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Hyperadrenocorticism - Cushing's Disease in Cats

Hyperadrenocorticism - Cushing's Disease in Cats

'Fragile skin' that tears easily, and diabetes can be among the first signs that your cat has Cushing's disease. Today our Winston-Salem vets share more about this uncommon but serious condition in cats.

What is Cushing's Disease in cats?

Hyperadrenocorticism, also called Cushing's disease, or Cushing's syndrome is caused by the persistent and excessive production of cortisol from the adrenal glands. This excessive cortisol production can occur for one of  two distinct reasons.

  • Latrogenic Hyperadrenocorticism is a form of Cushing's disease that is caused by the long-term use of high dose cortisol-like drugs which are sometimes administered to combat inflammation caused by other health conditions and allergies, or progesterone-type drugs (progestagens) that are sometimes used to control reproductive cycling in female cats.
  • Naturally-Occurring Hyperadrenocorticism is characterized by excess cortisol production due to adrenal or pituitary gland tumours. Pituitary gland tumours can lead to the excessive production of adrenocorticotropic hormone, which can result in the adrenals becoming enlarged and producing excessive cortisol.

What are the symptoms of Cushing's disease?

While Cushing's disease is relatively rare in cats there are a number of symptoms that are characteristic of the disease in cats. One of the most noticeable and troubling symptoms that cats with Cushing's may display is extremely thin and fragile skin that can break and bleed just from normal petting. 

When Cushing's does occurs in cats it is typically accompanied by diabetes, meaning that symptoms of diabetes are also symptoms of Cushing's disease. Some of the most common symptoms of Cushing's in cats are:

  • Fragile skin
  • Excessive urination
  • Enlargement of the abdomen
  • Muscle wasting
  • Very poor coat condition
  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Curling of the ear tips

How is Cushing's disease treated in cats?

The treatment for Cushing's disease in cat's depends upon the underlying cause of the condition. 

Latrogenic Hyperadrenocorticism

If your cat is diagnosed with latrogenic hyperadrenocorticism your vet will prescribe a controlled and gradual withdrawal of the medications that are causing the disease. Alternative medications will need to be prescribed to treat the underlying condition for which the problematic drug was originally prescribed.

Naturally-Occurring Hyperadrenocorticism

If your cat is suffering from naturally-occurring hyperadrenocorticism your vet may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Drug therapy – While a number of different drugs have been used to suppress cortisol production, few of these have been proven effective in cats. Trilostane, appears to work best in cat's and is the most commonly prescribed. This medication is administered once or twice a day. Drug therapy may help to relieve your cat's Cushing's symptoms although it can take a fair amount of time to see results.
  • 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 therapy for pituitary tumors – Availability of this treatment is limited and can be very expensive, however this form of therapy can be effective in treating Cushing's in cats.

What is the life expectancy for cats with Cushing's disease?

If your cat has been diagnosed with Hyperadrenocorticism the cause of the condition will play a large role in your cat's prognosis.

Cushing's disease in cats can rarely be cured, but many cat's respond well to treatment and go on to live a comfortable life for many months or years. Having said that, if your cat's Cushing's disease is caused by a malignant tumor the prognosis will be understandably guarded.

If your cat has been diagnosed with Cushing's disease and requires advanced care, ask your vet for a referral to see our board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. At Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem internal medicine team specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders such as hyperadrenocorticism in cats.

Caring for Winston-Salem Pets

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists, we accept new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our 24/7 emergency service welcomes all clients.

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