Vets are warning dog owners to be on the look out for signs that their pet may be suffering from a little-known but treatable condition called Cushing’s disease.

Cushing’s disease is a disorder that can seriously affects your dog’s health, vitality and appearance.

Also known as hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s syndrome, it is one of the most common endocrine disorders, occurring mostly in middle aged and older dogs.

It is diagnosed in around three in every 1,000 dogs, although many more dogs could suffer with this syndrome but not be diagnosed with it.

Dogs with Cushing’s produce excessive amounts of cortisol, an important hormone that helps regulate metabolism. This can have harmful effects on other organs and on the ability of the body to regulate itself.

A recent survey of 1,000 UK dog owners revealed that over three quarters (77%) would put many of the top ten symptoms of Cushing's down to simply ‘old age’, meaning that their beloved hound could be left suffering for a long time, seriously affecting their quality of life.

The disease is common in breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers, Daschunds and Jack Russells, though it is not limited to these breeds.

Jamie Walker, Technical Services Manager at global veterinary pharmaceuticals company, Dechra and experienced vet, explained what to look out for in your dogs.

What are the warning signs of Cushing’s syndrome?

There are ten common symptoms to keep an eye out for – most of which might seem like ‘normal’ signs of old age on their own.

Not all dogs will react to the syndrome in the same way and your dog may not necessarily display all of these signs.

Wherever possible it is always a good idea to keep a note of the changes you see in your dog’s habits and behaviour.

Increased urination / peeing on the floor

Are you finding that your dog needs letting out into the garden much more frequently? Or is it waking you through the night to urinate? Or perhaps it is having accidents indoors when it is normally well house trained? While these issues could mean a bladder problem, they can also be an indication of Cushing’s syndrome.

Changes to appetite / eating a lot more

If you find that your once picky dog is now eating all their food and more, or has shown a change in behaviour to become more protective around food, then you should discuss this with your vet.

Increased thirst / drinking a lot more

Drinking a lot more is one of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome in a dog.

Pot belly

Keep a look out for a rounded appearance of their waist – otherwise known as a pot belly. This may be a symptom of Cushing’s syndrome.

Muscle shrinking / wastage

A healthy dog should maintain a regular weight and muscle tone – see your vet if you notice your pet has noticeably lost some muscle mass. One way to spot this is if they’re finding it difficult to stand up, jump up onto the sofa, or climb up and down the stairs.

Excessive panting (even at rest)

All dogs pant, however, if you notice your dog is panting more than usual (particularly when resting) then it might be worth a visit to the vets.

Lethargy (being excessively tired)

Lethargy means that the dog is less animated than usual. This may be shown by sleepiness and low energy, moving more slowly, being reluctant to get out of their bed, being reluctant to go for a walk or play, generally showing an unwillingness to do things they usually do.

Patchy hair or changes to skin

Another symptom of Cushing’s syndrome that should be taken seriously, is changes to your dog's skin, or any patches of hair loss.

For some dogs, hair loss caused by Cushing’s can be extreme, leaving them only with fur over their head and feet. Yet for other dogs it may be more subtle – with signs such as having a dull coat, hair not growing back after being clipped or blackhead formation in the armpits or groin. Skin can also become thinner.

In healthy dogs, the hair is grown and shed in a constant cycle. In dogs with Cushing’s this cycle slows down, or stops completely, meaning hair that falls out fails to regrow.

Recurrent skin infections

If your dog is suffering with recurrent skin infections, this can also be a symptom of Cushing’s syndrome.

Recurrent urine infections

Much like recurrent skin infections, if your dog is regularly having to be treated for urine infections, this can also be a symptom of Cushing’s syndrome.