Cushing’s disease may be why your pet’s sick
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By Mickey Zeldes  October 4, 2013 12:00 am

By Mickey Zeldes

I admire veterinarians. Not only are they doctors, surgeons, dentists, pharmacists and occasionally behaviorists, but they have to do all this with a patient that can’t tell them what’s wrong.

So, they are also part magician.  I can only imagine how difficult this is – especially since few people have pet insurance and cost is always a factor in deciding the level of care that an owner can afford.  Figuring out what is wrong with a pet can take test after test to rule out and whittle down the list of possibilities.

I recently took my 9-year-old sheltie, Poppy, to the vet with the classic “she ain’t doing right, doc” complaint (vets actually have a code for that, ADR).  Her increased appetite and the extent that she would go to in order to steal food was the big wake-up call.  She seemed to be drinking more water than usual and definitely peed a lot.  A urinalysis showed an infection, so we treated that, knowing that it didn’t explain all her symptoms but wanting to solve the problem that we did find.  Meanwhile, we also ran a blood test.  That came back with an elevated liver count, so then we had to have further tests done.  Long story (and many dollars later), we finally have a diagnosis – Cushing’s disease.

Cushing’s is when the Adrenal gland puts out too much cortisol – a natural steroid that is in the body.  When too much is produced, usually because a benign tumor stimulates the adrenal gland, the symptoms are the same as when you are on Prednisone – increased hunger and thirst, which results in weight gain, dry coat and sometimes a barrel-chested appearance.  It’s funny that’s what she had – our first sheltie had to be on Prednisone most of his life, and we were used to his constant foraging for food.  When I was describing Poppy’s symptoms, I said she was acting just like Sparky had, only she didn’t have the Prednisone for an excuse.  Little did I know that she was producing her own steroids.

We’re still waiting to discuss treatment options with our vet, but just having a diagnosis is somewhat of a relief.  It helps me not be so angry with her when she steals my lunch because I know it’s not behavioral.  Putting a dog on medication for this isn’t just a simple thing though.  The dose has to be monitored, and the blood retested every so often to make sure you’ve got the right balance.  There is actually a different disease that’s the opposite; Addison’s disease is when the adrenal glands are not producing enough cortisol and you don’t want to swing too far in that direction.  If these diseases sound familiar it’s because people can get them too.  Funny, isn’t it, how similar we are to our pets.


Upcoming events

Mutt Strut, the dog walk and pet fair is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 28, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.  There will be dynamic K9 demonstrations, fun contests, great raffle items, fabulous vendors and more.  Come celebrate everything canine with us.  It will be fun for the whole family, including the dog.


Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at

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