Cushing's disease in cats is rare but it can occur, and when it does the symptoms can be alarming. Here, our Rochester vets shares some of the symptoms of Cushing's disease in cats, and what causes this serious condition.
Cushing's Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism) in Cats
Hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing's disease, is caused by the adrenal glands' excessive and persistent production of cortisol. Excess cortisol production can be caused by one of two underlying problems:
- Iatrogenic Hyperadrenocorticism is a form of Cushing's disease that is caused by the long-term and high dose use of cortisol-like drugs to treat allergies and inflammation caused by other health conditions, or progesterone-type drugs (progestagens) which are used to control reproductive cycling in female cats.
- Naturally-Occurring Hyperadrenocorticism is characterized by excess cortisol production due to adrenal or pituitary gland tumors. Pituitary gland tumors can lead to the excessive production of adrenocorticotropic hormone, which can result in the adrenals becoming enlarged and producing excessive cortisol.
Symptoms of Cushing's Disease in Cats
Although Cushing's disease is uncommon in cats, there are a few symptoms that are typical of the condition. One of the most noticeable and concerning symptoms of Cushing's disease in cats is extremely thin and fragile skin that breaks and bleeds with the slightest touch.
Diabetes generally occurs at the same time as Cushing's in cats, meaning symptoms of diabetes can point to Cushing's disease. Other symptoms of Cushing's in cats include:
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Swollen abdomen
- Muscle wasting
- Poor coat condition
- Increased appetite
- Hair loss
- Curling ear tips
Treatment for Cats with Cushing's Disease
The treatment of Cushing's disease largely depends upon the underlying cause of the condition:
If your cat is diagnosed with iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism your vet will prescribe a controlled and gradual withdrawal of the medications that are causing the disease. Alternative medications will need to be prescribed to treat the underlying condition for which the problematic drug was originally prescribed.
If your cat is suffering from naturally-occurring hyperadrenocorticism your vet may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Drug therapy – While a variety of drugs have been used to suppress cortisol production, only a few are effective in cats. Trilostane appears to be the most effective in cats and is the most commonly prescribed. This medication is taken once or twice daily. Drug therapy may help to relieve your cat's Cushing's symptoms, but it may take some time to see results.
- Surgical adrenalectomy – The surgical removal of an adrenal gland can be a good treatment option if just one adrenal gland is affected.
- Hypophysectomy – The surgical removal of the pituitary gland is a challenging and potentially risky surgery that is typically only used in extreme cases.
- Radiation for pituitary tumors – The availability of this treatment can be limited but often proves to be effective in treating cats with Cushing's disease.
Life Expectancy for Cats With Cushing's Disease
Predicting the treatment outcomes for cats with Cushing's depends greatly upon the cause of the condition.
Many cats with iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism respond well to treatment and live a happy life for many months or years. Cats with Cushing's disease caused by a malignant tumor, on the other hand, have an understandably bleak prognosis.