Many dogs suffer from hyperadrenocorticism, more commonly known as Cushing’s Disease. The disease is characterised by excessive amounts of hormones known as glucocorticoids that are produced by the adrenal glands. The disease is more common in older dogs. Most cases result from a tumour in the pituitary gland but some are caused by tumours in the adrenal glands.
The symptoms of a dog with Cushing’s Disease often ‘creep up’ on the owner and vet. Common symptoms include excessive drinking (and urination) and overeating, leading to a pot-bellied appearance, as well as with loss of hair. Since all of these symptoms can stem from a number of disorders, it is difficult to be certain. The methods traditionally used to diagnose the disease are complicated and costly and usually give information about the hormone concentrations at the time a sample is taken. Since most dogs are stressed by veterinary examinations, their hormone levels will peak because of the stress – making it difficult to rely on the analytical results.
Researcher Claudia Ouschan and colleagues at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna decided to look for a way to monitor the long-term levels of glucocorticoids in dog hair that would also offer a diagnostic option that was less stressful to the dogs. She compared the levels of cortisol, corticosterone and cortisone in the hair of twelve dogs with hyperadrenocorticism and ten healthy dogs. The results were striking: all three hormones were found at far higher levels in the hair of dogs with Cushing’s Disease than in the control group, with the increase in cortisol particularly pronounced.
She concludes, ‘we think it (our findings) have real promise for use as a rapid and non-invasive method to diagnose hyperadrenocorticism.’
Her research has been published in the journal Veterinary Dermatology.