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.
  1. 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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Jacquie Edie, Veterinary Nurse for BHVS nicholsDebyClaire Primo, Veterinary Nurse for BHVCharli Recent comment authors

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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
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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 »

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