Hyperadrenocorticism: Understanding Cushing’s Disease in Cats

Hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing’s disease or Cushing’s syndrome, is an uncommon condition in cats. It occurs when there is an excessive production of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands located near the kidneys. While this disease is more common in dogs, it can still affect cats, though it is generally more challenging to manage.

The Causes of Hyperadrenocorticism

Hyperadrenocorticism can be categorized into two types: iatrogenic and naturally-occurring. Iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism is induced by the long-term administration of high doses of cortisol-like drugs. These drugs may include corticosteroids, often used to manage inflammation or allergies. In cats, progesterone-type drugs used to control reproductive cycling in female cats can also lead to this condition.

Naturally-occurring hyperadrenocorticism is caused by an adrenal tumor or a pituitary gland tumor. The adrenal glands produce cortisol, and excess production can occur due to either an adrenal or pituitary tumor. Adrenal-dependent disease is caused by an adrenal tumor, while pituitary-dependent disease is caused by a pituitary tumor. Adrenal-dependent disease accounts for less than 15% of cases, with the majority being caused by benign pituitary tumors.

Recognizing the Signs of Hyperadrenocorticism

Hyperadrenocorticism is uncommon in cats, and the clinical signs can be quite variable. Some common signs include excessive thirst, increased appetite, enlargement of the abdomen, lethargy, muscle wasting, poor coat condition, hair loss, curling of the ear tips, and thin and fragile skin. In severe cases, the skin can easily bruise and tear. Many cats with hyperadrenocorticism also develop diabetes mellitus, further complicating their condition.

See also  Why Doesn't My Cat Knead? Our Cat Behaviorist Explains

Diagnosing Hyperadrenocorticism

Diagnosing hyperadrenocorticism in cats requires multiple tests, including blood tests, urine tests, and diagnostic imaging such as X-rays and ultrasounds. These tests help rule out other potential causes and confirm the presence of hyperadrenocorticism. Specific tests include urine cortisol measurements, ACTH-stimulation test, dexamethasone screening test, measuring blood concentrations of ACTH, and imaging to determine the size of the adrenal glands.

Treatment Options for Hyperadrenocorticism

The treatment of hyperadrenocorticism depends on the type and cause of the disease. Iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism can be managed by gradually withdrawing the corticosteroid or progestagen being administered. If naturally-occurring hyperadrenocorticism is present, drug therapy is often the preferred treatment option. Trilostane, a medication that inhibits cortisol production, is commonly used in cats. Surgical options such as adrenalectomy and hypophysectomy are also available but may not be suitable for every case.

Prognosis for Cats with Hyperadrenocorticism

While hyperadrenocorticism is a serious disease, with appropriate treatment, many cats can have a good quality of life for months or even years. Complete cure is rare, especially in cases of malignant adrenal tumors. However, with proper management, cats can experience significant improvement and enjoy a comfortable life.

Understanding hyperadrenocorticism is crucial for cat owners and veterinarians alike. If you suspect that your cat may be suffering from this condition, consult a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. To learn more about cat health and wellness, visit Katten TrimSalon.