Dogs with Cushing’s require special care, so you should prepare yourself for some adjustments in your and your dog’s life that might be necessary to improve your fluffy friend’s quality of life. Besides adrenal or pituitary glands being affected, the consequences can be seen in the immune system, gut, liver, and many other places throughout the body. That’s why you’ll need the complete picture to be able to know what to do next, and how to help your beloved dog.
Your veterinarian will help you navigate through an abundance of information that will be coming your way. From environmental to dietary changes, there are things you can do to lessen the burden of Cushing’s symptoms in your dog’s everyday life. By making those adjustments you’ll be able to see your furry friend gaining more energy, functioning better on a daily basis, and some issues (like skin or fur) even disappear.
Treating the disease and its symptoms
You can choose from several different options for treating and relieving symptoms and the very cause of Cushing’s in your dog. You can go the traditional way, getting surgery or using the chemotherapy drugs prescribed by your vet.
Surgery helps by removing the affected part of the adrenal gland, which is usually atrophied due to cortisol overproduction so that the rest of the remaining gland can start working properly again. Another challenge is anesthesia, since administering anesthetic in adrenalectomy procedures is very tricky, therefore a higher risk for complications.
Chemo drugs can effectively shut down or partially destroy the adrenal gland whose excessive cortisol production causes Cushing’s. For dogs with pituitary-dependent Cushing’s the chemo drugs are mitotane or trilostane. Mitotane is the conventional treatment that helps by inhibiting the adrenal gland function, reducing cortisol production, but should be administered very carefully because the overdose can lead to Addison’s disease (which can be irreversible). Trilostane on the other hand is a newer drug that works like a steroid inhibitor and has fewer side effects, that’s why it’s becoming a better option and is in higher demand now.
Both surgery and chemo drugs bring with them higher risk and more side effects, so you can decide to go the alternative route, using holistic medication and supplements such as lignans and melatonin, milk thistle, etc.
Diet adjustments and supplements
Any dietary change that helps reduce inflammation is great for dogs with Cushing’s. Adding probiotics can really help with better absorption of necessary healthy material from the food. You can give a dog probiotics by adding yogurt or through supplements specially made for dogs, into the meal. Lowering the carbs in your dog’s diet can help with inflammation reduction.
Another recommendation is to add whole foods to your dog’s diet. That means that you should avoid giving your dog only dry and/or processed food, and add some more vegetables, fruits, etc. Not everyone cooks and prepares whole meals for their furry friend, but you can add some whole foods over kibble. Research suggests that adding vegetables 3 times a week to the dog’s diet can help prevent many diseases or alleviate already existing ones.
Cushing’s disease affects the immune system, which is not properly working in reducing the inflammation the way it should, making stress regulation and digestion problematic for your dog. That’s why adding, for example, vegetables, fruits, yogurt, eggs, lean meat, and sardines with supplements – probiotics, melatonin, lignans, and milk thistle to your dog’s meals can significantly increase health benefits.
Melatonin, lignans, and milk thistle are a lot less expensive than surgery or chemo drugs but they have a lot less side effects in comparison. Melatonin and flaxseed lignans are usually prescribed together. They both inhibit different enzymes necessary for cortisol production, so they can help restore hormone levels back to normal. Besides cortisol reduction, a combination of lignans and melatonin for dogs directly affects adrenal tumor cells, treating both typical and atypical Cushing’s disease. Adding milk thistle with that is a good idea. Milk thistle is a dietary supplement that helps support the liver, which dogs with Cushing’s need because the disease is overworking it.
Exercising and accessibility
Dogs suffering from Cushing’s often have a problem with joint and muscle pain and stiffness, especially since older dogs, more than young ones, usually get Cushing’s in the first place. You need to make it easier for them to move around the house and outside.
Inside the house, you should create an environment where there are as few obstacles as possible, which means putting the ramps if you have stairs, removing things they can trip over easily, putting their bed lower if it’s higher, and so on. If your dog is used to jump on your bed or in your lap while you’re sitting to snuggle with you, then you should adjust to them by sitting somewhere lower, like on the floor, or picking them and putting them up on a bed or a couch yourself.
Outside, it’s important for your dog to go on walks even though they have muscle and joint pain, and bone loss. Walks are important for building muscle strength, but shouldn’t be too exhausting – just light walks, in light weather, but make them a routine. It’s precisely what will slowly build your dog’s muscles and strength over time.
Cushing’s disease in essence is cortisol production that went overboard. Cortisol is also a direct response to stress, which means the more stress the worse Cushing’s symptoms become. So try to avoid stressing your dog as much as you can. If you know what’s the cause, try to avoid it, and create a calm environment at home as much as you can. Melatonin can once again help with reducing anxiety and helping with that good night’s sleep your dog desperately needs.
Things suggested here are helpful but are not a cure, so you need to be consistent in your caregiving, your routine, and ease your dog’s symptoms as much as you can. Whether you decide to go the conventional way, with surgery and/or chemo drugs, or the alternative way, with supplements and dietary regime change, or decide on some combination of both, you should consult your vet, and make sure you have all the necessary information before you do so, meaning doing all needed tests and asking your vet what option is best specifically for your dog’s case.