Last summer, just after moving back to the states from Germany, I was grooming our Pekingese and discovered that she had lost a ton of hair – I am talking HUGE patches of hair were missing, and her skin/coat had a really foul smell. Worried, we took her to a vet who ran a series of tests, both blood and skin cultures. The skin tests came back positive for yeast and her blood tests showed mild hypothyroidism – on the low end but still within normal limits. The vet told us that oftentimes pekingese hypothyroid will compromise the immune system which can make the dogs susceptible to skin infection, such as yeast but she wasn’t convinced that low thyroid was completely to blame.
Either way, she gave us an rx for her thyroid, to see if it would help her any, and a medicated shampoo to treat the yeast.
In addition to being mildly hypothyroid, our veterinarian suspected that Daisy might have something called Cushing’s Disease or hyperadrenocorticism, based on some of the symptoms that were not typical of hypothyroid: skin darkening, waking up coughing/gasping/panting in the middle of the night. However, many of the symptoms of Cushing’s are simlilar to hypothyroid (lethargy, weakened immune system).
What is Cushing’s Disease in Dogs?
Cushing’s Disease, aka hyperadrenocorticicm is a hormonal disorder that typically affects older dogs. 85% of the time is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. Cushing’s is common in older humans as well. In humans surgery to remove the tumor is quite effective, however it is not advisable in dogs.
In most cases (85%), a tumor is present on the pituitary gland which causes an overproduction of adrenal hormones, namely cortisol. This increase in cortisol is what causes the hair loss, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems among other things.
Unfortunately, Cushing’s Disease in dogs is incurable. The symptoms are treated as they appear to keep the dog as comfortable as possible.
Daisy was not formally diagnosed with Cushing’s because our vet advised us against having the blood work done, as it is extremely expensive and false-positive/false-negative results can occur. She told us that even if she was properly diagnosed with Cushing’s the medications used to treat Cushing’s in dogs are very dangerous and she wouldn’t recommend it anyway. Instead she suggested that we take the most common route, the homeopathic route, which is the most common form of treatment of Cushing’s Disease symptoms in dogs and which has been shown to be effective.
Before I discuss the treatment plan, which has been successful, let me go over the symptoms.
Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs:
– Alopecia “x” (hair loss): Symmetrical hair loss. Daisy had two large identical patches of hair missing on her torso on either side and near her tail. The hairs pull out easily when combed near these areas.
– Darkening of skin pigment: Daisy began having these strange dark patches appear on her skin. They looked like dirt at first but would not wash off. Little did we know, this is a Cushing’s sign.
– Lethargy: This is also a sign of Cushing’s Disease in Dogs but also a sign of old age! Daisy seemed depressed. The sparkle in her eyes was gone and she had lost her vigor.
– Excessive thirst and urination: Pekingese dogs tend to drink more in general, to keep cool. So you may or may not notice this symptom right away. However, if your dog is getting up in the middle of the night to drink, or seems to be drinking significantly more than usual, and/or having accidents in the house, then you should probably take her in to the vet. Excessive thirst can be a symptom of many other conditions, including hyperthyroid.
– Increased panting: Pekingese Dogs tend to pant more in order to lower body temperature due to being brachycephalic (short nosed). It is not uncommon for our Peke to pant on very short walks when the weather is warm. However, if your Pekingese is waking in the middle of the night, panting or gasping, you should have her looked at. This could be a sign of cardiovascular disease.
Daisy has, at some point in the last two years, displayed all of these symptoms. Some, like panting and hair loss, were more extreme than others. Whereas, the other symptoms (indoor accidents, lethargy) we just wrote off to stress since we had been traveling overseas.
Treatment for Cushing’s Disease in Dogs
So far the treatment regimen we are on has been incredibly successful! Her hair is thick and lustrous again and the smell is gone. No more hair loss! She is eating well, her poops are good and overall she seems happier. And what’s great is that the supplements we are giving her are all natural.
This treatment plan was given to us by our vet but was developed by the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine to treat Cushing’s Disease symptoms in dogs.
Melatonin. This is the first approach to treating hair loss (Alopecia “x”) due to Cushing’s. It is inexpensive, has few side effects and is very effective in preventing hair loss and encouraging regrowth by lowering cortisol levels.
Dosage: For dogs under 30 pounds the typical dose is 3mg (regular melatonin, not rapid release) every 12 hours for 3-4 months. If, after 3-4 months, hair has sufficiently grown back you can begin tapering off by reducing to 3mg every 24 hours for 2 months followed by 3mg every 2 days for 2 months and then 3mg 2x a week for maintenance.
We are now giving it to Daisy every 48 hours as her hair has completely grown back. The only side effect that we’ve noticed is that she gets a little groggy after taking it.
The melatonin that we use can be purchased on Amazon, here. It is made specifically for dogs and we really love it (so does Daisy!):
Lignans Flaxseed. Lignan lowers estradiol, (it acts as a phytoestrogen and competes with estradiol tissue estrogen receptors), and it also lowers 3-beta HSD enzyme (basically, it also lowers cortisol). Lignans are very safe and so dosage doesn’t need to be precise.
Dosage: 1 capsule a day. Each capsule is 33 mg.
We give this to Daisy once a day by breaking open the capsule and mixing it with her food.
The Lignans we use is Lignans for Life, Lignans for Cushings and it is also formulated for dogs (and people too!). It can be purchased here.