Cushing's disease affects various glands in cats causing many health issues like excessive thirst and muscle wasting. Here, our vets in Madison share some of the symptoms of Cushing's disease in cats, the causes of this serious condition and what can be done to treat it.

Cushing's Disease in Cats

Hyperadrenocorticism, more commonly called Cushing's disease, is caused by the excessive and persistent production of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Excessive cortisol production can occur due to one of two underlying issues:

  1. Iatrogenic Hyperadrenocorticism: This type of Cushing's disease 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.
  2. Naturally Occurring Hyperadrenocorticism: Cushing's disease of this type 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 quite rare in cats several symptoms are characteristic of the condition. One of the most noticeable and troubling symptoms that can indicate your cat has Cushing's 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
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Curling ear tips

If your cat is showing any of the symptoms above contact your vet to book an examination for your cat. 

Treatment Options for Cushing's Disease in Cats

When it comes to Cushing's disease, the treatment in cats will depend on the type and severity they are experiencing.

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. Your cat may also need additional treatments to combat the effects of the original medications.

For cats suffering from naturally occurring hyperadrenocorticism, one of the following treatments may be recommended:

  • Drug therapy: While several different drugs have been used to suppress cortisol production, few of these have been proven effective in cats. Trilostane appears to work best in cats and is the most commonly prescribed. This medication is administered once or twice a day. Drug therapy may help to relieve your cat's Cushing's symptoms although it can take a fair amount of 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.

What is the life expectancy for cats with Cushing's disease?

Cushing's disease in cats has variable outcomes and the life expectancy can depend on other factors. Many cats suffering from iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism respond well to treatment and go on to live comfortable lives for many months or years. Whereas, cats with Cushing's disease caused by a malignant tumor face a more guarded prognosis. Your vet will provide you with more details of your cat's specific condition and a prognosis based on your cat's illness.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is showing any signs that indicate Cushing's disease, contact our vets in Madison to schedule an examination.