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Q: We had to put our 13-year-old dog to sleep due to Cushing's Disease. We were not aware of the signs of Cushing's, and our vet didn't catch it during the dog's yearly visit. Could you offer a brief discussion to help others?

-- T.B., Cyberspace

A: I'm sorry for your loss, and impressed with your intent to help others. Dr. Jeff Werber, a Los Angeles-based veterinarian and contributor to, says, "Cushing's is not an uncommon problem; its an over-secretion of cortisol. The body naturally secretes its own steroids, and in Cushings disease too much cortisol is being secreted by the adrenal glands. Often this happens because the adrenal gland is overstimulated by the pituitary (located in the brain), but sometimes an adrenal gland tumor can be the cause.

Symptoms include increased thirst and appetite, the appearance of a bloated belly, and/or hair loss. Cushing's is definitely a disease of older dogs (though not necessarily elderly).

Werber says veterinarians will typically question pet owners about their pets' behavior, such as increased thirst, etc. Also, this example is another reason why I advocate for twice-annual veterinary visits, offering the opportunity to detect illness early. There are also specific blood tests to confirm Cushing's.

Drug choices include Lysodren and a new, safer but more expensive choice called Vetoryl (trilostane). Malignancy in the case of tumor is rare, but possible.

"Once under control, most dogs continue to do well with continued medication," says Werber. "Of course, all dogs are individuals and some don't read the same books we do."

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