Cushing's Disease

Cushing's disease is a condition which can affect dogs in general and is not thought to be an hereditary disease in the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier.


Endocrine Organs:

Include the pancreas, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands and adrenal glands. Diseases of the endocrine system may lead to the production of too much or too little hormone.

kidney and adrenal glands

Adrenal Glands:

The adrenal glands are in close proximity to the kidneys. The outer portion of the adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney, this is called the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex produces, among other things, steroid hormones which regulate carbohydrate and fat.

Cushing’s Disease:

Cushing’s disease is the common name for Hyperadrenocorticism* and this is caused by a hyperactive adrenal gland that secretes too many glucocorticoids, (steroids), into the bloodstream. The adrenal gland produces a wide range of hormones and Cushing’s can cause the overproduction of any one or more of them. The symptoms of the disease vary widely and because of this it is difficult to detect, however this is a treatable disease.

There are three basic causes of Cushing’s disease:

  • A tumour in the adrenal gland
  • A tumour in the pituitary gland
  • Medically induced by administration of long term cortisone drugs. These medications are used to treat a variety of illnesses in dogs

About 85% of dogs with Cushing’s have an overactive pituitary gland which is a small pea sized gland in the brain producing an excessive secretion of the hormone ACTH. This in turn over stimulates the adrenal glands and produces an excess of cortisol. The majority of the remaining cases result from adrenal tumours. Approximately 50% of these adrenal tumours are benign.

*(Addisons disease is the common name Hypoadrenocorticism)

Signs & Symptoms:

  • 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 & scavenging
  • Sagging, bloated, pot-bellied appearance
  • Weight gain or its appearance, due to fat redistribution
  • Loss of muscle mass, giving an appearance of weight loss
  • Bony, skull-like appearance of the head
  • Exercise intolerance, lethargy, general hind leg weakness
  • Reluctance to jump on furniture or people
  • Excessive panting, seeking cool surfaces to rest on
  • Symmetrically thinning hair or baldness (alopecia) on the body
  • Dullness and dryness to coat
  • Slow re-growth of hair
  • Thin, wrinkled, fragile and/or darkly pigmented skin
  • Easily damaged/bruised skin that heals slowly
  • Hard calcified lumps in the skin
  • Susceptibility of infections (especially skin or urinary)
  • Diabetes, pancreatitis, seizures

Cushing’s disease is difficult to diagnose, there is no single test to identify it. Vets generally undertake several blood and urine tests to compare the results to normal levels. They may follow up with x-rays and/or ultrasound to reveal the presence or absence of a tumour.


This depends how severe the symptoms are and on the general health of the animal. It can be treated both surgically and medically. These two options are, surgically removing the tumour (if one is present), and the prescribing of medications that slow down the adrenal gland. The majority of dogs are treated medically.

go to top