires careful dosage adjustment based on the dog's response. Ongoing monitoring, including regular blood tests and clinical evaluations, is essential to fine-tune the treatment plan and address any potential side effects.


Proper management involves a combination of conventional treatments, lifestyle adjustments, and, increasingly, exploration of complementary therapies. As responsible pet owners, understanding the nuances of Canine Cushing's Syndrome empowers us to make informed decisions about our dogs' health and well-being


Ongoing Monitoring

dog at the vet for Cushings disease check up
  • Regular Blood Tests: Dogs undergoing treatment for Cushing's Syndrome require regular blood tests to monitor cortisol levels and assess the effectiveness of the medication. These tests help veterinarians adjust the dosage to maintain cortisol within the desired range.

  • Clinical Evaluations: In addition to blood tests, clinical evaluations are essential. Veterinarians assess the dog's overall health, monitor for changes in symptoms, and address any potential side effects of the medications. This comprehensive approach ensures a holistic understanding of the dog's response to treatment.

  • Adjustment of Medication Dosage: Treatment plans are dynamic, and medication dosages may need to be adjusted based on the dog's individual response and any changes in symptoms. Regular veterinary visits provide an opportunity to fine-tune the approach for optimal management.

  • Lifestyle Considerations: While medications play a crucial role, lifestyle considerations such as a balanced diet, exercise, and stress management remain integral. These factors contribute to the overall well-being of the dog and can complement the effects of conventional treatments.


Understanding the nuances of conventional treatment options and the importance of ongoing monitoring empowers pet owners to actively participate in their dog's care. Collaborative efforts between veterinarians and pet owners ensure a comprehensive approach to managing Canine Cushing's Syndrome and enhancing the quality of life for affected dogs.



Acupressure: A Holistic Approach to Canine Cushing's Management

In recent years, holistic and alternative therapies have gained popularity in the realm of veterinary care, with acupressure emerging as a promising option for managing various health conditions, including Canine Cushing's Syndrome. Acupressure is a non-invasive technique rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, focusing on stimulating specific points on the body to promote healing and balance energy flow.


As a complementary therapy, acupressure works in harmony with traditional veterinary medicine, aiming to enhance the overall well-being of dogs by addressing not only the symptoms but also the underlying imbalances contributing to their health issues. This blog explores the principles and benefits of acupressure, offering dog owners a holistic perspective on managing Canine Cushing's.


Understanding the Principles of Acupressure in Dogs

canine acupressure can help prevent cushings and ease the symptoms caused by cushings

Acupressure operates on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which views the body as a network of interconnected energy pathways known as meridians. These meridians conduct vital energy, or Chi, throughout the body, influencing the overall health and balance of an individual. Acupressure points are specific locations along these meridians where Qi can be influenced.


In dogs, acupressure involves the application of gentle pressure to these specific points using fingers, thumbs, or specialized tools. By stimulating these points, acupressure aims to release blockages, improve energy flow, and promote the body's natural healing mechanisms. This approach is non-invasive, safe, and can be easily performed by pet owners after proper instruction.


Benefits of Acupressure for Canine Cushing's Syndrome

  • Stress Reduction: Acupressure has been shown to have a calming effect on dogs, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Given that stress can exacerbate symptoms of Canine Cushing's, acupressure may contribute to a more relaxed and comfortable state for affected dogs.

  • Supporting Adrenal Function: Specific acupressure points are believed to influence the adrenal glands directly. By stimulating these points, acupressure may play a role in optimizing adrenal function and mitigating the overproduction of cortisol associated with Cushing's Syndrome.

  • Improving Circulation: Acupressure can enhance blood circulation throughout the body, promoting the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to cells. Improved circulation may aid in the overall health of organs affected by Cushing's, such as the liver and kidneys.

  • Alleviating Specific Symptoms: Acupressure can target specific symptoms associated with Canine Cushing's, such as skin and coat issues, muscle weakness, and digestive disturbances. Tailoring acupressure sessions to address individual symptoms allows for a more comprehensive approach to management.


By incorporating acupressure into the care regimen for dogs with Cushing's Syndrome, pet owners have the opportunity to actively participate in their furry friends' well-being and potentially enhance the effectiveness of traditional treatments. In the following sections, we will explore specific acupressure points and practical guidelines for integrating this holistic approach into the overall management plan for Canine Cushing's.


Acupressure Points for Canine Cushing's Relief

In this enlightening section, we explore practical and accessible ways for pet owners to actively participate in the well-being of their furry companions grappling with Canine Cushing's Syndrome. Acupressure, a holistic therapy deeply rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, takes center stage as a therapeutic practice that can be seamlessly incorporated into daily routines at home. Here, we unveil specific acupressure points strategically chosen to bring relief to common symptoms associated with Cushing's.


The beauty of acupressure lies not only in its efficacy but in its simplicity—something that can be practiced every day by pet owners. As we guide you through each acupressure point, we emphasize the gentle application of pressure for 30-45 seconds, fostering a bond of trust and care with your canine companion. Moreover, we shed light on the fascinating concept of "releases" – subtle signs of relaxation or relief that your dog may exhibit during acupressure, such as a yawn, licking of lips, blinking, or gentle expressions of gas. Join us on this journey of hands-on healing, where acupressure becomes a daily ritual, promoting comfort, and enhancing the overall well-being of dogs navigating the complexities of Cushing's Syndrome.


Alleviating Excessive Thirst and Urination

  • Acupressure Point: Spleen 6 (SP6)

  • Location: Inside the hind leg. About 1/3 above the ankle/hock joint or 2/3 down from the knee/stifle joint.

  • Benefits: SP6 is believed to regulate water metabolism and alleviate excessive thirst and urination. Gently applying pressure to this point may help balance fluid levels in the body.

acupressure point to help dogs with cushings

Managing Skin Issues and Hair Loss

  • Acupressure Point: Bladder 17 (BL17)

  • Location: On the back, in line with the ninth thoracic vertebra

  • Benefits: BL17 is associated with blood circulation and skin health. Applying acupressure to this point may support the improvement of skin conditions and promote a healthier coat.

acupressure point to help dogs with cushings disease

Supporting Adrenal Gland Function

  • Acupressure Point: TH1

  • Location: TH1 is on the right side of nail bed on the "ring finger" of the front paw.

  • Benefits: influences adrenal glands. Stimulating these points may help regulate adrenal function and manage hormonal imbalances associated with Cushing's.

dog paw showing an acupressure point to help with cushings disease

Step-by-Step Guide on Performing Acupressure for Dogs

  1. Prepare the Environment: Choose a quiet, comfortable space where your dog can relax. Have treats or rewards nearby to create a positive association.

  2. Familiarize Yourself with the Points: Locate the acupressure points mentioned above. Use gentle pressure with your fingertips or thumb.

  3. Apply Gentle Pressure: Use a circular motion or steady pressure for 30-45 seconds on each point.

  4. Observe Your Dog's Response: Pay attention to your dog's reactions. If they seem uncomfortable, adjust the pressure or discontinue the session.

  5. Repeat Regularly: Consistency is key. Perform acupressure sessions regularly, but avoid overstimulating your dog.


Precautions and Considerations for Dog Owners

  • Consult Your Veterinarian: Before starting any acupressure regimen, consult with your veterinarian to ensure it complements your dog's overall treatment plan.

  • Observe Sensitivity: Be mindful of your dog's comfort level. If they show signs of discomfort or distress, discontinue the session.

  • Combine with Traditional Treatment: Acupressure should be seen as a complementary therapy. Continue any prescribed medications and treatments recommended by your veterinarian.

  • Monitor Progress: Regularly assess your dog's symptoms and overall well-being. Adjust the acupressure routine based on their response.


By incorporating these specific acupressure points and following the provided guidelines, dog owners can actively participate in the holistic management of Canine Cushing's Syndrome. Always prioritize your dog's comfort and well-being, and consult with your veterinarian for personalized advice.


Lifestyle and Dietary Recommendations for Dogs with Cushing's Syndrome

Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is crucial for dogs with Cushing's Syndrome. A diet tailored to their specific needs can help manage symptoms and support overall health. Consider the following dietary recommendations:

  • Low-Fat, High-Quality Protein: Opt for a diet that is low in fat and includes high-quality protein sources. This can help manage weight and support muscle health.

  • Limited Sodium Intake: Dogs with Cushing's may be prone to increased water intake and urinary issues. A diet low in sodium can help manage these symptoms.

  • Supplements: Consult with your veterinarian about appropriate supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants may be beneficial for skin and coat health.


Remember to consult with your veterinarian to tailor a diet that meets the specific needs of your dog, taking into account factors like age, weight, and overall health.


Exercise and Mental Stimulation for Overall Well-being

Regular exercise and mental stimulation are essential components of a holistic approach to managing Canine Cushing's Syndrome. Consider the following guidelines:

dogs with cushings need moderate exercise and mental stimulation
  • Moderate Exercise: Engage your dog in regular, moderate exercise to promote cardiovascular health and maintain a healthy weight. Consult your veterinarian for suitable activities based on your dog's condition.

  • Mental Stimulation: Provide mental stimulation through interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and training exercises. Mental engagement is important for cognitive health and can help alleviate boredom.

  • Adapt Activities: Consider your dog's energy levels and any physical limitations. Tailor activities to their individual needs, ensuring they enjoy the exercise without undue stress.

  • Consistent Routine: Establish a consistent daily routine for meals, exercise, and mental stimulation. Predictability can help manage stress levels and create a sense of security for your dog.


Stress Management Techniques for Dogs with Cushing's

Stress management is crucial for dogs with Cushing's, as stress can exacerbate symptoms. Implement the following stress-reducing techniques:

dog getting CBD for calming during stress
  • Create a Calm Environment: Provide a quiet and comfortable space for your dog to rest. Minimize loud noises and sudden disruptions.

  • Routine and Predictability: Maintain a consistent daily routine. Dogs with Cushing's benefit from predictability, which can help reduce anxiety.

  • Gentle Massage and Touch: Incorporate gentle massage or touch to promote relaxation. Pay attention to your dog's cues and adjust your approach accordingly.

  • Calming Supplements: Discuss with your veterinarian the potential use of calming supplements or pheromone diffusers to create a soothing environment. If you are looking for another natural calming supplement, try CBD. It is safe and works naturally with your pup.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement techniques to reward calm behavior. This can create positive associations and reduce anxiety.


By integrating these lifestyle and dietary recommendations into your dog's daily routine, you can contribute to their overall well-being and enhance the effectiveness of the management plan for Canine Cushing's Syndrome. Always consult with your veterinarian before making significant changes to your dog's diet or lifestyle.


Prognosis and Life Expectancy

The prognosis for dogs diagnosed with Canine Cushing's Syndrome is influenced by various factors, including the underlying cause (pituitary-dependent or adrenal-dependent), the presence of concurrent health issues, the dog's age, and the timeliness of diagnosis and intervention.

  • Early Detection and Intervention: Early detection of Cushing's Syndrome is pivotal for a more favorable prognosis. Timely intervention, upon recognizing symptoms or through routine veterinary screenings, allows for the implementation of management strategies that can mitigate the progression of the condition and enhance the dog's overall well-being.

  • Quality of Life: Appropriate management, which may include medications like mitotane or trilostane, along with lifestyle adjustments, contributes significantly to the dog's quality of life. Control of symptoms such as excessive thirst, skin issues, and muscle weakness can improve the overall comfort and happiness of affected dogs.

  • Life Expectancy: The life expectancy of dogs with Cushing's Syndrome can vary. With effective management and diligent veterinary care, many dogs can lead fulfilling lives for an extended period. However, it's crucial to note that Cushing's Syndrome is a chronic condition, and continuous monitoring and adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary.

  • Monitoring and Follow-Up: Regular veterinary check-ups, blood tests, and clinical evaluations are vital components of ongoing monitoring for dogs with Cushing's Syndrome. These assessments allow veterinarians to track the dog's response to treatment, adjust medication dosages as needed, and address any emerging health concerns promptly.

  • Individual Variability: Each dog is unique, and the response to treatment can vary. Some dogs may experience a stable condition with well-managed symptoms, while others may face more complex challenges. Veterinarians work closely with pet owners to tailor treatment plans to the individual needs of each dog.


In summary, the prognosis for dogs with Canine Cushing's Syndrome is generally favorable with early detection and comprehensive management. By prioritizing regular veterinary care, implementing effective treatment strategies, and addressing lifestyle considerations, pet owners can positively influence the quality of life and potentially extend the life expectancy of their beloved canine companions.


Recap of Key Points about Canine Cushing's Syndrome

In the exploration of Canine Cushing's Syndrome, we've uncovered critical insights into this hormonal disorder affecting our beloved canine companions. From its root causes, including pituitary or adrenal tumors, to the array of symptoms such as excessive thirst, skin issues, and muscle weakness, understanding the nuances of Cushing's is paramount for pet owners. The diagnostic journey, encompassing clinical observations, blood tests, and imaging studies, offers a comprehensive approach to identifying and addressing this condition.


Our canine companions deserve comprehensive and holistic care that goes beyond traditional treatments. A balanced diet, tailored to the specific needs of dogs with Cushing's, forms a cornerstone for their overall well-being. Coupled with regular exercise, mental stimulation, and stress management techniques, this holistic approach aims not only to manage symptoms but to enhance the overall quality of life for our furry friends.


As we embrace a holistic perspective on canine health, the role of complementary therapies becomes increasingly significant. Acupressure, rooted in ancient traditions, emerges as a gentle and non-invasive modality with promising potential in the management of Canine Cushing's Syndrome. By exploring specific acupressure points targeting symptoms and incorporating a step-by-step guide into our canine companions' routine, we open avenues for a more comprehensive and integrated approach to their care.


In this conclusion, we extend an invitation to pet owners to actively participate in their dogs' well-being. By combining traditional veterinary care with lifestyle adjustments, dietary considerations, and complementary therapies like acupressure, we pave the way for a more resilient and thriving canine community. Let us continue to learn, adapt, and advocate for the holistic health of our loyal companions, ensuring they live their happiest, healthiest lives.


dogs playing together with no signs of cushings

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