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Cushing's Disease in Cats

Hyperadrenocorticism, more commonly called Cushing's disease, is caused by the excessive and persistent production of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Excessive cortisol production can occur due to one of two underlying issues:

Cushing's Disease in Cats

Hyperadrenocorticism, more commonly referred to as Cushing's disease, is characterized by an abnormally high and persistent level of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. Excessive cortisol production can be a result of one of two underlying issues:

  1. Iatrogenic Hyperadrenocorticism is a subtype of Cushing's disease caused by long-term and high-dose use of cortisol-like drugs to treat allergies and inflammation caused by other health conditions, or progesterone-like drugs (progestagens) used to control female cat reproductive cycling.
  2. Naturally-Occurring Hyperadrenocorticism is characterized by excessive cortisol production as a result of tumors of the adrenal or pituitary glands. Pituitary gland tumors can result in an abnormally high level of adrenocorticotropic hormone, causing the adrenal glands to enlarge and produce an abnormal amount of cortisol.

Symptoms of Cushing's Disease in Cats

Although Cushing's disease is uncommon in cats, it exhibits several symptoms. One of the most noticeable and concerning symptoms of Cushing's disease in cats is extremely thin and fragile skin that breaks and bleeds at the slightest provocation.

Diabetes generally occurs at the same time as Cushing's in cats, meaning symptoms of diabetes can point to Cushing's disease. Other symptoms of Cushing's in cats include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Muscle wasting
  • Poor coat condition
  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Curling ear tips
If your cat is showing any of the symptoms above contact your vet to book an examination for your cat. 

Cushing's Disease Treatment In Cats

Your cat's treatment of Cushing's disease largely depends upon the underlying cause of the condition:

If your cat is diagnosed with iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism, your veterinarian will prescribe a gradual and controlled tapering of the medications that are causing the disease. Alternative medications will need to be prescribed to address the underlying condition for which the problematic drug was prescribed in the first place.

Cats suffering from naturally occurring hyperadrenocorticism could be prescribed one or more of the following treatments:

  • Drug therapy – While a variety of drugs have been used to inhibit cortisol production, only a few are effective in cats. Trilostane appears to be most effective in cats and is the most frequently prescribed medication. This medication should be taken once or twice daily. Drug therapy may help alleviate your cat's Cushing's symptoms, though results may take some time to manifest.
  • Surgical adrenalectomy – The surgical removal of an adrenal gland can be a good treatment option if just one adrenal gland is affected.
  • Hypophysectomy – The surgical removal of the pituitary gland is a challenging and potentially risky surgery that is typically only used in extreme cases.
  • Radiation for pituitary tumors – The availability of this treatment can be limited but often proves to be effective in treating cats with Cushing's disease.

Life Expectancy of Cats with Cushing's Disease 

Predicting treatment outcomes for cats with Cushing's disease is highly dependent on the etiology of the disease. Numerous cats with iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism respond favorably to treatment and continue to live comfortable lives for months or even years. Cats with Cushing's disease caused by a malignant tumor, on the other hand, have a more uncertain prognosis. Your veterinarian will provide you with additional information about your cat's specific condition and a prognosis based on the severity of the illness.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Contact our Smyrna vets to learn more and to book an appointment with one of our experienced vets.

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