Cushing's Disease in Cats

Diabetes and 'fragile skin' can be among the first signs that your cat has Cushing's disease. Today, our Simi Valley veterinarians provide more information about this uncommon but serious condition in cats.

What is Cushing's Disease in cats?

Hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing's disease or Cushing's syndrome, is caused by the adrenal glands' persistent and excessive production of cortisol. This excessive cortisol production can be caused by one of two factors.

  • Iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism is a type of Cushing's disease caused by the long-term use of high-dose cortisol-like drugs used to combat inflammation caused by other health conditions and allergies, or progesterone-type drugs (progestagens) used to control reproductive cycling in female cats.
  • Naturally-Occurring Hyperadrenocorticism is defined by excessive cortisol production as a result of adrenal or pituitary gland tumors. Pituitary gland tumors can cause an increase in adrenocorticotropic hormone production, causing the adrenals to enlarge and produce an excess of cortisol.

What are the symptoms of Cushing's disease?

While Cushing's disease is uncommon in cats, there are a number of symptoms that are specific to the disease. One of the most noticeable and concerning symptoms of Cushing's disease in cats is extremely thin and fragile skin that can break and bleed from normal petting.

When Cushing's disease does occur in cats, it is usually associated with diabetes, which means that symptoms of diabetes are also symptoms of Cushing's disease. The following are some of the most common Cushing's symptoms in cats:

  • Fragile skin
  • Excessive urination
  • Enlargement of the abdomen
  • Muscle wasting
  • Very poor coat condition
  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Curling of the ear tips

What is the treatment for Cushing's disease in cats?

The treatment for Cushing's disease in cats depends upon the underlying cause of the condition. 

Iatrogenic Hyperadrenocorticism

If your cat is diagnosed with iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism, your veterinarian will advise you to gradually discontinue the medications that are causing the disease. To treat the underlying condition for which the problematic drug was originally prescribed, alternative medications will need to be prescribed.

Naturally-Occurring Hyperadrenocorticism

If your cat is suffering from naturally-occurring hyperadrenocorticism your vet may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Drug therapy – While a variety of drugs have been used to suppress cortisol production, only a few have been shown to be effective in cats. Trilostane appears to be the most effective in cats and is the most commonly prescribed medication. This medication is taken once or twice daily. Drug therapy may help to relieve your cat's Cushing's symptoms, though results may take some time.
  • 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 therapy for pituitary tumors – The availability of this treatment is limited and can be very expensive, however, this form of therapy can be effective in treating Cushing's in cats.

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

If your cat has been diagnosed with Hyperadrenocorticism the cause of the condition will play a large role in your cat's prognosis.

Cushing's disease in cats is rarely curable, but many cats respond well to treatment and live a happy life for months or years. However, if your cat's Cushing's disease is caused by a malignant tumor, the prognosis is understandably bleak.

Is your cat showing signs of Cushing's Disease? Contact Park Animal Hospital. We can assess your friend and make recommendations on the next steps.