when to euthanize a dog with cushing's disease

When to Euthanize a Dog with Cushing’s Disease

If your beloved pet has this disease, you may be wondering when to euthanize a dog with Cushing’s Disease.

Cushing’s Disease is a difficult illness and requires lifelong management.

Your veterinarian will be able to provide many good options for managing your dog’s signs.

But ultimately, this disease will affect their quality of life, and you may have to make a tough decision. Treatment can also be cost prohibitive over time with the cost of medications and blood work monitoring. Secondary infections such as pancreatitis are common as well.

This choice is never easy as a pet owner. 

So this article aims to walk you through the disease and explain when the right time may be to put your dog down.

What is Cushing’s Disease in Dogs?

when to euthanize a dog with cushing's disease

Cushing’s Disease in dogs is where too much cortisol is produced in their body.

Too much cortisol, the natural steroid can have serious effects on your dog’s body.

Steroids in normal amounts in the body are used to manage many of the body’s normal functions and help the body in times of stress.

This disease is caused by:

  1. A tumor on the pitutatuary in the brain that produces steroids
  2. A tumor on the adrenal gland that produces steroids 
  3. Iatrogenic: meaning animals that take steroids orally for certain diseases like Addison’s or immune mediated diseases can develop this. 

Diagnosis of the cause will be the determining factor for your dog’s prognosis.

Pituitary Dependant

The most common cause of Cushing’s Disease is a tumor on your dog’s pituitary gland.

Pituitary tumors will cause too much of the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic) to be produced. 

This overproduction is what causes your dog’s body to produce cortisol. These tumors are usually benign.

And the symptoms your dog will experience depends on the size of its tumor.

Adrenal Dependent

Tumors on the adrenal glands are another cause of Cushing’s Disease. These tumors can be malignant or benign.

If the tumor is not invading the main blood vessel in the belly (vena cava), then removal of the tumor may be curative. (Regardless of if malignant or not). 

If the tumor is malignant and has invaded the main blood vessel or spread to other organs, then it is a grave prognosis.

Unfortunately, there is not a good prognosis if the tumor is malignant.

External Steroid Use (Iatrogenic Cushing’s Disease)

If your dog is on long-term steroids, this can cause Cushing’s Disease.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s is caused by the administration of steroids for various diseases including immune mediated diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease or allergies. 

Some dogs cannot maintain a good quality of life without them. Others may be able to be switched to a different drug.

Your veterinarian will have to balance treating the condition steroids are used for and Cushing’s Disease.

Signs of Cushing’s Disease

when to euthanize a dog with cushing's disease

There are no distinguishing signs for Cushing’s Disease, but there are signs when taken collectively that suggest it.

Not recognizing signs and not relaying them to your veterinarian can delay diagnosis.

Here are the most common signs:

  • Drinking more 
  • Eating more: Some dogs will even start to scavenge in trash cans or eat things free in the house when they never used to do so
  • Peeing more
  • Losing their fur or generalized thinning of the coat
  • Getting a pot belly
  • More tired
  • Panting a lot
  • Chronic skin infections
  • Urinary tract infections

How to Diagnose and Treat Cushing’s Disease

when to euthanize a dog with cushing's disease

The best way to diagnose your dog is to take them to your veterinarian.

They’ll be able to run a few tests to determine whether it’s Cushing’s Disease or something else. 

The first step is routine screening blood work. This includes a CBC to evaluate red, white blood cells, and platelets. 

A chemistry profile to evaluate the liver and kidney values, the cholesterol, electrolytes and more. 

Finally, it should include a urine test to rule out underlying infection, protein loss, or other abnormalities. Often once evaluated, veterinarians will recommend further testing.

Tests that they will run can include:

  • ACTH Stimulation Test – This tests how well your dog’s adrenal glands are working.
  • Abdominal Ultrasound – this will search for any tumors.

Once diagnosed, your veterinarian will work with you to create a treatment plan.

Treatment can vary from long-term medication to surgery. 

Surgery can be curative in some patients with adrenal tumors but is not generally a viable option for pituitary tumors.

Either way, a dog living with Cushing’s Disease will need check-ups for the rest of its life.

When to Euthanize a Dog with Cushing’s Disease

when to euthanize a dog with cushing's disease

The life expectancy for a dog varies depending on several factors including other underlying diseases, type of tumor, severity of clinical signs, treatment option chosen and more. 

There is no set time frame. Treatment length also depends on if owners elect treatment or not. 

Remember that this disease will affect each dog differently.

Some dogs respond very well to medical management while others cannot tolerate the medications or develop complications.

If your dog is suffering, you may decide that it’s time to put them to sleep.

No one will know your dog better than you, so it’s your responsibility to monitor their behavior for any changes.

It’s important to look out for any signs that they may be suffering. For example, does the dog enjoy his favorite activities such as chasing balls? Does he sleep well? 

How is the dog’s quality of life? How is his appetite, does he eat well? Does the dog suffer from pains, cramps, or aches? 

Medication only helps deal with the side effects of Cushing’s Disease and doesn’t cure it.

As the disease progresses, their medication might stop being effective. Some of their signs will begin to show again. Or complications of the illness may develop, leading to a deterioration in the quality of life. 

It may be the right time to seek medical advice about euthanasia. This will be a challenging and emotional decision to make. A veterinarian will be able to help you with this choice.

What to Expect When Euthanizing Your Dog

when to euthanize a dog with cushing's disease

This is incredibly difficult for any pet owner to experience. knowing what to expect ahead of time may help lessen the stress of the euthanasia.

Euthanasia can be performed at a veterinary clinic or a mobile veterinary service in your home.

There isn’t one single way to perform a euthanasia. Some veterinarians want to sedate the pet to minimize the pain they feel. This can be done with a pain medication which will make them a bit sleepy, but they should still be alert. 

But some veterinarians want them completely sleeping. You as the pet owner need to let a vet know if you want them to be awake enough to recognize you or if you are ok with them being sedated first. 

Most vets will give:

  1. A pain medication/light sedative where the pet is still awake and place an IV catheter. (Sometimes this is done in the back/with you not present). 
  2. Then an anesthetic like drug is used to anesthetize the pet 
  3. Finally, a drug that stops the heart.

Animals may take a few breaths after the heart has stopped, as the diaphragm relaxes. This is normal. 

Additionally, most of the time the pet’s eyes will NOT close. The relaxed state of the eyes is open, not closed.

Finally, animals may urinate or defecate as well as everything relaxes.

When done in this fashion, it is painless and usually takes only a few minutes.

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