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Recognizing Cushing’s Disease in Boston Terriers

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Early recognition of Cushing Disease in Boston Terriers is vital to rapid treatment and the survival of your dog.  This disease normally occurs in older dogs, but can occur at any age so every dog owner should know how to recognize Cushing Disease in Boston Terriers.

Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is the overproduction of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands that are located in the belly near the kidneys. Cushing’s disease occurs commonly in dogs. Most dogs with Cushing’s disease are about 6 years old or older but sometimes Cushing’s disease occurs in younger dogs. Cortisol affects the function of many organs in the body, so the signs of Cushing’s disease may be varied. Some of the more common signs of Cushing’s disease include hair loss, pot-bellied appearance, increased appetite, and increased drinking and urination called polydipsia and polyuria (PU/PD). Hair loss caused by Cushing’s disease occurs primarily on the body, sparing the head and legs. The skin is not usually itchy as it is with other skin diseases. If you pick up a fold of skin on a dog with Cushing’s disease, you may notice that the skin is thinner than normal. The pet may have fragile blood vessels and may bruise easily.

Less common signs of Cushing’s disease are weakness, panting, and an abnormal way of walking (stiff or standing or walking with the paws knuckled over). Some dogs with Cushing’s disease develop a blood clot to the lungs and show a rapid onset of difficulty breathing.

Dogs that are given prednisone or similar drugs can develop signs that look like Cushing’s disease (called iatrogenic Cushing’s).

There are two types of Cushing’s disease that are treated differently. The most common form of Cushing’s disease is caused by the overproduction of a hormone by the pituitary gland in the brain that in turn controls the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. This is called pituitary-dependent Cushing’s. A small percentage of dogs with Cushing’s disease have a tumor of one of the adrenal glands which is called adrenal-dependent Cushing’s.

There is no single test to diagnose Cushing’s disease. The history, physical exam, and results of initial blood and urine tests often provide a strong suspicion for the presence of Cushing’s disease. Laboratory tests that are most commonly altered by Cushing’s disease are an increase in white blood cell count, increase in the liver enzyme ALP (also called SAP or serum alkaline phosphatase), increased blood sugar (although not as high as the blood sugar levels of diabetic patients), increased cholesterol and dilute urine.

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I have never seen Cushing’s disease in Boston Terriers.  I am glad that the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University published this article so that I could learn to recognize Cushing’s disease in Boston Terriers and prevent problems in my dogs.  If you have any personal experience with Cushing’s disease in dogs, comment below.

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