How Does Cushing’s Syndrome Affect A Dog’s Mobility? 

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Cushing’s Disease is not a term you want to hear in connection with your beloved canine friend. Unfortunately, dogs are as prone to disease as we are. Cushing’s Syndrome affects both dogs and humans. The symptoms of Cushing can often be mistaken for other conditions initially.

One sign commonly seen in a dog with Cushing’s Disease is that the dog has compromised mobility.

So how does Cushing’s syndrome affect a dog?

Cushing’s Syndrome affects a dog’s mobility by causing muscle weakness and atrophy. It is most noticeable in the hind legs. Dogs have a lack of energy and are quickly exhausted during exercise. In some dogs with Cushing’s, their mobility may be hampered by visual and neurological problems.

Understanding a dog’s disease aids the pet owner in finding the best methods to help it have a good quality of life. So let’s take a closer look:

What Is Cushing’s Syndrome?

How does cushing's disease affect a dog's mobility

Cushing’s Syndrome is a disease that significantly affects a dog’s metabolism. It arises from three major causes:

  1. A tumor or growth on the pituitary gland, which is a tiny pea-sized gland found at the base of the brain. 
  • A tumor in the adrenal gland which is located just above the kidneys. Adrenal tumors are responsible for fifteen percent of Cushing’s Syndrome in dogs.   
  • Iatrogenic Cushing’s Syndrome is caused when a dog has been on corticosteroids for an extended period. This form is fairly rare as most veterinarians monitor dogs diligently when they are on long-term cortisone. Iatrogenic Cushing’s Syndrome is usually reversible once the dog is taken off the corticosteroids and its body normalizes. 

The tumors result in the overproduction of cortisol in the body. This condition is sometimes known as hyperadrenocorticism or hypercortisolism. Cortisol is the stress hormone that prepares the body for flight or fight.

Too much cortisol causes changes in the dog’s metabolism and functioning.

Symptoms Of Cushing’s Syndrome In Dogs

The symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome can vary between dogs. Some common symptoms are:

  1. Increased thirst
  2. Increased urination
  3. Increased appetite
  4. Weight gain
  5. Lethargy
  6. Thinning coat
  7. Muscle weakness
  8. Panting
  9. A fragile skin that bruises easily
  10. Diabetes Mellitus

Cushing’s Disease must be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. The pet owner may be referred to a veterinary specialist in complicated cases. 

Does Cushing’s Syndrome Affect All Dogs The Same?

Cushing’s Disease does not affect all dogs the same. Some may show only mild symptoms or only two or three symptoms. Some dogs show a wide range of symptoms with varying severity. 

The individual’s dog’s reaction to the disorder will result in a varying presentation of symptoms. For example, naturally slimmer dogs may not gain as much weight as dogs with heavier builds, but the opposite could also be true.

Each dog with Cushing’s Syndrome must be assessed individually to develop the best treatment plan for that dog. 

Some dogs can develop neurological symptoms in addition to the above signs. 

  1. Depression
  2. Cognitive decline
  3. Walking aimlessly in circles
  4. Vision loss
  5. Ataxia
  6. Pressing the head onto hard surfaces
  7. Loss of appetite
  8. Behavioral changes

How Does Cushing’s Syndrome Affect A Dog’s Mobility?

Cushing’s Syndrome increases cortisol output which degrades the fast-twitch muscle fibers. In addition, the transport of amino acids to the muscles is impaired, preventing the repair end regeneration of muscle. 

Cortisol affects the growth factors that influence muscle mass development. The result of these and other complex processes is that the muscles begin to atrophy, losing mass and strength.  

Muscle weakness in Cushing’s Syndrome is exacerbated by lowering serum potassium and phosphate levels, which are needed for the correct functioning of muscles. 

How Can You Help A Dog With Cushing’s Syndrome?

The pet owner should make allowances for the muscle weakness that the dog will experience. This may change over time and with treatment, and the owner should expect to be flexible, adapting to the dog’s changing needs.  

The dog may battle with stairs due to hind leg weakness, or resist going upstairs altogether. The dog can be assisted by installing a ramp or using a lift harness to aid it as it climbs the steps. 

Muscle weakness will cause the dog to slip more easily on hard floors. Increasing traction by using toe-grips or dog boots can improve safety and prevent falls. If the dog slips or tumbles, muscle tears due to muscle weakening and atrophy may easily occur. 

If your dog is uncomfortable wearing toe grips or boots, consider laying strips of textured flooring to improve the traction for the dog and make walking easier. 

Taking a dog with Cushing’s Syndrome for a walk is a good idea. It must be approached cautiously with the awareness that the dog’s energy and strength are limited. It is preferable to walk the dog on level ground, keeping the duration short.

More frequent, short walks are better than long rambles. 

Physical therapy can help your dog and provide you with some exercises to do with your dog at home. Hydrotherapy is a good way to exercise a dog as it is low impact. Swimming is tiring for dogs and must be carefully monitored in dogs with Cushing’s Syndrome. They could become suddenly exhausted and drown. 

Exercise is important to help keep the dog’s weight controlled and save as much muscle function as possible. At the same time, the dog cannot be pushed beyond its capabilities. Working closely with your veterinarian and veterinarian physical therapist is essential. 

Tips For Maintaining Life Quality

Trying to help the dog engage in as much physical activity as the veterinarian prescribes helps keep the dog’s life quality intact. If you enjoy long rambles with your dogs, try getting a doggy stroller or backpack for your dog with Cushing’s. In that way, the dog can still be part of the outing.

Provide your dog with mentally challenging toys. Even if the dog cannot be physically active, mental challenges will help keep it alert and engaged in the world.  

Many dogs enjoy car rides, and there is no reason to curtail these if your dog has Cushing’s Disease. 

Well housetrained dogs are often distressed if they have an accident and urinate in the home. Dogs with Cushing’s Syndrome may struggle with this. Do not make a fuss if this happens.

Provide the dog with a toilet corner where puppy pads are placed if the dog cannot get outside quickly enough. In an extreme case, you might consider dog diapers. This may take a bit of training but is easier to manage if the dog is constantly urinating inside. 

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