Leo Before Cushings DiseaseThis is not a question I have ever thought about, until recently. Unfortunately, I have recently been exposed to this problem. One of my 8 yr old Saint Bernard mixes has been diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease. Because I have never dealt with this affliction before, I dove in and did a ton of research about dogs and Cushings. In the hope of others benefiting from my research, I decided to give a summary of what I have learned.

Leo before Cushings diagnosis
In a nutshell, Cushing’s is the OVER-production of Cortisol by the dogs adrenal system, also known as hyperadrenocorticism. This is the opposite of Addison’s Disease, which is too little Cortisol, also known as hypoadrenocorticism. Cushing’s is a disease that reeks havoc on their system over a longer period of time than Addison’s. Addison’s Disease is an immediate threat to your dog’s life. If not treated quickly, there is a very real possibility that they will die. Cushing’s is a bit more subtle.

Leo After Cushings Disease
Leo with Cushing’s
The symptoms of Cushings can vary, but the most obvious are that they drink and urinate excessively (polyuria and polydipsia), along with excessive hunger (polyphagia). Some other common symptoms noticeable with Cushing’s disease include muscle weakness, hair loss, urinary or respiratory infections from a suppressed immune system, and a potbellied appearance from liver enlargement. My baby, Leo, had these symptoms. He has had a voracious appetite his entire life, so I did not think much of it. He is a very big boy, so I expected him to drink a lot of water, especially in the summer. It was not until the weather turned cold again, that I realized the extent of his drinking. As for his coat, I initially thought it was simply damaged from grooming. But it did not come back and continued to become thinner and thinner. He also had chronic diarrhea. This is his vet and I began putting all the pieces together.

​We started with an CBC (complete blood count) panel and urinalysis. These indicated that further testing should be done, so we did the ACTH Stim test. This test requires two blood samples. The first blood sample is taken, then an injection of synthetic ACTH is given, and the second blood sample is taken 2 hours following the injection. When the levels of cortisol in the two samples are compared, they may show a normal response, an exaggerated response or very little response. In the case of Cushing’s, it will most likely show an exaggerated response. This exaggerated response occurs because the adrenal glands have been over-stimulated with naturally occurring ACTH secreted by the pituitary gland. This was also Leo’s response, which led his vet to the colclusion of an Adrenal based Cushing’s disease. The other type of the disease was not relevant because the pcs did not fit. Leo was not on any corticosteroid containing medications (called iatrogenic Cushing’s) in the past.

What Cushings Disease can do to your dog
There is no cure for this disease and it likely creates complications later in life, such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and liver and kidney failure, and to chronic maladies such as hypothyroidism and infections of the skin, ears, gums, eyes, or bladder, especially if left untreated. My vet and I have agreed on a treatment plan for Leo, thus far. I showed her “Adrenal Harmony Gold” and she felt that it was safe to try. I started Leo on this supplement on December 1, 2017. On January 6, 2018, he had his follow up exam. His baseline Cortisol level actually went up slightly. Prior to the supplement, it was 5.8. It is now 5.9.

Does this mean that “Adrenal Harmony Gold” is not working? I really do not know for sure, but I will update this as we go. What I do know is that some of his symptoms have improved slightly. His diarrhea has improved, his appetite is still voracious, but he is not trying to eat so quickly that choking is a fear, and his thirst. . . well, that’s a little more difficult to monitor factually, but it does seem to be slightly improved. He still cannot go overnight without waking us for a pee-pee trip, or having an accident on the wee-wee pads. All in all, I think we have taken a tiny baby step in the right direction, so we will continue what we are doing for another month. At that time, his vet will do the ACTH Stim test again and we will decide whether to remain on this course or divert to “traditional” medication.