When to Put Down a Dog with Cushing’s Disease? | French Bulldog Owner (2023)


Important Note: This article has been checked and verified by a professional veterinarian for accuracy. However, you should always seek advice from your own vet before making any decisions on euthanasia as thereare never black and white answers for this decision.

Having a dog that suffers from a terminal illness can be hard. This is especially if you know that you don’t have much time to be with them. My friend had a dog that was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease about two years ago. Having seen his experience, I decided to research more on the disease and write an article about it.

When is the right time to put down a dog with Cushing’s disease? There’s no particular time that is set for dog owners to euthanize their dogs when suffering from Cushing’s disease. Unless the disease is really advanced, the decision lies with them. Most dog owners prefer euthanizing their dogs when their dog’s quality of life has deteriorated.

At this time, the symptoms may start to take a toll on the dog. This may be accompanied by anxiety and a deteriorating life. To prevent any further suffering, some owners prefer to euthanize their dogs as soon as possible. Others prefer waiting a few more days to come to terms with their dog’s decline.

What is Cushing’s disease?

Cushing is a lifelong condition that occurs in dogs due to excessive production of a hormone known as cortisol. The disease is also known as hyperadrenocorticism. Cortisol helps to regulate metabolism, manage weight, deal with stress, and maintain skin and tissue structure.

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There are two types of Cushing’s disease – pituitary-dependent and adrenal-dependent.

1. Pituitary-dependent

The pituitary gland is found at the base of the dog’s brain and is responsible for the production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When a dog has Cushing’s disease, a tumor formsassociated with the pituitary gland, causing excessive production of ACTH which is then transported throughout the dog’s body.

Once it reaches the adrenal glands, it forces them to produce excessive cortisol. Pituitary tumors account for about 80% – 85% of naturally-occurring cases of Cushing’s disease.

2. Adrenal-dependent

The adrenal-dependent type is caused by a tumor that forms in one or both of the adrenal glands that are found above the kidneys. This then causes them to overproduce cortisol. Presence of the tumor initiates excessive secretion of the hormone. This type of Cushing’s disease accounts for the remaining 15% – 20% of cases of Cushing’s disease in dogs.

There’s another type of Cushing’s disease known as iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome. It is not very common and occurs in dogs that have taken steroids such as prednisone for an extensive period.

Diagnosing these three types of Cushing’s disease isn’t easy. Dog owners may be required to take their dogs for multiple tests. An ultrasound is also used in certain cases to find out if a tumor exists on any or both of the adrenal glands. Symptoms are also normally vague and may appear together with those of other diseases.

The most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease include:

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  1. Increased urination (polyuria) and thirst (polydipsia)
  2. Skin problems including comedones (blackheads)
  3. Panting
  4. Obesity and a pot-belly
  5. Neurologic changes in case of pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease
  6. Increased appetite
  7. Hair loss and poor coat quality
  8. Recurrent infections
  9. General body weakness

It’s important to remember that dogs with Cushing’s disease will not necessarily depict all these symptoms.

Who should do it?

There are many things that trouble pet owners when their dog is suffering from a chronic illness. Such include having to worry about their dog’s pain, saying goodbye, dealing with the accompanying stress, and trying to do as much as possible to make sure that the dog is alright.

Watching the dog’s health decline isn’t easy. This is especially if they have been a part of the family for a long period of time, hence, developing a close bond. Considering all these, it’s advisable for dog owners to speak to their vet when signs begin to show that the dog’s time is approaching.

Families can sometimes get caught up in the euthanasia dilemma where they fear ending their dog’s life too soon or waiting for too long. If the animal is no longer able to enjoy positive experiences, it may be time to let go.

Studies have shown that first-time pet owners often keep their pets for too long and end up regretting later. For those that have had similar experiences before, the decision is often easier and fast.

How do you treat Cushing’s disease in dogs?

The type of treatment administered for Cushing’s disease depends on whether the condition is pituitary or adrenal-dependent, as well as the symptoms depicted by the dog. Mild symptoms arising from pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease may not need treatment. Treatment starts when the dog’s condition starts to worsen.

Medication is normally used to manage the condition, and not cure it. Dogs suffering from either of the two types are normally scheduled for regular appointments and blood tests to monitor their response to treatment. Doses are adjusted accordingly depending on the dog’s reaction.

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There are three common types of medication administered to dogs suffering from Cushing’s disease:

  1. Trilostane (Vetoryl): An FDA-approved drug that helps to stop excessive production of cortisol by the adrenal glands.
  2. Selegiline (Anipryl): Another FDA-approved drug used to treat less complicated cases of pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease in dogs.
  3. Mitotane (Lysodren): A human drug used in chemotherapy to destroy the cancer that causes adrenal glands to excrete excessive cortisol. It’s an “off-label” drug that vets prescribe to animals depending on their conditions.

Dogs suffering from adrenal-dependent Cushing’s are put on either trilostane or mitotane for 2 to 4 months to reduce the tumor. Treatment can continue where surgery is not an option to allow the dog to live a positive life before symptoms start deteriorating their quality of life.

How long does a dog live with Cushing’s disease?

With appropriate treatment and regular monitoring, some dogs with Cushing’s disease can expect to live and manage well for many years. With a bit of luck and extra care, they can manage it. Treatment only helps your dog live comfortably and devoid of pain. It rarely cures the disease.

Dogs under medication are usually relatively symptom-free, happy, and with great appetites. As long as their owners can tolerate the excessive urination, they are normally great pets to have around. They also rarely “suffer” from the disease.

Medication can help to control small tumors for several years. For large tumors, however, the future isn’t as bright. If the tumor isn’t expansive, surgery may be a good option where the adrenal tumor is removed. This only applies to adrenal-dependent cases. For pituitary-dependent Cushing’s, surgery is rarely an option as the technology is still under development.

Dogs with pituitary-based Cushing’s usually have an estimated life expectancy of 2 years. It’s important to know that an untreated dog can live as long as that which is under treatment. Whether to consider treatment or not is a conversation best had with a veterinarian.

Related questions

(Video) Signs Of Cushing's Disease In Boston Terriers (6 Symptoms)

What dog breeds are prone to Cushing’s disease?

Cushing’s disease is common in the Dachshund, Poodle, German Shepherd, and terriers like the Dandie, Dinmonts, and Yorkies. Others that may also be predisposed include the boxer, Labrador Retriever, Maltese, Boston Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, and Australian Shepherd. The disease’s mode of inheritance is yet to be discovered.

Handy Hint: The Boston Terrier breed will often be mistaken for French Bulldogs. Both are prone to Cushing’s and also share some health traits. But there are some subtle differences between the two breeds.

What is the recommended diet for dogs with Cushing’s disease?

Dogs suffering from Cushing’s disease should be fed with low-fat foods and low fiber foods.


If your dog is suffering with this disease, you have my full sympathy.I don’t know really what decision we would make if our own dog Claude has Cushings.

Knowing when to put down a dog with Cushing’s disease is a tough decision you might need to make… but please do so in full consultation with your vet.


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When should I euthanize my dog with Cushing's disease? ›

The best time to euthanize a dog with Cushing's disease is when they appear lethargic or less active than usual. It is a hard decision to put a dog down. You are not only breaking your own heart but also the heart of your pet.

What are the final stages of Cushing disease in dogs? ›

Signs of Late-Stage Dog Cushing's Disease

Depression, lethargy, exercise intolerance. Poor hair coat. Dilute urine and excessive urination. Cold ears, back, and abdomen.

How long can a 12 year old dog live with Cushings disease? ›

Is Cushing's disease fatal in dogs? According to the American Kennel Club the average survival time for a dog with Cushing's is about two years, with only 10 percent living beyond the four-year mark.

How do you know when your dog is dying from Cushing's disease? ›

Signs that your dog is in the advanced stages of the disease include the following: Dogs will often develop a pot-bellied appearance, lose hair on their flanks and develop thin skin, as well as have recurrent infections due to an impaired immune system.

Is it worth treating an older dog for Cushing's disease? ›

Usually treatment for Cushing's is not even recommended unless the dog has clinical signs because treatment does not necessarily change their overall life span - it just keeps them from being polyuric (urinating a lot), polydypsic (drinking a lot), losing their hair, etc.

Are dogs with Cushings suffering? ›

Most dogs with Cushing's are not in any pain and their symptoms can be easily managed through medication. Dogs that have developed the condition due to a tumor on the adrenal gland may require the tumor to be surgically removed as these tumors are aggressive.

What causes death in dogs with Cushing's? ›

Glands near the kidneys produce cortisone necessary for health. Unbalanced levels are unhealthy and can cause illness and even death. Too little and sudden death can occur, too much results in Cushing syndrome. Too much cortisone over a long period of time can also result in death.

How do you comfort a dog with Cushing's disease? ›

Establish playtime and cuddle time downstairs so they feel comfortable and connected, even if you sleep upstairs. Even though Cushing's dogs experience muscle and bone loss, a gentle exercise routine is essential. Easy exercise can help build muscle strength. Start slow and build up to longer walks.

What foods should dogs avoid with Cushing's disease? ›

OTHER TWEAKS on Cushing's disease dog food
  • Foods high in protein.
  • Foods low in fat.
  • Foods low in fiber.
  • Foods with low purine levels (avoid organ meats)
  • Foods low in carbohydrates.
  • Foods low in calcium.
  • Foods rich in lignans(including whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables)
Aug 17, 2022

How fast does Cushing's disease progress? ›

Because Cushing's progresses slowly and gradually, in most cases, it can go unrecognised for quite some time, sometimes resulting in depression. Looking back, many patients realise that there were clues to the condition two or more years before they were referred to an endocrinologist.

How do you treat Cushing's disease in senior dogs? ›

Two drugs, trilostane (brand name Vetoryl®) and mitotane (brand name Lysodren®), are commonly used. Selegiline hydrochloride (brand name Anipryl®), and ketoconazole (brand name Nizoral®) are also used to treat canine Cushing's disease, although they are not considered as effective as trilostane or mitotane.

Does Cushing's disease in dogs affect the brain? ›

Cushing's syndrome, although not a disease that is immediately life threatening, greatly impacts the quality of life for your dog and can impact the family as well. Dogs with this disease are at a higher risk for developing the following health problems: Diabetes. Blood clots – mainly involving the lungs, legs and ...

How do I know if my dog is in pain? ›

What are the typical signs of pain in dogs? General behaviour: Shaking, flattened ears, low posture, aggression, grumpy temperament, panting or crying, excessive licking or scratching a specific area, reluctant to play, interact or exercise, lameness (limping), stiffness after rest, loss of appetite.

Do dogs with Cushing's have anxiety? ›

The symptoms of Cushing's disease in dogs are similar to some of the side effects human patients experience when taking steroids. Symptoms of Cushing's disease in dogs may include: Restlessness, which may include senior dog anxiety at night.

Does Cushing's in dogs cause leg weakness? ›

He pants all the time, and now his hind legs are losing muscle tone and getting weak. Many owners dismiss these as normal signs of aging, but they are classic symptoms of Cushing's disease, which affects an estimated 100,000 dogs in the U.S. every year.

Is Cushing's fatal in dogs? ›

Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a serious health condition in dogs that occurs when the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol (cortisone) in the animal's body. Excess cortisol can put a dog at risk of several serious conditions and illnesses, from kidney damage to diabetes, and can be life-threatening.

How does Cushing's cause death? ›

Vascular disease is the main cause of death in CS patients (2, 4, 8, 12, 14). Indeed, the risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events is greater in patients with active CS as compared with the general population and persists during long-term follow-up, even after remission has been achieved (7, 14).

What happens if Vetoryl doesn't work? ›

Without a constant supply of Vetoryl, cortisol production will increase and your dog may start to display symptoms of Cushing's once more.

Why do dogs with Cushing's pant at night? ›

The basis for increased panting in dog's with Cushing's disease is multifactorial. First, Cushing's disease results in increased fat deposits in the abdominal cavity and around the chest. Second, an increase in liver size impedes the diaphragm from being able to expand with ease.

How do I lower my dogs cortisol levels? ›

A combination of Melatonin and Lignans offer an excellent natural treatment for both Cushing's and Atypical Cushing's disease in dogs. In fact, supplementing with melatonin and lignans helps your dog's system return to normal.

Does exercise help dogs with Cushing's disease? ›

Dogs with Cushing's disease can benefit from daily exercise. You may need to start small and build up to a more rigorous activity, but gentle, daily exercise can help control weight gain and sustain energy in a Cushing's dog.

Can dogs with Cushings eat chicken? ›

Dogs with Cushing's do best on a diet based on a highly digestible protein. Protein helps to prevent muscle wasting, a common side effect of Cushing's disease. Some examples of highly digestible protein sources include egg whites, beef, chicken, lamb, salmon, and organ meats.

How much water should a dog with Cushing's drink? ›

You must continually monitor your dog's food and water intake. Both should return to a normal level. Water intake should be less than 1 ounce per pound (66 ml per kilogram) of body weight per day, but do not limit the water if your dog needs to drink more.

How does melatonin help dogs with Cushings? ›

“What I use melatonin most commonly for is the treatment of Cushing's disease,” Morgan says. The supplement helps the body block the uptake of increased cortisone caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, she says. Cushing's disease can also be caused by a tumor on an adrenal gland.

How do you comfort a dog with Cushings? ›

Establish playtime and cuddle time downstairs so they feel comfortable and connected, even if you sleep upstairs. Even though Cushing's dogs experience muscle and bone loss, a gentle exercise routine is essential. Easy exercise can help build muscle strength. Start slow and build up to longer walks.

Is Cushings in dogs a death sentence? ›

How long does a dog live with Cushing's Disease? The ultimate age for a dog to survive with Cushing's is approximately three years. However, in some cases there is a survival rate of two years. Dogs with the disease can have a good quality of life if they're closely monitored by a vet.

Is Cushing's disease terminal in dogs? ›

Although Cushing's is typically a lifelong condition, the disease usually can be managed with medications. "It's important for a veterinarian to see the dog regularly and do blood tests," Stohlman says.

How fast does Cushing's disease progress in dogs? ›

Because it takes time — at least one year — for these symptoms to develop, and because the symptoms are often mistaken for common signs of aging, many dogs have the advanced form of CD before the owner even recognizes a problem exists.

Should you withhold water from a dog with Cushings? ›

You must continually monitor your dog's food and water intake. Both should return to a normal level. Water intake should be less than 1 ounce per pound (66 ml per kilogram) of body weight per day, but do not limit the water if your dog needs to drink more.


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