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Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is a common hormonal disorder that affects dogs, particularly small breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers. With symptoms that can initially appear to be part of the regular aging process, this condition often goes unnoticed in the early stages. 

However, timely diagnosis and proper management are crucial for your pet’s health and longevity. This guide offers an overview of understanding, diagnosing, and treating Canine Cushing’s disease, particularly in Yorkies and other small breeds.

Understanding Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease results from the overproduction of the hormone cortisol, often caused by a benign tumor in the pituitary or adrenal gland. Cortisol plays a crucial role in managing stress, weight, blood sugar levels, and infections. However, excessive cortisol can lead to various health problems, from skin conditions to altered metabolism, to immune suppression.

Signs and Symptoms

Cushing’s disease can present a variety of symptoms, which may initially seem mild or attributed to aging. Common symptoms include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, hair loss, lethargy, and a pot-bellied appearance. 

Specific to small breeds like the Yorkie, they may experience thinning hair and skin issues, including darkening and infections due to a weakened immune system. If your dog starts showing these signs, a visit to the vet is recommended.


Diagnosing Cushing’s disease requires multiple steps. The vet will typically start with a complete history and physical examination. Blood tests, urine tests, and ultrasound imaging may follow to confirm the diagnosis and understand the disease’s extent. The vet may also perform the ACTH stimulation test or the low-dose dexamethasone suppression (LDDS) test, which are specific to diagnosing Cushing’s disease.


Once diagnosed, treatment for Cushing’s disease typically involves medication to reduce cortisol production. Trilostane (Vetoryl) and mitotane (Lysodren) are the most commonly used medications. If an adrenal tumor is causing the condition, surgery might be an option. However, pituitary gland tumors, which are more common, are usually not surgically treated due to the gland’s delicate nature.

Treatment can require frequent vet visits initially, as dosage adjustments might be needed based on your pet’s response to medication. Over time, with the disease under control, vet visits can become less frequent. Remember, treatment is typically lifelong and requires a dedicated commitment to your pet’s health.

Natural Treatment Options

Some natural canine Cushing’s remedies may help manage symptoms and support overall health in conjunction with traditional treatments. However, it’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian before starting any new treatments, as some natural remedies may interfere with prescribed medications or may not be appropriate depending on the specifics of your dog’s condition.


Dietary changes can be beneficial for dogs with Cushing’s disease. A low-carb, high-protein diet can help manage weight and support overall health. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish oil, can help promote skin health.


Some dog owners and holistic veterinarians use certain supplements to support the health of dogs with Cushing’s. Milk thistle, for example, is believed to support liver health, while Melatonin is sometimes used to help manage cortisol levels and support hair growth.


Certain homeopathic remedies, such as Arsenicum, Hepar Sulph, and Mercurius, have been suggested to support dogs with Cushing’s. However, homeopathic remedies should be used under the guidance of a veterinarian experienced in homeopathy.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Some herbal remedies used in TCM, such as Si Miao San or Xiao Chai Hu Tang, are believed to help balance the body’s systems and support overall health.


Acupuncture is often used in conjunction with other treatments to help manage symptoms, improve energy levels, and support overall well-being.


Regular, gentle exercise can help manage weight, keep muscles toned, and promote a sense of well-being.

Stress Management

Stress can exacerbate Cushing’s disease symptoms. Providing a calm, stable environment, and regular routine can help manage your dog’s stress levels.

Remember, while these natural treatments may help support your dog’s health and manage symptoms, they are not a replacement for veterinary care. Cushing’s disease is a serious condition that requires medical management. Always consult with your vet before beginning any new treatment regimen.

Living With Cushing’s Disease

While Cushing’s is a serious disease, dogs can live a good quality of life with appropriate management. Regular vet check-ups, a balanced diet, and gentle exercise can help keep your dog healthy. Medication side effects should be monitored closely, and the vet should be informed of any new or worsening symptoms.

Care For Small Breeds

Specific care needs to be taken with small breeds, like Yorkies, due to their size and predisposition to the disease. Regular grooming can help monitor skin changes and hair loss, and diets may need adjusting to prevent obesity due to increased appetite.


While Cushing’s disease can be daunting for pet parents, understanding the disease, recognizing its symptoms, and seeking early veterinary intervention can lead to successful management.

It’s essential to remember that dogs with Cushing’s disease, especially small breeds, can continue to live fulfilling lives with appropriate care, regular monitoring, and a whole lot of love.