Cushing Disease Dog Diet

Health & Wellbeing
August 10, 2022
Diana Bocco
Reviewed By: 
Dr. Farshad Goodarzi - Animal Nutritionist
5 minute read

Cushing's disease (sometimes referred to as Cushing's syndrome) usually occurs in middle-aged to older dogs. It is a condition in which the adrenal glands overproduce a hormone called cortisol. A normal amount of cortisol production helps the body deal with stress, but when overproduced, it weakens the immune system and can be life-threatening.


Pituitary-dependent and adrenal-dependent are the most common types of Cushing's disease. Most cases of Cushing's disease are Pituitary-dependent and are triggered by pituitary gland tumors. These tumors aren't necessarily malignant (in fact, many aren't), but they still cause the pituitary gland to produce an excess amount of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn stimulates overproduction of cortisol.

Adrenal gland tumors can also cause Cushing's disease.


One of the main issues with Cushing's disease is that it causes an elevation of cortisol in the body. This, in turn, leads to an increase in triglycerides and cholesterol. Since cortisol is the hormone that controls stress, too much of it in the body can also lead to your dog suffering a number of mood-related symptoms. In humans suffering from Cushing's, mood swings and depression are common. In dogs, this might appear in the form of food aggression, lethargy or restlessness. Regardless of the cause behind the disease, dogs with Cushing's all experience similar symptoms, including less activity, drinking more, an increase in appetite, excessive panting and a need to urinate more frequently. Other common signs of Cushing's are lethargy and drowsiness, dull hair, and a pot-bellied appearance. Due to damaged skin and a weaker immune system, dogs with Cushing's often experience recurrent bladder or skin infections. Some dogs might appear depressed and suddenly not interested in play or other things they typically enjoy.

Cushing's disease is commonly classified as an "older dog's disease." Still, it can certainly happen in middle-aged dogs as well. Cushing's symptoms are often misdiagnosed or not recognized right away as symptoms appear slowly.


Adrenal tumors are usually treated with surgery. Although this is considered major surgery and carries some risks on its own, if the tumor is benign and removable, dogs can go back to living a healthy, normal life.

Both adrenal- and pituitary-dependent Cushing's disease can be treated and managed by medications like trilostane (brand name Vetoryl®) or mitotane (brand name Lysodren®). In the cases of smaller tumors, medication alone can control the disease symptoms, and dogs can live a long, relatively normal life. However, if the tumor continues to grow, it will affect the brain and might result in neurological signs. When medication can help stabilize your dog, changes in diet can also make things easier for your pooch. A proper diet not only helps while you're waiting for the drugs to take effect but also as part of the maintenance period.

The most common adverse reactions caused by Vetoryl treatment are loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of energy. As the medication can cause your dog to refuse food, switching to a more flavorful diet is an excellent idea. Fresh, customized food will provide better nutrition and ensure your dog gets all the nutrients needed for a healthy life.


Like any other disease or disorder, the right nutrition can help your dog's body deal better with Cushing's disease. Making some dietary changes can help improve your dog's overall health and energy levels. It also helps fight some of the potential side effects of Cushing's medication and helps your dog feel better and live longer. As a simple rule of thumb, the right nutrition for dogs with Cushing's disease is nutrition that helps their body counteract or at least discount the negative consequences of Cushing's disease. These include a weak immune system, damaged organs like skin, etc.

No matter what you're feeding (kibble, canned or fresh food,) the diet should be specifically customized based on your dog's real needs. And, at the very least, must meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials' (AAFCO) recommendations for adult maintenance. It's imperative that you don't feed your dog food that might provide too little or too many calories, protein or required minerals.

Basically, a dog with Cushing's disease will be better off with a well-balanced top-quality healthy food which:

  • contains highly bioavailable protein that helps in:
  • supporting immune system
  • preventing muscle wasting
  • exerting less pressure on the kidneys and liver to excrete undigested proteins
  • includes probiotics, prebiotics, phytogenics and antioxidants:
  • supporting gut microbiota and immune system
  • contains the right amount of vitamins and minerals:
  • supporting immune system
  • is low in fat and moderate in fiber to help combat increased levels of triglycerides and cholesterol

Nutrition is a critical factor for a well-operating immune system. The availability and presence of many nutrients directly affect immune responses. Many nutrients are essential for developing, maintaining, and functioning of a healthy immune system. These include amino acids, vitamins like C, D, E, minerals like selenium, iron, zinc, and more. Furthermore, adding probiotics and the natural presence of prebiotics and phytogenics in the food improves the immune system.

The protein in the food you choose should be highly digestible. This can be tricky to select, especially if you're choosing dry kibble with a mix of proteins or a very long list of ingredients on the label. The higher the amount of usable (biologically available to your dog) amino acids in a protein, the more digestible it is.

The biological value of a protein source is not limited to its amino-acid composition and digestibility. Still, it can be used as an index for its nutritional quality. Biological value is determined by dividing the retained nitrogen (used for tissue formation) by the absorbed nitrogen from the protein sources, multiplied by 100 and expressed as a percentage of nitrogen utilized. Eggs have the perfect 100% biological value. For dogs with Cushing's, plant proteins and animal by-products might not be the best sources of proteins. They are harder to digest and will not provide as much nutrition as animal meat. Animal by-products are anything derived from the body of animals after slaughtering and processing that is different from the muscle meat. The unretained nitrogen of these protein sources must be excreted, which is also a demanding process for kidneys and the liver. Dogs with Cushing's disease should be eating food with a higher protein quality. A higher protein quality provides better nutrition and takes much of the burden off of their digestive system, liver, and kidneys.  

While feeding a complete and well-balanced adult diet is enough to provide your dog with all essential nutrients, dogs with Cushing's can benefit from some additional supplements, including antioxidant therapy to lower fat in the blood. PetMD recommends a "combination of α-tocopherol, β-carotene, vitamin C, selenium and methionine." Fish oil is also well-known as a helpful supplement to lower triglycerides.

In addition, the food you're feeding your dog with Cushing's should be low in sodium and chloride to make sure blood pressure stays at a normal range.


Fresh, wholesome food made with human-grade ingredients can be wonderful for dogs with chronic conditions, but making your own can be tricky. You might end up with a mix where key ingredients may be missing or are fed in excess.

To ensure your dog is getting the best possible nutrition, why not reach out to the professionals. Cola's Kitchen offers individually balanced food based on your dog's nutritional needs. Hence, you never have to worry about your dog getting what they need.

about cola's precision diet

Cola's Kitchen precision diet is the first truly tailored diet for a unique approach to nutrition. Our diets are individually formulated and balanced to address the most precise nutritional requirements of your pup.

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