Cushing’s Disease In Boston Terriers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments


Cushing's Disease In Boston Terriers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Cushing’s disease is a common disease seen in elderly Boston Terriers.


If your Boston has been drinking a lot, peeing excessively, or panting, they might have Cushing’s disease.

This complete guide to Cushing’s disease in Boston Terriers will review causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis for Cushing’s disease in Boston Terriers.

The Complete Guide to Cushing’s Disease in Boston Terriers

Bostons may be more prone to Cushing’s disease than other dog breeds, and as a Boston parent, it is important to learn about the symptoms of this disease so you will know when to speak with your veterinarian.

Cushing's Disease In Boston Terriers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

What Is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s disease occurs when there is excess secretion of certain hormones in the system. This can occur from two different causes.

Cause #1

The most common cause of Cushing’s disease, pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease, arises from a tumor, most commonly benign, within the pituitary gland in the brain. This tumor tells the adrenal glands, which live in close proximity to the kidneys, that they should be producing more hormones.

Cause #2

The second cause of Cushing’s disease, adrenal-dependent Cushing’s disease, occurs when there is a tumor on one of the adrenal glands that leads to excess production of certain hormones.

Excess levels of hormones in a Boston Terrier’s system can lead to many clinical signs and symptoms.

Want to learn about common Boston Terrier health issues? Read this article, 10 Common Boston Health Issues.

Video – What Is Cushing’s Disease

In this video you will learn causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, pathology of Cushing’s Disease.

Video – What Is Cushing’s Disease

What Are The Symptoms Of Cushing’s Disease In Boston Terriers?

Symptoms from Cushing’s disease arise because of the excessive levels of hormones within the system. These symptoms may progress over time, gradually getting worse. The symptoms of Cushing’s disease in Boston Terriers can affect their quality of life.

The following list includes 6 of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease.

1. Drinking A Lot Of Water

One of the first symptoms that you may notice if your Boston has Cushing’s disease is that they will begin drinking a lot of water. 

You may notice that they are visiting the water bowl more frequently or that you are having to fill the bowl more often than before.

Is your Boston drinking a lot of water? This could also be a sign of diabetes. Read this article, 10 Signs Of Diabetes In Boston Terriers.

Cushing's Disease In Boston Terriers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

2. Peeing Excessively

Bostons with Cushing’s disease will also start to urinate more frequently. If you have a Boston that has never had an accident in the house and is suddenly starting to have accidents or waking you up in the middle of the night to go outside, this may be a sign that your Boston has Cushing’s disease.

3. Increased Appetite

Has your Boston’s appetite increased lately? This is another sign that your Boston might have Cushing’s disease.

4. Panting

Another common symptom of Cushing’s disease in Boston Terriers is excessive panting. If your Boston is panting all of the time even in a cool house, this may be a sign that they have Cushing’s disease especially if they are also drinking and peeing a lot.

5. Pot-Belly Appearance

One of the classic appearances of a Boston with Cushing’s disease is a pot-belly appearance. The belly of a Boston with Cushing’s disease will pooch out more than it did previously.

6. Skin Problems: Infections And Hair Loss

Because of the excessive hormones in the system, often Bostons with Cushing’s disease will have skin problems. 

Your Boston may be getting skin infections more often, or you may notice hair loss or hair thinning especially along their sides. The skin may also become thinner.

Is your Boston Terrier losing hair? Read this article, Why Is My Boston Losing Its Hair – Remedies & Solutions.

Cushing's Disease In Boston Terriers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Can Boston Terriers Develop Cushing’s Disease? 

Yes, Boston Terriers can develop Cushing’s disease. In fact, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, Boston Terriers may be more predisposed to developing Cushing’s disease than other dog breeds. 

In addition, female Bostons may be at more risk for developing Cushing’s disease than male Bostons. 

What Other Dog Breeds Are Predisposed To Cushing’s Disease?

There are several other dog breeds that have a higher risk of developing Cushing’s disease at some point in their life. 

According to a 2019 study published in the Open Veterinary Journal, the breeds most at risk for developing Cushing’s disease include:

Around What Age Do Dogs And Boston Terriers Typically Develop Cushing’s Disease?

The typical age of diagnosis for Cushing’s disease is between 9 to 11 years of age. This disease is uncommon in younger animals. 

The risk for Cushing’s disease increases with age, and most commonly, Bostons will be diagnosed with Cushing’s around 10 years of age.

Do you have an older Boston Terrier? Check out this video interview on YouTube with Dr. Monica Tarantino, How To Care For Senior Boston Terriers.

Cushing's Disease In Boston Terriers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

How Is Cushing’s Disease Diagnosed?

If you suspect that your Boston has Cushing’s disease, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. 

First, they will likely rule out other common diseases by running blood work and a urinalysis test. The urinalysis will rule out urinary tract infections, and the blood test will rule out kidney disease, diabetes, and other diseases that may cause similar symptoms.

Once the most common diseases are ruled out, your veterinarian will likely recommend performing one of the following two tests for Cushing’s disease.

Test #1 – ACTH Stimulation Test

The ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic Hormone) stimulation test is one of the most common tests performed to determine if your dog has Cushing’s disease. This test typically costs between $150-300. 

To perform this test, your vet will likely wish for you to drop your Boston off for the day. Usually, this test requires your dog to fast meaning that you should not feed breakfast the morning of the test.

Your vet will draw blood twice over the course of the day and see what happens to your Boston’s blood hormone levels after giving ACTH to determine if your dog has Cushing’s disease.

Video – Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) Test

In this video, the Evergreen Animal Hospital walks us through administering the ACTH Test so you get an idea of what the process looks like for this test.

Test #2 – Low-Dose Dexamethasone Suppression Test

The low-dose dexamethasone suppression test is another common test for Cushing’s disease in Boston Terriers. This test requires you to drop your Boston off for the day at the vet so they can collect several blood samples throughout the day.

This test determines how your Boston responds to steroid administration and how that affects the hormones in their system. Based on the levels of hormones in the system at various times, your vet will often be able to determine if your dog has Cushing’s disease.


This test is similarly priced to the ACTH stimulation test and will usually cost between $150-300.

How Is Cushing’s Disease Treated In Boston Terriers?

Once your veterinarian determines that your Boston has Cushing’s disease, they may recommend treating the disease with an oral medication called Trilostane. This medication will not cure Cushing’s disease, but it does work to decrease and control the symptoms your Boston is experiencing.


Trilostane, also known as Vetoryl, works by decreasing the production of cortisol, a certain type of hormone that is high in Cushing’s disease, from the adrenal glands.

The main risk of Trilostane is decreasing the hormones too much. For this reason, your veterinarian will wish to perform follow-up blood testing soon after your Boston starts this medication.

Other treatments exist for Cushing’s disease, but Trilostane is the most common, safe, and effective way to treat this disease.

Cushing's Disease In Boston Terriers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

How Long Can Boston Terriers Live With Cushing’s Disease?

The AKC reports that on average, dogs live around 2 years after the diagnosis of Cushing’s disease. In my experience as a veterinarian, this average is the same for Boston Terriers.


Because most Boston Terriers are older dogs when diagnosed with this disease, sometimes they may die of other causes besides Cushing’s disease. If you are interested in learning more about the most common causes of death in Boston Terriers, check out this article.

Some Bostons with Cushing’s disease may live 4 or more years, but most commonly, the survival time after diagnosis with Cushing’s is around 2 years.

How long will your Boston Terrier live? Read this article, How Old Is Your Boston In Human Years?

What Happens If Cushing’s Is Left Untreated In My Boston Terrier?

The survival times are typically around the same for Bostons treated for Cushing’s disease and those that are not treated. Because the treatment for Cushing’s disease is usually just to reduce the symptoms, we are not really curing the disease.

The quality of life of dogs typically improves drastically for dogs on treatment for Cushing’s disease. 

If Boston’s are untreated for Cushing’s disease, the main risk is that their symptoms will get worse over time.

The main barrier to treatment for Cushing’s disease is cost. The medications and blood work monitoring for Cushing’s disease can quickly become very expensive. My rule of thumb for deciding when it is time to treat a dog for Cushing’s disease is if their quality of life is suffering because of the disease, then it is time to start treatment. 

If a Boston has very mild symptoms of Cushing’s disease, I may recommend delaying treatment temporarily. Once the symptoms are interfering with your Boston’s quality of life, then I would recommend starting treatment.

Conclusion

The most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease include drinking and peeing excessively, panting, eating a lot, and skin problems. If you suspect that your Boston has Cushing’s disease, I recommend speaking with your veterinarian about the next steps. They may wish to perform a blood test or a urine test.


After your Boston is diagnosed with Cushing’s, the most common treatment to control the symptoms of the disease is Trilostane, an oral medication. While Trilostane will not cure Cushing’s disease, it should drastically improve your Boston’s quality of life by reducing the uncomfortable symptoms of Cushing’s disease.

References

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Addie Reinhard, DVM

Addie Reinhard, DVM- Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced small animal veterinarian. She is a Boston Terrier lover and always enjoys caring for her Boston patients at the veterinary clinic. She is passionate about providing helpful educational resources to pet parents regarding animal diseases and preventative care. She lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, greyhound, and four cats.

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