Adrenal Tumors in Dogs

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Tess Thompson

The symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs are often mistaken for normal signs of canine aging. But in fact, such symptoms may surface due to a hyperactive adrenal gland.

Although this disease cannot be cured completely, timely and adequate treatment can result in a longer and higher quality of life for the suffering dog.

The medical term used for Cushing’s disease is hyperadrenocorticism. Since the symptoms of the disease mimic the symptoms of other common diseases, the condition is often misdiagnosed or ignored.

Symptoms -like an increase in urination with pale, diluted urine, obesity with a pot belly, lethargy and intolerance to exercise, excessive thirst, a thin skin or alopecia (hair loss) - need to be taken seriously and warrant a visit to the veterinarian.

The major cause of hyperadrenocorticism in dogs is an excess of corticosteroids. The production of corticosteroids is controlled by a complex system that involves the pituitary gland.

The ACTH hormone, produced by the pituitary gland, moves through the blood stream and signals the adrenal glands near the kidneys to produce corticosteroids. In a healthy dog, it is a self-balancing system. However, when a tumor develops in the pituitary or adrenal glands, or when excessive administration of corticosteroids occurs for another reason, the level of required corticosteroids is compromised. This leads to Cushing’s disease.

Adrenal tumors are responsible for only about 15% of the hyperadrenocorticism cases in dogs. These tumors send inaccurate signals to various systems and cause an imbalance in the otherwise balanced body functions. All attempts made by the body to restore normalcy are of no use, and once Cushing’s disease has been contracted, it is not likely to go away completely.

Surgical removal of a malignant tumor is the first consideration. This is essential since the tumor is likely to spread to the kidneys or lungs. Chemotherapy can also be considered to treat adrenal tumors.

Since Cushing’s disease normally occurs in elderly dogs, there is likely to be a dilemma in the dog owners mind as to what would be more humane at this advanced stage in their pet’s life – treatment or euthanasia. So, it is important that dog owners know that if the adopted treatment shows positive results, it is likely that your dog may live for many more years. 


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