What causes Cushing's to develop and how can it be managed?

Cushing’s, a horrible (and extremely costly)  illness often found in older dogs, and often accepted to be part of the natural ageing process – in fact Blue Cross state it’s “fairly common in middle aged and older dogs"


but why is this? And does it need to be?

Let’s first look at what Cushing’s is, put simply Cushing’s is over production of Cortisol by the adrenal gland. Cortisol is a naturally occurring and required hormone that most animals, and even humans, have often know as the stress hormone. This stress hormone essentially tells the body where to focus its resources dependent on the situation; whether that is sending glucose to the brain or curbing “functions that would be non-essential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation”. E.g. the digestive system, reproductive system etc. (ever wondered why your stomach ‘drops’ when you’re faced with a scary or stressful situation?) Ultimately this constant production of Cortisol causes the body to be in a constant state of stress, and all that goes with it.

So why does the Dog’s body suddenly start over producing this hormone?

It’s accepted in the medical field that 90% of the time over production of Cortisol is caused by the growth of a tumour on the pituitary gland at the base of the brain, the pituitary gland’s role being to inform the adrenal gland when to produce the Cortisol and how much. So if the pituitary gland is sending false information then we have a problem.

In some instances the Adrenal gland itself is the issue, but once again this is the result of a tumour growth although in this case directly on the gland. Either way we have the same source (a tumour) causing the same outcome.

The standard veterinary treatment for Cushing’s is a medication which stops the adrenal gland producing Cortisol, but often this can cause multiple other side effects and is hugely costly, and frankly isn’t actually fixing the issue – according to the American FDA the only way to do that is “to remove the adrenal tumour if the disease is adrenal-dependent and the tumour hasn’t spread”.

But let’s take a step back, what caused the growth in the first place? And why has it become so common?

All cells in the body require nutrients to do their job, to survive, to grow, to repair and to reproduce, but Tumour cells use glucose at 10-20 times the rate of normal cells. In fact this high sugar intake is how tumour and cancer cells are detected in medical tests. In 1931 Otto Warburg won the Nobel prize for discovering that cancer cells have a “greater rate of glycolysis (the process of converting glucose to energy) compared with normal cells”

Further to this what we do know is that unlike humans “dogs have no nutritional requirement for dietary carbohydrates” and in turn the glucose (sugars) that carbs break down in to. So if dogs have no nutritional requirement for sugars, and cancer/tumour cells “need huge amounts of sugar to fuel their growth” what is happening?


The most common food stuff fed to dogs, often ironically seen as the healthiest too, made up of carbohydrates from starch as a binding agent, to grains and cereals as fibre (or should I say filler?), and even sweet potato for health benefits (for humans maybe). All of which breaks down into the sugar that feeds these cancer/tumour cells, which then ca grow on the pituitary or adrenal glands, and cause the over production of Cortisol i.e. Cushings.

What do we do with this information?

Well logic states that if we remove the energy source from the tumour cells, they will eventually starve – and hopefully result in a decrease in size, which means there’s a possibility that eventually the Adrenal or pituitary gland will resume normal function.

Based on this the best approach would be to then change away from a Kibble based diet, providing something species appropriate and removing all unnecessary waste products. With a good source of natural protein and healthy fats, as found in a pure Raw diet – exactly what dogs require, you will quickly see their overall health improve – and although there’s no guarantee that it will cure the Cushings, it stands a better chance than feeding the kibble which most likely caused it.

*We do not recommend Raw feeding as an alternative to the Veterinary prescribed medication, but an addition.*