Cushing’s Disease – Flora’s Story

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Flora the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with Cushings disease

Cavaliers are at a higher risk for Cushing’s disease than some other breeds. It is a serious, genetic condition which needs to be rapidly diagnosed and treated or the dog can become very ill indeed.

Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) occurs when the body produces too much of cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Coristol regulates so many body functions including skin, tissue function, blood sugar levels and body weight among other things. If the body produces too much the immune system becomes weak and the body is then vulnerable for infection and other diseases.

There are two causes of Cushing’s disease; either a tumour on the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland.

We have seen a few cases over the years and most recently adopted girl Flora has been diagnosed.

Flora’s Story

Flora came into rescue in July 2020 from a breeder. Our first observations were what an awful hair cut she had, poor girl, there were tram lines and exposed skin. This isn’t uncommon for breeding dogs, frequently the breeders will shave them right down as they will have been heavily matted.

Flora's patchy fur and skin problems

It was discovered after her initial blood tests, that she had pancreatitis. She was very tender in her stomach area and the pain was deferred to her spine area. She would flinch when touched as if you had a hot poker held against her skin. She is a typical Cavalier and stoic, it is likely she had had chronic pancreatitis for many years that was untreated. She came into rescue as she was not getting pregnant.

She had been fed a low fat diet since she arrived in rescue and after several bloods tests her pancreatitis improved. It is very possible that Flora could have further pancreatitis flare ups but avoiding fat in the diet usually dramatically helps.

Flora has also had urinary tract infections, another symptom of Cushing’s. These thankfully have been cleared with the prolonged use of antibiotics. Due to her weakened immune system she will always be at higher risk of them developing.

Her fur didn’t grow at all and we started to look at whether she had Cushing’s disease.

Her symptoms at the start were as follows:

Hair loss and no growth

Urine infections

Pancreatitis

Increased drinking and therefore urinating in house, especially at night

Thickening of the skin

Slightly potbellied

Flora has always been very quiet but happy

Skin infection, scabby

These are the most common symptoms seen as the condition develops.

How is Cushing’s diagnosed and managed?

Blood tests, urine tests and an ultrasound confirmed that she had Cushing’s disease. The good news is advances have been made so the vets are able to manage Cushing’s much more easily than before. Some of the symptoms are similar to that you would see in a dog that is aging and can be quite mild. Sometimes dogs aren’t diagnosed quickly due to the way these symptoms present.

Flora started taking Vetoryl medication, the dose may need to be frequently adjusted based on clinical signs and blood test results. It works by blocking the excess cortisol from being produced. The medication is effective for both adrenal-based and pituitary-based Cushing’s and usually means a much better quality of life. Her dose has been increased recently in response to further hair loss and scabby, scaly skin. She has some fluffy fur starting to grow which is lovely to see. Flora is drinking less and is increasingly dry during the night. She is also slightly more active, but her skin as yet has not improved at all.

Poor Flora also has Mitral Valve Disease with heart enlargement so is on heart medication. Commonly untreated Cushing’s will affect the heart along with other organs including the eyes, liver and kidneys. She also has neurological problems, she has end stage Syringomyelia. She isn’t always aware where her limbs are and she sometimes has difficulty supporting her weight.

Flora has a good quality of life currently, everything is very much living day-by-day. She very much enjoys going for walks, exploring the garden and cuddling up with her friends. What the future holds we do not know but hopefully once we get the dosage of the medication correct things will improve further. Flora is such a beautiful girl and has so much to put up with. Thankfully Flora was adopted by her fosterer, she needed a very experienced owner that is willing to make the multiple vet visits and deal with the rollercoaster that Cushing’s certainly is.

Very sadly there is no cure for Cushing’s disease, medication can help to manage the condition. Surgery is an option in very few cases. Dogs with Cushing’s need frequent blood tests to keep a check on cortisol levels and medication can require a dose change as a result.

More Cushing’s disease information:

Cavalier Health – Cushing’s Disease