Dogs develop Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, when their adrenal glands begin overproducing cortisone. A common endocrinal disorder, Cushing’s is primarily caused by benign tumors of the pituitary gland or by the administering of medications with a high dosage of glucocorticoids, which are usually prescribed to treat inflammation or allergies. The illness causes a general loss of body health and strength, and the dog can develop serious conditions such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus and congestive heart failure. If your dog displays symptoms of Cushing’s disease, check with your veterinarian before making changes to any medications or dosages.
The most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease include a bloated or “pot-bellied” abdomen. Increased thirst and hunger leading to weight gain, lack of energy, excessive panting and the development of fatty deposits on the dog’s neck and shoulders all give the dog the appearance of suffering from obesity. As the disease progresses, the dog may develop muscle weakness or canine diabetes, or may show signs that the reproductive system is affected, such as darkening of the testicles in a male or missing a period of heat in a female.
Feed a dog that has Cushing’s disease as natural a diet as possible. While this does not necessarily rule out commercial brands of kibble, preparing home-cooked or raw food for the dog is the simplest method of achieving this. If circumstances dictate that you must feed a commercial diet, it should conform to criteria listed by Dr. Lon Morris, founder of Hill’s Science Diet dog food, in his book Small Animal Clinical Nutrition III, which specifies a high-protein, low-fiber, low-carbohydrate-content, low-fat and low-purine diet. Dr. Morris also stipulates that the dog must have unrestricted access to drinking water.
Most homemade dog food recipes contain fiber, which usually comes from cooked brown rice, oats or vegetables such as sweet potato. Reduce the quantities of fiber in the food for a Cushing’s patient by replacing these items with grated or finely ground fresh vegetables including carrots, peas or green beans, or fruit such as apples. These provide fresh, healthy fiber that is low in both carbohydrates and fats. Beans and potatoes provide an excellent source of both fiber and potassium, which is recommended for dogs that are on medication.
A diet high in protein provides a dog with a good source of energy. Proteins can be burned up by the metabolism as carbohydrates are, with a lower risk of weight gain for a dog with Cushing’s disease. Use organic, human-grade red meat, chicken and fish to ensure that your dog receives the highest possible quality. If you prepare home-cooked food, the best-quality proteins come from red meat, which should be as lean -- as free of fat -- as possible. If you use chicken, remove the skin and bones before cooking to reduce the fat content. Salmon is the best fish to use for homemade dog food, because of its high omega oil content.
Raw Food Diet
The raw food diet, originally named the Biologically Approved Raw Food or BARF diet, has been shown to have therapeutic affects for a wide variety of canine illnesses. The use of this diet is controversial among veterinarians, however, with one school of thought maintaining that the bacterial risks outweigh the benefits. The opposing side of the argument is that this type of diet is beneficial to dogs that suffer health issues from allergies to diabetes, and that the appropriate raw food diet gives dogs with Cushing’s disease optimum protein with reduced levels of sodium, carbohydrates and fiber. A raw food diet includes meat, bones, raw vegetables and fruit.