There are many clinical signs associated with Cushing’s syndrome (also called hyperadrenocorticism) in dogs. These signs usually come on very gradually and, because of this slow onset, these changes are often written off as part of the normal aging process. The following is a list of common symptoms that may be observed:

  • Drinking excessively - urinating excessively - incontinence


Owners often notice that the water bowl must be filled more frequently. Some dogs may be unable to hold their bladder all night and may begin crying to go outside to eliminate during the night (when previously this was unnecessary). Pets may develop urinary tract infections and urine leaking or incontinence may be observed.

Normally, dogs should drink approximately 1 cup of water for each 10 pounds of body weight per day.

  • Increased or ravenous appetite

This symptom often leads dogs to beg incessantly or steal food from the garbage. It is important that an owner not be fooled by the pet’s good appetite; a good appetite is not necessarily a sign of normal health.

  • Pot-bellied appearance

Present in over 90% of Cushing’s syndrome dogs, this results from hormonally driven redistribution of body fat plus a breakdown of abdominal musculature.

  • Muscle weakness

Muscle protein is broken down in Cushing’s syndrome. The result may be seen as exercise intolerance, lethargy, or reluctance to jump up on furniture or climb stairs.

  • Skin disease

The classical signs of endocrine (hormonal) skin diseases include:

  • Hair loss on the main body sparing the head and legs
  • Thin, wrinkled skin with poor wound healing
  • Hair that does not grow back after clipping
  • Blackheads and darkening of the skin, especially on the abdomen
  • Persistent or recurring skin infections (especially if the dog is not itchy during times when the skin infection is cleared)

Another condition of the skin that can develop is called Calcinosis Cutis, in which calcium deposits occur within the skin. These are raised, hard, almost rock-like areas of affected skin that can develop almost anywhere on the body.

Other notable findings

  • Excessive panting and shortness of breath
  • Infertility
  • Extreme muscle stiffness (called pseudomyotonia - a very rare symptom in Cushing’s disease)
  • High blood pressure
  • Approximately 10 percent of dogs with Cushing's syndrome also develop diabetes mellitus


Cats and Cushing's Disease

In cats, the clinical features of Cushing’s syndrome are similar to those in dogs:  excessive water consumption, muscle wasting, pot-bellied appearance, thin coat, and skin abnormalities. Some cats develop a peculiar inward curling of their ear tips. Eighty (80) percent of cats with Cushing’s syndrome also develop diabetes mellitus. Diabetes in an animal with Cushing’s syndrome can be very difficult to control until the Cushing’s disease is controlled.

Related:  Treatment of Cushing's Disease

Contributed by:  Karen Helton-Rhodes, DVM, Diplomate ACVD