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Cushing’s disease, hyperadrenocorticism, results in overproduction of adrenal gland hormones, most commonly glucocorticoids. The disorder is relatively common in middle-aged to older dogs and rare in cats. Cushing’s disease usually occurs as a result of a benign (non-cancerous) tumor of the pituitary gland. Rarely, a tumor (benign or cancerous) of the adrenal gland(s) may occur. Long-term administration of corticosteroids causes a steroid-induced Cushing’s syndrome that usually resolves whenever the pet is weaned off the steroids.

Clinical signs resemble those seen in older pets with other diseases such as kidney disease or diabetes mellitus. Pets with Cushing’s disease often have increased water intake, increased urine output, increased appetite, and weight gain. Secondary infections of the skin and bladder are common in pets with Cushing’s disease.

Principal Natural Treatments

Glandular Therapy
The most common therapy is glandular therapy, which uses whole animal tissues or extracts of the adrenal gland. Current research supports this concept that the glandular supplements have specific activity and contain active substances that can exert physiologic effects.

While skeptics question the ability of the digestive tract to absorb the large protein macromolecules found in glandular extracts, evidence exists this is possible. Therefore, these glandular macromolecules can be absorbed from the digestive tract into the circulatory system and may exert their biologic effects on their target tissues.

Several studies show that radiolabeled cells, when injected into the body, accumulate in their target tissues. The accumulation is more rapid by traumatized body organs or glands than healthy tissues, which may indicate an increased requirement for those ingredients contained in the glandular supplements.

In addition to targeting specific damaged organs and glands, supplementation with glandular supplements may also provide specific nutrients to the pet. For example, glands contain hormones in addition to a number of other chemical constituents. These low doses of crude hormones are suitable for any pet needing hormone replacement, but especially for those pets with mild disease or those who simply need gentle organ support.

Glandular supplements also function as a source of enzymes that may encourage the pet to produce hormones or help the pet maintain health or fight disease. Finally, glandular supplements are sources of active lipids and steroids that may be of benefit to pets. The dosage of glandular supplements varies with the product used.

Other Natural Treatments
Useful treatments can include natural diet, antioxidants, and herbal therapies such as, astragalus, burdock, dandelion root, nettle and Siberian ginseng. These therapies are not curative but are used to support and nourish the adrenal gland. As with any condition, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health. These can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies, as they are unlikely to be effective by themselves in most patients. The natural treatments are widely used with variable success but have not all been thoroughly investigated and proven at this time.

Conventional Therapy
Lysodren, a drug related to DDT, is the preferred conventional therapy. The medication Anipryl can be used, but response is variable. Other medications such as ketoconazole may also be effective in some pets. Treatment is life long, and pets must be regularly monitored for side effects.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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