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Cushing's Disease in Cats

Cushing's Disease in Cats

This condition is typically marked by malfunctioning of adrenal glands, that leads to excess secretion of cortisol hormone.
Nicks J
The term "Cushing" is the name of the neurosurgeon who discovered this illness. Also referred to as hyperadrenocorticism, in this condition the adrenal glands that are located near the kidneys, do not work properly. One of the most important hormones that adrenal glands secrete is cortisol, that plays a key role in proper functioning of the body. The poor functioning of adrenal glands associated with this condition causes cortisol levels to rise in the bloodstream. The symptoms that are noticed when there is too much of cortisol are discussed below:

Hair loss is the most commonly observed symptom of Cushing's disease. The cat appears lethargic and physical activity takes a beating. Dermatological changes such as fragile or thin skin and increased skin pigment are also noticed. The skin ruptures while handling the cat. In many cases, condition of cat is critical by the time the disease is identified. In some cats, hard lumps can be seen on the skin. Often cats diagnosed with this disease, suffer from diabetes. This happens because excess cortisol hinders the action of insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. In general, the symptoms associated with this condition are given below:
  • Excessive eating
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Potbelly
  • Inability to tolerate exercise
  • Muscle weakness
  • Enlarged liver
  • Panting (heavy breathing)

Depending upon the underlying cause, the illness is classified into 3 main types. It is discussed below:

Tumor growth in either pituitary or adrenal gland is one of the main causes of hyperadrenocorticism in cats. The pituitary gland located at the base of the brain, regulates the functioning of the adrenal glands. When the tumor affects the pituitary gland and impairs its functionality, the adrenal glands also stop working correctly. Cushing's disease arising from pituitary gland disorder is known as pituitary-dependent disease. However, when there are issues with one of the adrenal glands itself, the resulting condition is referred to as adrenal-dependent disease.

Iatrogenic Cushing's disease occurs due to chronic use of corticosteroids in large doses. In this case the cat is treated by gradually reducing the drug dosage. Corticosteroids should never be stopped abruptly as it can lead to adverse consequences.

Cats suffering from pituitary or adrenal-dependent disease, are put on medications that help to reduce production of cortisol hormone. The medicines that may be recommended to lower cortisol secretion are given below:
  • Lysodren (mitotane)
  • Nizoral (ketoconazole)
  • Anipryl (L-Deprenyl, Elderpryl, Selegiline)
  • Trilostane (Vetoryl)
In case the medicines are not found to be effective, surgical option that involves removal of either pituitary or adrenal gland, may be helpful to treat the condition.

Herbs are a natural way to treat this condition. They are safe and have minimal side effects, if any. Herbal remedies in conjunction with conventional treatment may work to control cortisol production more effectively. Herbs such as Arctium lappa (Burdock), Astragalus membranaceous (Huang Qi), Taraxucum officinale (Dandelion), help to restore normal cortisol levels and maintain adrenal function.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a veterinarian.