Karen Helton-Rhodes, DVM, DACVD   

Terri Bonenberger, DVM, DACVD   



There are many clinical signs associated with Cushing’s syndrome (also called hyperadrenocorticism) in dogs. These signs usually come on very gradually and, because of this slow onset, these changes are often written off as part of the normal aging process. The following is a list of common symptoms that an owner might observe in their pet at home.

Drinking excessively-urinating excessively-incontinence 

1.    Owners often notice that lately the water bowl must be filled more frequently than in the past.

2.     Some dogs are unable to hold their bladder all night and begin crying to go outside during the night when previously this was unnecessary.

3.    Also, urinary tract infections may also be detected

4.    Urine leaking may be observed.

How Much Water Consumption is Normal?

Each day a typical dog should drink about 1 cup of water for each 10 pounds of body weight.

Increased or Even Ravenous Appetite

This symptom often leads dogs to beg incessantly or steal food from the garbage. It is important for an owner not to be fooled by the pet’s good appetite; eating well is not necessarily a sign of normal health. 

Pot-bellied Appearance 

This symptom, present in over 90% of Cushing’s syndrome dogs, results from hormonal redistribution of body fat plus a breakdown (weakness) of abdominal musculature.

Muscle Weakness

Muscle protein is broken down in Cushing’s syndrome. The result may be seen by the owner as exercise intolerance, lethargy, or reluctance to jump up on furniture or even climb stairs.

Skin Disease 

1.    The classical signs of endocrine (hormonal) skin diseases are:

  • a.     Hair loss on the main body….often sparing the head and legs.
  • b.    Thin, wrinkled skin with poor wound healing….especially on the belly region.
  • c.     Hair that does not grow back after clipping.
  • d.    Blackheads and darkening of the skin, especially on the abdomen.
  • e.     Persistent or recurring skin infections (infections associated with endocrine disease are typically not that itchy).

2.    Another dermatitis associated with Cushing’s is called Calcinosis Cutis, in which calcium (mineral) deposits occur within the skin. These are raised, hard, yellow-pink, almost rock-like areas that can occur almost anywhere on the body.


3.    Some other notable findings might include: excessive panting and shortness of breath, infertility, extreme muscle stiffness (called pseudomyotonia - a very rare symptom in Cushing’s disease), and high blood pressure.


In cats, the clinical features of Cushing’s disease are similar to those in dogs: excess water consumption, muscle wasting, pot-bellied appearance, thin coat, and skin abnormalities. Some cats develop a peculiar curling-in of their ear tips. An important difference to note is that while only 10% of dogs with Cushing’s disease develop diabetes mellitus, 80% of cats with Cushing’s disease develop diabetes mellitus.

Diabetes in an animal with Cushing’s disease is very difficult to control until the Cushing’s disease is controlled.