Does CBD help for Cushing’s disease in dogs?

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Have you noticed lately that your dog appears listless and seems to have a constant thirst? Does your normally streamline dog suddenly have a potbelly? These and a whole list of other symptoms may be an indication that your dog is suffering from Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease, also known as hypercortisolism or hyperadrenocorticism, is a slow-onset disease with symptoms that gradually appear, so it often takes a while for owners to suspect there’s something wrong and for veterinarians to diagnose the condition.

In this article, we’ll discuss the symptoms to look out for, and whether CBD could be helpful in treating the condition.

What is Cushing’s disease?

Cushing’s disease is a serious health condition that is caused when a dog’s glands overproduce cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that has a number of important functions in the body, such as regulating weight, and supporting the immune system. Too much cortisol can result in several serious health conditions, including kidney damage and diabetes. Excessive cortisol weakens the immune system and can be life-threatening.

There are two common types and one rare type of the disease. Most often, it’s caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland; in rare cases a tumor on the adrenal glands can be responsible, and most rarely it is the result of over prescription of steroids. 

1. Pituitary gland tumor

In 85%of cases Cushing’s disease is caused by interference with the workings of the dog’s pituitary gland, which is situated at the base of the brain. The interference can be caused by a tumor, benign or malignant, or another trauma or disease. These conditions can prevent the proper functioning of the gland. It can suddenly start producing too much of the adrenocorticotropic hormone, which can trigger the adrenal glands to produce excessive amounts of cortisol. 

The position of the pituitary gland in the brain doesn’t make it viable to operate and remove the tumor. Provided the tumor doesn’t enlarge over time, the condition can be treated with medication. If the tumor grows, it can cause neurological symptoms that can be difficult to treat.

2. Adrenal tumor

15% of dogs with Cushing’s have a tumor on one or both adrenal glands. Just like with the pituitary tumor, the mere presence of the tumor (whether or not it’s malignant) is disruptive to the proper functioning of the adrenals and results in the overproduction of cortisol. Again, an overproduction of cortisol can cause other health conditions.

Unlike with a pituitary tumor, Cushing’s disease resulting from a tumor on the adrenal glands can be resolved by removing the tumor. 

3. Steroid-induced Cushing’s syndrome

This condition can occur when a dog is overmedicated with steroids. The condition is very rare and can be reversed by taking the dog off steroids.

What are the symptoms of Cushing’s disease in dogs?

As mentioned earlier, this is a slow onset disease with many symptoms that appear over time. Until the condition manifests clearly, your dog may be misdiagnosed with some other condition. In general, the disease mainly affects middle-aged and elderly dogs.  

Common symptoms include:

  • Extreme thirst resulting in excessive drinking 
  • Excessive urination 
  • Increased or decreased appetite 
  • Enlarged belly 
  • Skin problems 
  • Hair loss
  • Excessive panting 
  • Reduced activity, listlessness and lethargy 

Treatment for Cushing’s disease in dogs

The only way to permanently get rid of the disease is to operate and remove the tumor. However, since the tumors are in the brain it’s a complex and risky procedure, which most veterinarians avoid. The condition is mostly treated with medication aimed at inhibiting cortisol production. These medications typically have unwelcome side effects, liver damage being one of them.

How can CBD help?

CBD is in wide use to help dogs cope with pain, anxiety, and epilepsy. Full spectrum CBD oil for dogs could also potentially be beneficial for dogs with Cushing’s disease by balancing hormone levels, and affecting the tumors. 

The tumors

CBD could possibly reduce or eliminate the tumors. Although the precise mechanisms are not fully understood, researchers have found that CBD can trigger apoptosis (natural cell death) in cancer cells. Cannabinoids have also been shown to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in culture and animal models.

Restoring hormone levels

CBD exerts reactions on the body’s endocannabinoid system, which can restore hormone balance by lowering cortisol levels in the body. By lowering the cortisol levels, CBD may be able to counteract the negative effects of elevated cortisol levels, including unwanted weight and inflammation. 

General improvement

CBD works throughout the endocannabinoid system, restoring balance in the body, which brings about a general reduction in symptoms like reduced appetite and lethargy, which may help your dog to regain its zest for life.

Counteract side effects

If your veterinarian is treating your dog’s Cushing’s disease with traditional medicines, your dog might experience side effects like reduced appetite, vomiting, and lack of energy. CBD might be able to lessen these symptoms, but proceed with caution as CBD is known to interact with some medications. Consult your vet if you are considering treating your dog with CBD.

What does the research say?

There are no clinical studies that have looked specifically at the possible use of CBD for the treatment of Cushing’s disease in dogs. Still, there are research results that point to the potential of CBD to affect cancer tumors and the release of stress hormones like cortisol.

At this stage, researchers are trying to find out if CBD can slow or even stop cancer growth, and whether the compound can relieve some of the pain, nausea, and anxiety that goes hand in hand with the illness and its treatment.

An overview of research into the effect of the cannabinoid system and cancer the National Cancer Institute notes that a two-year study in mice and rats suggested cannabinoids may have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors. In another study, THC and CBD were found to inhibit the growth of certain lung cancer cells. 

Cannabinoids like CBD and THC appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect healthy cells and may even protect them from dying. 

A study published in 2018 found that mice with pancreatic cancer treated with a combination of CBD and a commonly used cancer drug survived three times longer than those treated with the drug only. The CBD inhibited the growth of cancerous cells. 

Research at the Southern Illinois University found that cannabinoids, including, CBD, can influence hormone release, including the release of cortisol.

Scientists have not made any conclusive statements on whether CBD will be used to treat cancer in the future, either for humans or for animals. Still, all indications are that such a statement will be forthcoming sooner or later. 

Does CBD work for Cushing’s disease in dogs?

The symptoms of the disease are caused by the overproduction of cortisol. If the cortisol levels can be regulated, it will relieve most of the symptoms. As mentioned earlier, one study in humans has shown that CBD can decrease cortisol levels. More studies are needed, and specifically, studies involving dogs, but so far research results look promising.

One way to find out if CBD will help your dog is to start treating it with CBD. Start with a small amount and increase the dosage slowly. At best, CBD may improve your dog’s symptoms. At this point in time, we don’t have conclusive proof that CBD can cure Cushing’s disease; all we know is that the cannabinoid can influence cortisol levels, and many stop tumors from growing. 

Treating your dog with CBD

When choosing a CBD product to treat your dog, make sure you buy full-spectrum CBD made with organically grown hemp. Give preference to oils produced via CO2 extraction and check that the product was tested by an independent lab. 

Dosage is a bit of a problem as scientists have not formulated official dosage recommendations yet. Most dog owners simply follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. The best is to start with a low dosage and adjust it based on your dog’s response. 

For the best results, use an oral tincture and administer it directly in the dog’s mouth, preferably under the tongue for fast absorption into the bloodstream. You can also add it to food, but that means the CBD must first be digested before it can get to the bloodstream. 

Remember that CBD interacts with certain medications, so be sure to discuss the issue with your vet first before you treat your dog with CBD oil.

Final thoughts

You may be wondering if trying to treat the disease is the best option for your dog. Dogs with Cushing’s disease can live another two years or so after diagnosis, provided their condition is treated. You will have to be patient with your dog’s need to urinate often, but other than that, your dog will still be the companion that you love. The illness will eventually kill your dog, but in the meantime, you can spend time together and unless your dog actually is in pain, you don’t need to worry that it’s suffering.