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What’s the Vet-Recommended Diet for Canine Cushing’s Disease?

While canine Cushing’s disease can be difficult to diagnose and treat, it can be controlled. And pet parents can effectively manage the disease through a special diet along with traditional medicinal therapy.  

The traditional treatment method your veterinarian will recommend depends on the type of Cushing’s disease your dog is diagnosed with: pituitary or adrenal.

Treatment Options for the Two Types of Cushing’s Disease

Treatment of an adrenal tumor can be done through major abdominal surgery. If the mass is successfully removed from the patient and the tumor hasn’t spread, Cushing’s disease can be cured.

However, since surgeries to remove adrenal tumors are risky and complicated, medications are often used to manage the disease.

Pituitary tumors are the more common form of Cushing’s disease in dogs and make up 80-85 percent of cases.

Treatment of the pituitary-induced form of Cushing's disease is the most complicated. There are two drugs commonly used: Anipryl and Lysodren.

Dietary management can also help your dog reach an improved quality of life, complementing medicinal therapy for successful control of this disease.

Recommended Diet for Canine Cushing’s Disease

Nutritional therapy, when used correctly, can alleviate the high-circulating levels of cortisol and manage secondary and underlying disease processes. It may also improve your dog’s life span.

First and foremost, avoid feeding your dog table scraps and treats that are fatty or high in sugar, and instead follow your veterinarian’s recommendations to find the right Cushing’s disease diet for your dog.

Here’s what your veterinarian is looking for in a good diet for canine Cushing’s disease:

Formulated for Adults

This will compensate for the muscle-wasting associated with this disease and will not be as calorically dense as other life stages, such as the puppy stage.

Low in Fat With Moderate Fiber

  • Dogs with Cushing’s disease have elevated levels of cortisol, which increases triglycerides and cholesterol. To help combat these increases, a food that’s lower in fat (less than 12 percent on a dry matter basis, or DM) and moderate in crude fiber (8-17 percent DM) is reasonable.

First, calculate DM value of the entire bag:

100% - % moisture listed on package = % dry matter (DM%)

Then calculate the DM value of each nutrient:

Fat % listed on bag ÷ DM%

Fiber % listed on bag ÷ DM%

Label Values Calculation Dry Matter Values
Moisture: 10% 100%-10% 90%
Fat: 9% 9% ÷ 90% 10%
Fiber: 10% 10% ÷ 90% 11%

Highly Digestible Protein

  • The protein in the food should be highly digestible. Some qualifying examples include: egg whites, muscle meats (chicken, beef, lamb) and organ meat.

Low in Sodium and Chloride

  • Your veterinarian will avoid foods that are higher in chloride if hypertension is present. Diets with a low level of sodium help maintain normal blood pressure.

Do You Need to Supplement a Canine Cushing’s Disease Diet?

Here are some tips on which supplements can be helpful:

  • Cortisol tends to increase calcium excretion and vitamin metabolism. It is not necessary to supplement as long as the food is AAFCO-formulated for adult maintenance.

  • Antioxidant therapy consisting of a combination of α-tocopherol, β-carotene, vitamin C, selenium and methionine may be beneficial in lowering circulating blood fats.

  • Fish oil supplementation can help lower circulating triglycerides and fats. Fish oil may also help improve dull skin coat and inflammatory skin conditions that may result from canine Cushing’s disease.

Your vet can recommend supplements as needed.

Additional Health Care Tips for Dogs With Cushing’s Disease

Don’t restrict water. Dogs with Cushing’s disease tend to experience increased thirst, and an adequate source of potable water should always be available to them.

It is frustrating to continually refill water dishes and let your dog out for bathroom breaks (or clean up accidents), but repeat after me, “This too shall pass.” When controlled, Cushingoid dogs will not drink as continuously as they do when unregulated.

If your veterinarian has previously recommended weight loss for your pup, it is time to get serious about a program to get and keep the pounds off. If you aren’t sure how to safely accomplish this, ask your veterinarian for help.

Treatment for Cushing’s disease can be extremely complicated to navigate, and it can often feel like never-ending trial and error. Your veterinarian will be your best resource in helping you navigate the treatment process so that your pet can live their healthiest life.

By: Dr. Laci Schaible

Featured Image: iStock.com/marcoventuriniautieri