Cushing's disease (also known as hypercortisolism or hyperadrenocorticism) is a thyroid disorder that's most common in middle-aged and senior dogs. The condition affects the adrenal glands, two pea-sized glands located in front of your dog's kidneys. Their job is to produce important hormones that regulate vital bodily functions. In dogs with Cushing's disease, the adrenal glands overproduce the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is a vital hormone that performs a number of critical tasks in the body. These include suppressing the immune system and helping your dog respond to stress. However, too much cortisol can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening symptoms. In this post, we'll take a look at the causes, symptoms, and treatment of Cushing's disease in dogs. We'll also explain why coconut oil can be helpful for managing the condition.
What Are the Causes of Cushing's Disease?
Normally, your dog’s pituitary gland responds to stress by producing a hormone called ACTH. This stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. In Cushing’s disease, excessively high levels of cortisol are continually produced.
The most common cause of Cushing's disease in dogs is a tumor of the pituitary gland. This small gland at the base of the brain is responsible for telling the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Tumors of the pituitary gland are usually benign (non-cancerous). However, in rare cases they may be malignant (cancerous). Cushing's disease caused by a pituitary tumor is known as pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH).
Another cause of Cushing's disease in dogs is a benign or malignant tumor of the adrenal gland (adrenal-dependent hyperadrenocorticism). Both pituitary gland and adrenal gland tumors lead to overproduction of cortisol in your dog’s body. Cushing's disease in dogs may also be iatrogenic. This means that it is caused by overuse of steroid medications.
What Are the Symptoms of Cushing's Disease?
It's important to contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the following signs or symptoms of Cushing's disease:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain or obesity
- Thinning skin
- Skin infections
- Hair loss
Treatment and Management of Cushing's Disease
Treatment and management of Cushing's disease in dogs will depend upon the severity and underlying cause of the condition. If the disease is iatrogenic, it will usually be necessary to work with your veterinarian to taper your dog off steroid medications.
Dogs with Cushing's disease caused by tumors of the pituitary or adrenal glands may require medication to address overproduction of cortisol. Adrenal-dependent hyperadrenocorticism is usually considered the most difficult to treat, and abdominal surgery may be needed to remove tumors.
Dietary Management of Cushing's Disease
The good news is that it's possible to manage Cushing's disease in dogs with diet and supplementation. Dogs with the disease have elevated levels of cortisol, which increases triglycerides and cholesterol. To combat these increases, we recommend feeding a diet that's lower in fat.
Cushing’s disease is one of the main endocrine diseases that cause hyperlipidemia (a disease characterized by too much fat in the blood) in dogs. Feeding your pet a balanced, species-appropriate diet is a great way to help reduce the risk of them developing the condition.
Some pet owners choose to feed home-prepared diets consisting of ingredients such as muscle and organ meats, raw eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Home-prepared diets can be an excellent choice, but it's very important to make sure your pet's food meets their dietary requirements.
We recommend consulting with a veterinary nutritionist who can review your home-prepared diet to make sure it is nutritionally balanced and complete, and contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals your pet needs to stay healthy.
Because of the challenges involved with feeding home-prepared diets, many pet owners choose to feed commercial pet foods. Check out our previous post, How to Understand the Guaranteed Analysis on Pet Food Labels for more information on choosing a healthy and nutritious commercial diet for your pet.
Supplementation for Cushing's Disease
Supplementing your dog's diet with coconut oil is a great way to provide a much-needed source of lipid energy the body needs to function and help manage the symptoms of Cushing's disease. The lauric acid in coconut oil increases the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help improve cholesterol ratio levels. Coconut oil lowers cholesterol by promoting its conversion to pregnenolone, a molecule that's a precursor to many of the hormones your dog's body needs. Coconut oil can also help restore normal thyroid function. When the thyroid does not function optimally, it can contribute to higher levels of bad cholesterol.
We suggest supplementing your dog's diet with the lowest recommended dose of virgin coconut oil or MCT-3 oil. CocoTherapy Virgin Coconut Oil and TriPlex MCT-3 oil contain high levels of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These MCTs provide a quick and efficient source of cellular energy, helping boost metabolism, support thyroid health, and aid in weight management. In addition, MCTs help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. CocoTherapy Organic Coconut Chips are also a great addition to your dog's diet as fiber can decrease serum triglyceride and cholesterol concentrations in dogs. You can also give your dog an antioxidant therapy consisting of a combination of α-tocopherol, β-carotene, vitamin C, selenium, and methionine, which may be beneficial in lowering circulating blood fats.
When using virgin coconut oil as a dietary supplement, it's vital to choose a high-quality therapeutic-grade oil such as CocoTherapy Virgin Coconut Oil. Our oil is sourced from our USDA-certified organic family farm in the Philippines, and carefully manufactured in our own facility. In addition, be sure to always feed your pet coconut oil in moderation as part of a balanced, species-appropriate diet.