Exercise and Extra Care of Dogs suffering from Cushing's Disease

Cushing’s syndrome is a serious health complication that threatens your pup’s longevity and wellbeing. In Cushing’s syndrome, there is overproduction of cortisol and/or other hormones because of a problem in the dog’s hypothalamus, pituitary gland (hypophysis) or adrenal glands.  Overproduction of those hormones causes some combination of the following signs in your dog:

  • Increased drinking and thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Thinning of skin
  • Muscle weakness
  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Potbellied appearance or enlarged abdomen

Left untreated, Cushing's syndrome can severely affect your dog, causing increasing weakness day after day.   The good news is that Cushing’s syndrome can be managed through medication, diet, dietary supplementation, exercise and extra care to address your dog’s particular blend of signs.  We’ve focused on supplementation and diet in prior articles.  In this article we focus on exercise and the extra care your Cushing’s dog may need over and above that for non-Cushing’s dogs.

Extra care

You can reduce the health issues caused by Cushing's syndrome by providing extra care to your dog. Cushing's syndrome can be successfully managed with medication, dietary supplements or both.  (Though common in human Cushing’s cases, surgery is rarely used as a treatment for dogs and other non-human animals.) However, your dog requires extra care throughout the revival period and, probably, thereafter.

Add comfort to your dog's life.

Cushing’s dogs eventually become increasingly lethargic, weak, and exhausted.  A healthy and energetic diet of the type discussed in our last article can go a long way toward restoring or maintaining your dog’s energy levels.  Sleep and rest are other key components.  To make sure your pet has the best possible sleep and rest, you can provide your dog with high quality, supportive bedding of the sort he or she prefers in terms of firmness level, materials and other attributes.  The bedding should be sized appropriately and shielded from sun, wind, rain and other elements.  Further comfort can be provided by maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity for your indoor dog.

Outdoor dogs should be brought inside during periods of extremely high or low temperatures to maintain temperature balance. Due to Cushing’s-associated lethargic attitude, your dog is more prone to accidents and injuries. Accordingly, you should remove anything dangerous around the vicinity of your dog or in your dog’s play areas.

Grooming and conventional therapies

The signs of Cushing’s syndrome include thinning of the skin and hair loss. Moreover, because cortisol suppresses the immune system, Cushing’s dogs are more susceptible to skin infections.  Thus, any wounds should be cleaned and treated promptly with topical antibiotics and this care should continue until the wounds are fully healed.  Skin balms and ointments can also be used to assist the skin in healing.   In addition, increasing the frequency of the dog’s cleaning and grooming routine can improve skin health and prevent hair loss.

Some veterinarians also recommend acupuncture and light therapies (especially red-light therapy) as additional therapies in treating severe long-term diseases like Cushing's syndrome. These therapies may limit muscle loss and boost energy levels.


Exercise is necessary to keep your dog at its normal pace. Most dogs love to go for a walk, swim, hike or run; it keeps them in good physiological, mental and physical health. The recommended daily physical activity for most of the varies from half an hour to three hours a day.  For Cushing’s dogs, strenuous exercise is not recommended; however, light to moderate exercise is essential to prevent muscle deterioration.  Exercise will also help your dog stave off or manage diabetes, which is a common condition for Cushing’s dogs.

Fun exercise

Exercise can provide dual benefits--it can make your dog strong and build the bond between the two of you. Fun exercises help your dog indulge in physical activity without being pressured. And, your dog will love you when you invest your quality time.

You can play different fun games with your dog that will keep your dog moving. Fun exercises like playing fetch, frisbee, chasing bubbles, shadows or lights, hide and seek, and tug of war create positive effects on your dog's body and mind. Consequently, these exercises help your dog recover more quickly from illnesses of all sorts.

Training exercise

Your dog needs the regular movement of muscles to keep him healthy and alleviate the adverse effects of Cushing’s disease. However, because your dog is not in optimum condition, it is better to start with light exercises like walking and gradually move towards moderate exercises like track, treadmill, service training or agility training.

Final thoughts

Cushing's syndrome can significantly compromise your dog's wellbeing. In addition to medical treatment and supplementation, your dog needs your love, affection, and care to maintain his or her health and wellbeing. The above guidelines can help your dog reduce the harmful effects of and aid his or her recovery from Cushing's syndrome.