What Is Cushing's Disease in Bichon Frise Dogs?

by Quentin Coleman, Demand Media
    Vets can't directly test for Cushing's, so it is difficult to diagnose.

    Vets can't directly test for Cushing's, so it is difficult to diagnose.

    While Cushing's disease is usually only a problem for senior canines, it can occur in bichons as young as 6 years old. This disorder, which is also called Cushing's syndrome, can make your young and vibrant bichon frise become a grumpy old man well before his time.

    What Is It?

    Cushing's disease is more accurately described as a syndrome, because the condition is actually the result of a physiological malfunction. All dogs have adrenal glands in their stomach that regulate the production of the hormone cortisol. When the glands over-produce, it causes a condition called hyperadrenocorticism, which is the technical medical term for Cushing's disease. All kinds of dogs, as well as cats, can suffer from this disease, although some breeds, like the bichon, are notably more likely to develop it.

    Causes

    There are several factors that can increase your bichon's risk of developing this disease. Long-term exposure to some types of medication, including steroids used to treat allergy symptoms, is linked to the development of problems in the cortisol-regulating glands. In addition to this, the breed is also known to have genetic traits that make them more likely to develop Cushing's, making it one of the breed's primary endocrine disorders, according to the Bichon Frise Club of America.

    Symptoms

    If your bichon has Cushing's, his body is overflowing with the cortisol hormone, which has a severe negative impact on his overall health. It suppresses his immune system, making him more likely to contract diseases from pathogens. It also causes weight distribution problems, like disproportionate fat cells around the stomach, and can significantly increase thirst and appetite. Lethargy, stiffness and digestive disorders are also common symptoms. The symptoms are remarkably similar to those of aging, although they can be more severe. This leads some bichon owners to believe that their pet's health is simply declining due to old age.

    Treatment

    Your veterinarian will prescribe treatment depending on the type of Cushing's your pup actually has. Medical professionals have broken down the disease into two categories, pituitary-dependent and adrenal-dependent. If your dog is suffering from pituitary-dependent Cushing's, then he will have to take oral medicine every day for the rest of his life, according to Washington State University. Dogs with the adrenal-dependent variation, which means there is actually a tumor inside the glands, need surgery to remove the potentially cancerous tissue. Make sure to ask your veterinarian for tips about how to keep your dog healthy and happy, even if he's suffering from a chronic disease like Cushing's.

    About the Author

    Quentin Coleman has written for several news publications as well as the University of Delaware's public relations department. He also spent more than 10 years working with a local animal shelter to help nurse kittens, treat sick cats and domesticate feral animals. Coleman graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

    Photo Credits

    • bichon maltese puppy image by Lombok from Fotolia.com