Does Cushing’S In Dogs Cause Coughing?

What is Cushing’s disease in dogs?

Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is an endocrine disorder that occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much of the hormone cortisol (Lake Cross Vet, 2021). The adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, produce cortisol and other hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism and response to stress or injury.

In dogs with Cushing’s disease, the adrenal glands become enlarged and overactive, pumping out excessive amounts of cortisol. This leads to a variety of symptoms related to the effects of high cortisol levels on the body. Some of the most common symptoms include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, panting, a pot-bellied appearance, muscle weakness, hair loss, and thinning of the skin (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Cushing’s is most often seen in middle-aged to older dogs, with an average age of diagnosis around 10 years. Certain breeds like poodles, dachshunds, and boxers are predisposed to developing Cushing’s. Without treatment, the ongoing high cortisol levels can lead to serious health consequences for affected dogs.

What are the symptoms of Cushing’s disease?

Some of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs include:

  • Increased thirst and urination – Dogs with Cushing’s tend to drink more water and urinate more frequently. This is often one of the first signs noticed by owners (

  • Increased appetite – The increased cortisol levels cause an increase in hunger. Owners may notice their dog begging for food or ravenously eating their meals (

  • Hair loss – Patchy hair loss or thinning fur is common. The hair loss often starts over the flanks but can occur anywhere on the body (

  • Thin skin – The skin can become thinner and more fragile. Dogs may develop bruising or skin tears more easily (

  • Pot belly – Cortisol causes fat redistribution and muscle wasting, leading to a distended or “pot bellied” appearance (

Is coughing a symptom of Cushing’s disease?

No, coughing is not considered a typical or direct symptom of Cushing’s disease in dogs. However, some dogs with Cushing’s may develop a cough due to secondary infections or conditions related to their Cushing’s disease according to this source.

The main symptoms of Cushing’s disease include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, hair loss, thinning skin, panting, and lethargy. Coughing is not usually directly caused by Cushing’s disease itself.

However, dogs with Cushing’s disease often have weakened immune systems that make them prone to secondary respiratory infections like kennel cough or pneumonia. The infection itself can cause coughing. Cushing’s may also lead to congestive heart failure, which can result in a cough.

So while coughing is not a direct clinical sign of Cushing’s disease, it may develop as a secondary symptom in some dogs due to opportunistic infections or conditions exacerbated by Cushing’s. If a dog with Cushing’s develops a new cough, it’s important to get them checked by a vet to diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

What causes the coughing in dogs with Cushing’s?

One of the main causes of coughing in dogs with Cushing’s disease is due to the immune system being suppressed. Cushing’s causes an increase in cortisol levels, which reduces the effectiveness of the immune system 1. With a weakened immune system, dogs are more susceptible to upper respiratory infections from bacteria, viruses and fungi, which can lead to coughing.

Some common upper respiratory infections that may occur and cause coughing include:

  • Bacterial infections like bordetella
  • Fungal infections like aspergillosis
  • Viral infections like canine influenza

The impaired immune system allows these infections to more easily take hold and cause inflammation in the respiratory tract. This irritation of the airways then leads to persistent coughing in dogs with Cushing’s. Treating the underlying infection is key to resolving Cushing’s-related coughing.

How is Cushing’s disease diagnosed?

Cushing’s disease is diagnosed through a combination of blood tests, urine tests, imaging, and the ACTH stimulation test. Some of the key diagnostic tests include:

Blood tests – Blood tests check hormone levels like cortisol and ACTH to look for abnormalities. Tests may include a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistry panel, electrolytes, and specific Cushing’s tests like the ACTH stimulation test and low-dose dexamethasone suppression test.

Urine tests – Urine cortisol levels may be tested over 24 hours to look for elevated cortisol. High cortisol in the urine could indicate Cushing’s.

Imaging – Abdominal ultrasound or CT scans can look for adrenal gland tumors or enlargement of the adrenals. MRI or CT of the brain might also check for pituitary tumors.

ACTH stimulation test – This test measures cortisol levels before and after injection of ACTH hormone. Excess cortisol production indicates Cushing’s disease. It helps distinguish pituitary vs. adrenal causes.(1)

How is Cushing’s disease treated?

There are three main treatment options for Cushing’s disease in dogs: medications, surgery, and radiation therapy.

The most common medication used is trilostane (Vetoryl), which helps reduce cortisol production. According to the FDA, trilostane can effectively return cortisol levels to normal in about 80% of dogs with pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease. It does require regular veterinary monitoring and dose adjustments. Other medications like mitotane (Lysodren) and ketoconazole may also be used.1

Surgery may be an option to remove the pituitary tumor if medications are not working. This complex procedure has risks like bleeding and infection, but success rates are high in dogs that are good surgical candidates. Radiation therapy can also be used to destroy pituitary tumors and control Cushing’s disease.2

Veterinarians will determine the best course of treatment based on the specific case, taking into account factors like the dog’s age, other health conditions, and severity of the Cushing’s disease.

What is the prognosis for dogs with Cushing’s?

With treatment, the prognosis for dogs with Cushing’s disease is often good, especially if caught early before complications develop. According to the veterinarians at VCA Animal Hospitals, “Although neither medical treatment can cure a dog with Cushing’s disease, control is possible for many years if the tumor is small.”

The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine reports that with medical therapy using trilostane or mitotane, the average survival time is 2-2.5 years. Surgical removal or radiation of the pituitary tumor has an average survival time of 1-2 years. The specialists at Vet Specialty state that “The prognosis for most dogs with Cushing’s disease is excellent, particularly those patients that are diagnosed prior to the onset of complications.”

While Cushing’s cannot be cured in dogs, with early diagnosis and proper lifelong treatment, dogs can live happily with the disease controlled for many years. However, owners do need to closely monitor their dog and administer medication daily. Regular vet checkups and testing are also crucial to ensure adequate treatment and catch any potential complications.

How can Cushing’s-related coughing be treated?

The most important part of treating coughing caused by Cushing’s disease is treating the underlying Cushing’s disease. Getting the excessive cortisol production under control can help resolve secondary issues like coughing.

Medications like trilostane or mitotane may be prescribed to control cortisol production and shrink the enlarged adrenal glands. These medications need to be given for the rest of the dog’s life to keep Cushing’s under control.

Antibiotics may also be prescribed by a veterinarian if the cough is caused by a secondary bacterial infection. Reducing inflammation from the infection can help relieve coughing episodes.

Other medications that may help control coughing include bronchodilators to open the airways, anti-inflammatories to reduce inflammation, and sedatives to suppress the cough reflex. These would be prescribed on a case-by-case basis depending on the underlying cause of the cough.

Making sure the dog stays well-hydrated and getting rest is also recommended. Humidified air, such as from a humidifier, can also help soothe airway inflammation.

While medication and supportive care are the main treatments, identifying and addressing any underlying primary causes of the cough, such as heart disease or a collapsing trachea, are also important for the long-term prognosis.

How can Cushing’s be prevented in dogs?

There is no known way to prevent Cushing’s disease in dogs. The underlying cause is usually a benign tumor of the pituitary or adrenal glands which cannot be predicted or prevented. However, early diagnosis and treatment is key to prevent the progression of symptoms.

Some recommendations to potentially prevent Cushing’s disease or catch it early include:

  • Avoid unnecessary steroid administration whenever possible, as this can potentially trigger Cushing’s in some dogs.
  • Have annual wellness checkups with your veterinarian, and alert them if any potential symptoms arise like increased thirst/urination, appetite changes, or skin problems.
  • Request regular bloodwork panels, which may reveal high liver enzymes or cholesterol levels that could indicate Cushing’s disease is developing.
  • Pay attention to subtle changes in your dog like increased panting, muscle weakness, or behavioral changes, as these can be early signs.

While we cannot prevent the hormonal imbalances at the root of Cushing’s disease, attentive pet parents and proactive veterinary care can help diagnose it as early as possible. This allows treatment to begin promptly, minimizing symptoms and giving dogs their best possible quality of life.


Cushing’s disease does not directly cause coughing in dogs, but it can indirectly lead to coughing due to associated health complications. Cushing’s weakens the immune system and puts dogs at greater risk for respiratory infections, which in turn can cause coughing. Additionally, the weakening of the abdominal muscles caused by Cushing’s can result in an ineffective cough. While Cushing’s itself is not a direct cause of coughing, managing the disease and treating any associated respiratory infections that arise from it are important for alleviating coughing and ensuring your dog’s comfort.

In summary, Cushing’s disease makes dogs more prone to infections and diminishes their ability to cough effectively. Treating the underlying Cushing’s disease through medication, radiation or surgery, along with promptly treating any secondary infections can help minimize coughing. Good management of Cushing’s can improve dogs’ quality of life and reduce complications like persistent coughing.

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