“Titan seems to be getting old right before my eyes,” says Katrina. “He’s turning ten and just a year ago he was still his feisty terrier self with plenty of vim and vigor. Now he drinks lots of water, lies around and only gets up to go out to do his business. He doesn’t even look like the same dog.”
It would be wise for Katrina to take Titan to a holistic veterinarian for some tests. He’s showing the classic clinical signs of canine Cushings disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism. Because it afflicts middle-aged to older dogs, it can easily be mistaken for the gradual aging process. Even when a dog begins to show obvious and sometimes annoying indicators of the disease, like hair loss or involuntary urination, we tend to assume “he’s just getting older.”
What is Cushings disease?
Cushing’s disease is a dysfunction of the complex system of interactions between the pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, and the adrenal glands near the kidneys. This dysfunction is characterized by a disruption in the natural cyclic process of the hypothalamus. Normally, the hypothalamus triggers the pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) which then flows into the dog’s bloodstream, prompting the adrenal glands to secrete glucocorticoid or cortisol hormones.
When the cortisol level in the body is high enough, the pituitary gland does not produce ACTH and the adrenal glands don’t continue secreting glucocorticoid or cortisol hormones. When a dog has Cushing’s disease, however, the feedback loop between the pituitary and the adrenal glands is not functioning properly. The pituitary gland produces an excess of ACTH, causing the adrenals to secrete an excess of cortisol. The excess of cortisol impacts most body systems, including the cardiovascular system, nervous system, immune system, skeletal muscles, kidney function, blood sugar levels, fat metabolism and skeletal muscles. Cortisol also plays an important role in contending with any type of stress such as infections, trauma, pain, surgery and fright. It is an essential hormone – but an over-abundance is devastating to the body.
Cushings can be caused by a minute tumor on the pituitary or adrenal gland. The most common cause is a benign microscopic pituitary tumor. The diseases may also result from a response to an overdose of certain medications. Tests will provide a definitive diagnosis leading to the best way to deal with the disease.
The role of acupressure
The good news is that dogs can live for many years and in relative comfort with Cushing’. There are medications, that when monitored carefully, can help mediate symptoms.
Canine acupressure has been clinically observed to enhance the health and well being of dogs with Cushings disease. Acupressure is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been used to improve animals’ lives for thousands of years. By applying gentle pressure to specific acupressure points on your dog’s body, you help support his immune system and enhance his body’s ability to balance his endocrine system. The idea behind using acupressure is to restore as much balance and nourishment to the animal’s body as possible so that he feels well and the indicators of his illness are minimized.
Try this session
All dogs want to feel good and have a happy life. An acupressure session every three to five days for a dog with Cushings disease can help enhance his natural desire to be well. Usually, the acupressure points are specifically selected for the particular indicators a dog is presenting. However, some acupressure points can have a general effect in helping balance a dog’s body with endocrine issues while also supporting the immune system.
Kidney 3 (Ki 3), Great Stream: An acupoint that works with the essence of the body. It helps stabilize all the systems by balancing energy and nourishing the tissues. Ki 3 can also have a positive effect on urinary incontinence and infections. This point is a good support for any elderly dog and particularly one with Cushing’s.
Stomach 36 (St 36), Leg Three Miles: A powerful point used to facilitate the flow of energy and blood through the dog’s body. St 36 is known to balance the digestive system while also supporting the immune system. It is probably one of the most commonly used points in all of acupressure.
Spleen 6 (Sp 6), Three Yin Meeting: Another commonly used acupoint, used to strengthen the immune system, help move blood and energy, and benefit skin problems, urinary tract issues and digestion. Sp 6 can have a positive effect on the endocrine system as well.
Bai Hui, Point of 100 Meetings: An acupoint most dogs love to have you scratch. It is a canine “feel-good” point. It affects the energy flow of the hindquarters and the spine. It’s a good point to offer your dog at the end of the session because it will leave him happy.
1. Find a quiet place where you can focus your healing intention and where the dog will feel safe and calm.
2. Place the soft tip of your thumb gently on the acupressure point indicated in the chart on the previous page.
3. Count to 30 very slowly before moving to the next point.
4. Your other hand can rest comfortably somewhere on the dog to maintain a connection and to feel for any reactions.
5. While performing point work, watch your dog’s reactions. He will indicate a release of energy by yawning, stretching, rolling over, passing air, licking and even falling asleep. These are good releases, telling you that energy is moving.
6. Repeat the point work on the opposite side of the dog, since all the acupressure points are bilateral except for the Bai Hui point, which is a single point. End the session with this one.
7. Older dogs seem to enjoy having you vigorously scratch the Bai Hui point. It brings up the energy along the spine and just feels good. Many of our senior canines “dance” while having this point stimulated – and it’s always good to leave dogs dancing and smiling!
Common indicators of Cushings
• Excessive water consumption
• Excessive or involuntary urination
• Voracious appetite
• Potbellied appearance
• Hair loss
• Dry coat
• Fragile skin
• Hard lumps in the skin
• Loss of muscle tone
• Hindquarter weakness
• Exercise intolerance
• Excessive panting
• Seeking cool places
• Prone to diabetes, pancreatitis or seizures
• Reduced immunity