A Holistic Approach to Cushing’s Disease

A Holistic Approach to Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism) is a common hormonal imbalance in middle-aged and older dogs. It can be difficult to diagnose and can require harsh drugs to treat. Fortunately, I have seen much success with Cushing’s disease using diet and alternative therapies. If your dog has been diagnosed with Cushing’s, you can skip right to the treatment section of this article.

 

What is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s Disease or Hyperadrenocorticism occurs when the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Dogs have two adrenal glands located next to the kidneys. These glands are part of the hormonal system and produce substances such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Cortisol is a natural hormone needed to keep the body balanced.

 

The adrenal glands may produce too much cortisol either because the pituitary gland (located in the brain) signals the overproduction or because the adrenal gland produces too much on its own accord.

 

How do I know if my dog has Cushing’s Disease

Many dogs will have very mild cases of Cushing’s Disease with little to no symptoms. If there are no bothersome symptoms or troubling lab values, a diagnostic workup is not indicated. 

 

Here is a list of common symptoms that can become quite bothersome to both the dog and family:

 

Common symptoms include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased water consumption and urination
  • Thinning hair or hair loss
  • Large (pendulous) belly
  • Increased tendency to ligament and tendon injury
  • Muscle loss

Diagnostic Tests

This is a tricky disease to diagnose definitively. The good news is that the battery of tests used to diagnose Cushing’s Disease are noninvasive. There is not agreement among the veterinary profession about the best way to diagnose Cushing’s Disease. 

 

Below is a list of tests that are often used to make the diagnosis.

  • Complete Blood Count (elevated platelets, increased white cells)
  • Chemistry (liver enzymes)
  • Urinalysis (looking for protein)
  • Abdominal ultrasound (evaluate liver size and texture, evaluate adrenal gland size and check for adrenal tumors)
  • ACTH Stimulation Test (How do adrenal respond to hormone produced by pituitary gland)
  • Low Dose Dexamethasone Suppression Test (Similar to the previous test, with different advantages and disadvantages)

How is Cushing’s Disease Treated?

Diet

I have seen many cases of Cushing’s Disease disappear with diet alone. It’s all about the reduction of carbohydrates. Unfortunately simply switching to a grain free kibble is rarely successful. This is because the nature of a kibble is high in carbohydrate. Grains are simply replaced by pea, potatoes or beans. Raw diets or grain free cooked diets have the highest rate of success. I would stick with a grain free formulation for raw and home cooked diets when possible.

 

Make sure that the diet you use is balanced for extended use. Pet food manufacturers are required to label their foods as balanced to AAFCO requirements for all life stages.

 

Herbs

This is one instance when Chinese Herbal medicine can be tremendously helpful. I use one formula, Si Miao San as a common starting point. This a Traditional Chinese herbal formula that eliminates Dampness (Traditional Chinese Medical Diagnosis) and has very few side effects.

 

In about 50% of my cases of Cushing’s Disease, a different or modified formula is required to help control symptoms. This is when you need a veterinarian trained in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. You can find a practitioner near you using the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society or The Chi Institute.

 

Supplements

There are two supplements that I think are worth using for every Cushing’s patient. Both of these involve balancing the bacteria in the gut.

  1. Nutrigest (Powder or Capsules). This is a great supplement that helps heal the digestive tract and promote beneficial but bacterial.
  2. Probiotics. There are many varieties available that help your pet’s digestive tract become more balanced. I like RxBiotic and Culturelle
Western Treatment

Sometimes diet and herbs are not enough. In my ten years of practice, I have seen a few dogs that were refractory to these treatments and needed to use pharmaceuticals. Trilostane is the most current medication used to treat Cushing’s Disease. While it certainly is not natural, it can greatly help some of the symptoms that make dogs with Cushing’s Disease so miserable. So, if you need to use, please so. Your dog deserves to feel good.

Does your dog have Cushing’s Disease? Tell me how it’s going by commenting below.

 

Sending you and your pets lots of love!

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Sharon
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Sharon

My dog has cushings and has a small adrenal tumor on her kidney, she is due to have surgery soon.

Heather
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Heather

My 8 Year Old Boy was diagnosed with cushings a few months ago. After a hard year of an unmanagable diagnosis of diabetes we have now added trilostane to his list of meds and so far from what I have noticed (symptom wise) it doesnt seem to be helping all that much. He lost eye sight in his left eye rather quickly (normal to full blindness within a month) shortly after the cushings diagnosis and now the other eye is failing quickly too. It has been heartbreaking trying everything imaginable and feeling like hes still deteriorating. I am currently researching… Read more »

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi Heather,

Your boy is SO lucky to have you advocating for him!

We are so, so glad that you found this article to be helpful – please keep us posted! Lots of love to you and your sweet boy!

Charli
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Charli

Hi, I have cushings afflicted baby too. I decided to go the holistic route from the beginning.
I used the flax and melatonin treatment which worked great for about a year. It controlled symptoms. It stopped working about 2 months ago. I am researching a new holistic treatment now. Grain free food is good. High protein is helping as well.

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Charli,

It sounds like you are doing a great job! Keep us posted!

Warmly,
Claire

S nichols
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S nichols

I’m doing like 4 supplements abd my senior lab is starting to bounce back. He’s been on natural balance limited ingredient diet for years but after being on steroids so long it sent him into cushings. He’s responding to melatonin twice a day, flax seed hulls given in yogurt as a snack once a day, milk thistle twice a day, cbd oil once a day, and phosphatidyl-serine given with hard boiled eggs once a day.

Jacquie Edie, Veterinary Nurse for BHV
Member
Jacquie Edie, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi,

I am so sorry to hear that your lab developed Cushing’s from steroids. I’m so glad that you found a regimen that works to regulate your guy! Thanks for sharing!

Jacquie

Mac
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Mac

Our dog was just diagnosed but she doesn’t have any symptoms. Is it worth trying the supplements and changing her diet? Her current vet just want to monitor her for any symptoms before putting on medication. Thoughts??

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi there!

Dr. Angie would tend to agree that treatment isn’t necessary without symptoms. That said, all of diet changes discussed in the blog are great for overall health!

Keep us posted!

Gretchen
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Gretchen

Your link ” Check out my favorite brands here.” does not work. Can u fix it please?

Claire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi Gretchen,

Oh no! Thank you so much for letting us know, we will fix this asap!

Warmly,
Claire

Deby
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Deby

My 11 year old boxer male was recently diagnosed with Cushings. The local vet does not have any other dogs in treatment and not sure if experienced. She is calling a larger city (we are rural) to see about costs and experience. I started him on an adrenal supplement with minimal improvement but after reading comments, he may have needed to been on them for longer. I started giving him melatonin 2mg twice daily and what a difference. He is not panting, seems to feel better and is not drinking or peeing as much. His back legs seem to not… Read more »

Jacquie Edie, Veterinary Nurse for BHV
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Jacquie Edie, Veterinary Nurse for BHV

Hi Deby, Thank you for your comment on Dr. Angie’s Cushing’s Disease blog! I’m so glad to hear that your boxer is experiencing fewer symptoms with the use of melatonin! Dr. Angie doesn’t usually use melatonin for treatment of Cushing’s so it is interesting to hear of your success in using it for your guy. Thanks for sharing! Flaxseed lignans will provide a good source of fiber and may be beneficial for your dog’s gut health. It may also help with the condition of his skin and coat. Dr. Angie doesn’t typically use colloidal silver in practice. When giving orally… Read more »

Joanne
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Joanne

My labradoodle was diagnosed with Cushing’s last September. Her symptoms were drinking more water and panting. The vet put her on Vetoryl and her cortisol levels came back down. Now, 7 months later, she has lost weight which is most likely due to muscle loss and she is very stiff when rising. I can tell that she has become very boney. She is a picky eater, as well. I continue to experiment supplemental aids for her but not too sure how well they are working. They don’t seem to assist with her stiffness, but then again they maybe slowing her… Read more »

ananda borden
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ananda borden

Hello, Our 11 year old Mini Poodle got hungrier and hungrier until he was eating poop and always licking his bowl and the floor. Then he started peeing massive amounts in the house and then he started getting skin lesions and losing weight. He was diagnosed with a likely pituitary tumor caused Cushings. We have started using Trilostane as we didn’t know there were any alternative treatments. So far he has stopped peeing in the house and is gaining weight but he is still super hungry all the time. Can we add natural supplements on top of the Trilostane? We… Read more »

Victoria
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Victoria

My dog was just confirmed to have Cushings and we are going to start her on Vetoryl. It was me that looked up her symptoms and then requested the test for Cushings. I’d taken her to the vet over the last year for skin conditions and they’d mentioned her weight gain, but nothing else. I’d bought the shampoo and did skin wipes of chlorhexidine. She was given 3 lots of antibiotics for the skin, to no avail. Then she was put on thyroid meds, twice a day, even though her thyroid levels are just below normal levels. I don’t understand… Read more »

Suzy
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Suzy

My 13 year old Westie Jax was diagnosed with Cushing disease. We went through all the tests to be sure. He was put on vetoryl 30 mg. On day 3 he was so sick, shaking , vomiting, panting., weakness. Rushed to vet . Took him off this chemical, and the vet now has him on Chinese ophiopogon formula. I’m not seeing much of an improvement after 4 weeks. We did do a acth test after 3 weeks and the vet wants him to continue on these herbs. My question is how long does it take before I see improvement ?… Read more »

Linda Johns
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Linda Johns

My 12 year-old mixed-breed guy was diagnosed recently with Cushings Disease. He is a mix of beagle, Jack Russell or Fox terrier, and maybe Pointer. He definitely shows the symptoms, but I am leary to try the conventional treatments. My vet recommended a low-protein senior food, but that seems to be opposite of what would be best. I don’t feel that I can spend the time cooking all of my dog’s food right now, so am considering purchasing grain-free food, as you recommend. Would you be willing to recommend some brands of food? I am also plannng to try the… Read more »

Joline
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Joline

My dog has Cushings. He pants, is thirsty and has leg weakness and just began limping. Would melatonin help him? If so, where do I buy it and what mg for a 15-pound dog? Thanks.

Lori Beckelman
Guest
Lori Beckelman

I give my dog The Gift of Life supplement, Would it be safe to give him Si Miao San as well, or should I stop The Gift of LIfe? Thank you very much.

Diane
Guest
Diane

i have a 9 yr old yorkie poo who was recently diagnosed with Cushings, they put her on Vetoryl. Can i use culturelle along with it? How much do I give her, she weighs 15 lbs. I believe she has had this for a very long time but was not diagnosed until I got a different doctor at the same practice. She is also eating Royal Canin Urinary SO due to bladder stones. Any help would be appreciated!

Marilyn Holzerland
Guest

Our 12 lb poodle was diagnosed with atypical cushings. He had the big belly, lost weight so that he was skin and bones. He lost a lot of hair and had sores on his belly. He did poorly on Trilostane so our vet said not to treat him at all. We said that was NOT an option so we took him to the U of MN Veterinary School where they put him on melatonin and flax oil with lignans. He recovered 110%!!

James Zimmerman
Guest
James Zimmerman

My beautiful fur baby Nigel, the light of my life, went to a vet for advice and they told me most likely it is Cushing’s, I kind of knew doing my own research. He has every symptom unfortunately he is quite thirsty, he was restless especially at night he has a potbelly, the hair around his neck is rather thick, he hasn’t lost hair and doesn’t show any abnormal urination but pants very much!! Instantly I did major research and started him on a regimented CBD plan. Not everybody agrees with this but I have seen amazing results!!! Being torn… Read more »

Anne
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Anne

We would like to switch to cooking our dogs’ food rather than purchasing ready made. Do you have any recipe recommendations to support liver function and make sure the dog is getting the right nutrients? Thank you!

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