Cushing's in Pets

My 12-year-old Boston terrier was just diagnosed with Cushing's. Can I do anything natural to manage this disease?
Answered by Shawn Messonnier, DVM

Luckily several natural solutions can help this adrenal disorder. Technically called hyperadrenocorticism, Cushing’s disease causes the adrenal glands to overproduce hormones, particularly corticosteroids, which can cause increased thirst and urination, panting, high blood pressure, and even hair loss. Cushing’s is often triggered by adrenal tumors (some of which can be removed) or benign pituitary tumors, which are usually left alone; a simple blood test (low-dose dexamethasone) can usually detect it.

If your dog has an operable adrenal tumor, surgery could help him make a full recovery. Unfortunately, benign pituitary tumors are to blame for most cases and require lifelong treatment. If your vet prescribed Lysodren (a relative of DDT) or Trilostane—two effective but potentially toxic drugs—your pooch should get regular blood tests to check for overdosing (especially of Lysodren) and you should watch for side effects like lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and weakness.

Cushing’s responds well to herbs, supplements, and homeopathic remedies that nourish and heal the adrenal glands and liver. You’ll need to work with a natural vet to monitor your dog’s condition and his reaction to the herbs (check out ahvma.org to find someone near you). Choline, milk thistle, and B vitamins help reduce the increased cortisol levels that result from Cushing’s, while adrenal glandular extracts nourish the adrenal glands and assist healing.

I would also recommend you stop vaccinating your pet. Annual vaccines are unnecessary in many pets and can trigger chronic problems. Most pets with Cushing’s disease are older so it’s unlikely your dog will ever need another vaccine. Finally, a natural diet free of by-products, chemicals, preservatives, and additives makes a huge health impact.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM, is the author of The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats (Three Rivers Press, 2001)