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"Oddjob" from North Carolina

TYPE: Canine
BREED: Mixed (Boxer, Welsh Corgi, Dalmatian)
GENDER / WEIGHT: Male, 65lbs


AGE WHEN DIAGNOSED WITH CUSHINGS: 4.5

TREATMENT LENGTH: 11 months

TREATMENT TYPE: Homeopathy and Traditional

PRODUCTS TRIED: Cushex drops by Native Remedies, Supraglen by NHV, Selegiline liquid and Tart Cherry Extract by Pure Herbs Ltd, flaxseed lignans, melatonin, Pituitrophin and Thytrophin by Standard Process, adrenal bovine glandular, Anipryl, Trilostane

FAVORITE MEALS: a quarterly rotation diet of grain free foods including Orijen, Go Natural duck, Blue Wilderness duck, Wellness, Taste of the Wild fish, Honest Kitchen dehydrated raw, occasional raw frozen meat (lamb, pheasant)

 

Dear Diary,

Introduction...Cushings Disease dog from cushingsdiary.com

Do you remember the children's book called The Poky Little Puppy? Well that's what my dog, Oddjob, reminds me of (he's a flavor of Boxer, Corgi, and Dalmatian). He steals hearts with his amusing personality and incredible intelligence usually only seen in other breeds. And much to the amusement of humans he also pokes everything with his nose, much as a human would do with their hand to explore or get attention. It's quite entertaining. He was adopted from a high kill county shelter in N. Carolina at the age of 4 months. He wasn't the dog I initially intended on adopting (I was hoping for a Dutch Shepherd mix), this was a case of the dog choosing the humans which makes the bond even more special. After visiting various animal shelters over a 2 month period, he was finally THE ONE.

He became my sidekick in everything I did and everywhere I went, as dogs are well known for he quickly became my best friend. I've had a few dogs in my lifetime, but with his unique personality and intelligence he was a rare gem and became my favorite dog ever. I had recently moved to a new city so the extra company was a blessing. The years quickly passed and many fun adventures and memories were made. Christmas was especially fun since he got to open his own presents, and birthdays consisted of a large homemade cookie (natural ingredients) and of course silly human singing. It's funny because dogs of course have no idea what we are doing, but they sure do seem to find it amusing when humans act funny.


First Noticed Something Was Wrong...

Cushings Disease dog from cushingsdiary.comWhen he was 3 years old we moved to Colorado, and aside from some flaky skin issues due to the dry air there he was still a happy and healthy dog (some omega oil supplements fixed his flaky skin). Fast forward 1.5 years. I noticed he was having to pee slightly more often, 4-5 times a day instead of 2-3. Nothing alarming, just strange. Then I noticed he was also drinking more water than usual, again nothing alarming and I just assumed because spring arrived and it was getting warmer. Over the next 2 months his appetite also increased, you hear the term "ravenous" a lot and that's exactly what it was. Any bit of food found he gobbled down without much thought, giving him a biscuit he would normally chew a few times before swallowing but now it was like one chomp and down the hatch, as if he couldn't eat it fast enough. One evening he woke me up in the middle of the night asking to go potty, that is when I knew something wasn't right because he was always a sound sleeper.

I made an appointment with a traditional local vet and two days later we went in (note: I would normally always choose a holistic vet but there was only one in the area 40 miles away and their prices were insanely higher than normal). I explained to the vet his symptoms, he did a general exam and said everything looked okay and it might just be stress or he might have a common urinary infection. It wasn't stress, he's with me 24/7 and is a happy dog that is very loved and cared for. I purchased some immune system booster vitamins from him and was told to call if results weren't seen in a week or so.

One good thing about a dog with a ravenous appetite is that it's super easy to give them pills, they don't question what it is they just want to swallow it. No changes were seen in a week, so we went back to the vet. Prior to this second visit I had done my own research on Oddjob's symptoms, and "Cushings Disease" and "diabetes insipidus" kept coming up for having similar physical symptoms. I had never heard of those terms prior to that day, so it was all new to me and overwhelming trying to absorb all the information. Armed with this information I felt more confident going into the next vet appointment.

The vet ran a urinalysis test (I brought in fresh pee in a jar, always fun to collect that). His PH was normal, and only a trace of protein was found. The "specific gravity" was low but that was expected since he was drinking so much water and the urine was diluted.

A TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) blood test was also ran as well as a T4 to test for thyroid issues (hypothyroidism). I also had them run a complete blood panel (this shows things like BUN and creatinine levels, calcium, sodium, potassium etc). The TSH test came back normal, and the T4 test number came back just a hair under the normal range. If the T4 and TSH were both low (or high) it would have signaled that something was off with the pituitary gland. The blood panel results all came back in the normal range, nothing abnormal. Since the TSH was normal, the urine test wasn't too revealing other than a trace of protein, and the blood panel results all fell into the normal range he concluded that it might be a kidney issue, possibly the start of renal failure.

He ruled out the possibility of diabetes insipidus and Cushings, saying that those are rare, difficult to diagnose, and mostly seen in elderly dogs (Oddjob was only 4.5yrs old at this time). The vet was confident it was kidney related, and since he's been a vet for 30 years and I just spent several hundred dollars on tests and vitamins I accepted his answer. I purchased kidney support supplements (to balance mineral levels and strengthen immune response in kidneys) and Cholodin supplements (to help with urination and coat). So I was sent home and told to continue the immune system boosters and kidney support supplements for a few months and then make another appointment for a checkup, the goal being to keep his organs healthy since there is no reverse button once kidney failure starts only slowing down the process.

It is of course heartbreaking to hear such a thing from your vet, but on a positive note it was also mentioned that since it was caught early and being treated it could take several years for total renal failure to happen. Hearing sugar coated words from your vet that is basically saying "your pet is going downhill" is devastating to hear. You want to cry, scream in frustration and denial, and wrap your arms around your beloved pet to let them know how much you love them and that you will do whatever it takes to keep them healthy. A very emotional time.


As Time Went On...

The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. Over time his condition got worse with even more frequent urination and water intake and incredible appetite. Preparing for another out of state move (this time to Oregon, trading Colorado snow for rain), wanting a second opinion I took him to a new vet before we moved. This time I had the vet do a low dose dex blood test, basically it's a cortisol test where they draw blood first thing in the morning, then again 4 hours later, and again at 8 hours. I also had them to an electrolyte test, but that came back fine. The blood test however showed that his cortisol levels were through the roof. This pretty much confirmed he had Cushings Disease.

Looking at his numbers and other test results the new vet made the claim that Oddjob had pituitary based Cushings, that a small tumor on his pituitary was causing his body to send too much ACTH to his adrenals which were then releasing too much cortisol with no OFF switch. The vet wanted me to start giving him $100/month Lysodren pills and was quick to try to push them on me without giving other options. I decided to wait a day to make a decision. I'm glad I did, research on Lysodren showed way too many possible serious side effects and that it basically is like chemo and will dissolve part of his adrenal gland. While that may work for some people, I personally wasn't comfortable with the idea since there was no reversing any damage the drug may cause and I wouldn't give my dog anything that I wouldn't feel comfortable with giving myself.

After doing much research and consulting with holistic doctors on the matter I decided to first try treatment in a more natural manner that didn't involve risky drugs. All the remedies tried over a 2 month period are listed at the top of this diary page. Some had better results than others, but none of them could be deemed a complete success. I'm sure it helped his insides function better, but externally the symptoms were still there.

We finally made the out of state move and I got to take Oddjob to the beach which was something I promised him we would do. Of course he loved all the new sights and smells, though I did have to watch him carefully because with his appetite issues he wanted to eat every dead jellyfish that was washed up on shore.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, one month into natural treatment, he continued to get worse and it got the point that every 2 hours he needed to go outside to pee, all hours of the night. I was told to let him drink as much water as he wants because otherwise it could cause him. It really turns your life upside down, thankfully I was working from home but it still takes a toll on you with the broken sleep but I'm sure most of us would do anything it takes for their pet. After Christmas it got to the point that he would tire out easily and had trouble with his back legs going up steps, which was frustrating since my home office and bedroom was upstairs. Some days he'd muster the strength up and climb the stairs determined to get to me (that was always the norm, we were always together since he was a pup). Other days it would break my heart to see him standing at the bottom of the steps knowing all he wants is to be with me but knowing he couldn't make it up the stairs, so of course I'd carry all 65lbs of him upstairs (only have to go back down an hour later for him to go out and pee). I ended up sleeping on the couch downstairs for many weeks just to be with him to keep him comforted.

By now the skin on his back started to harden, similar to a hardened leather feel. A couple weeks later he started the common hair loss at the back of his neck. His vet then suggested the drug Anipryl, which didn't have all the scary side effects and was used in humans to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Since he was diagnosed as having pituitary based Cushings there was hope that it would work. After about 3 weeks on Anipryl he did become mentally perkier, but the symptoms didn't improve at all. In January I took him to yet another new vet. They did their own blood tests and kidney tests, and ruled out any kidney failure and said they believe it's an adrenal tumor, not pituitary. That basically just threw the previous 2 veterinarians diagnosis out the window and meant I had been treating him for the wrong things for many months. There is no words for the anger felt in such a scenario, knowing that precious time and money were wasted and my dogs life was compromised because of veterinary oversight. At this point the symptoms and disease have progressed to the point of major hair loss on his neck and back and more muscle loss and is now very lethargic. He still has a great appetite and is drinking heavily. The vet suggested the drug Trilostane (Vetoryl) as a last ditch effort since it has progressed so far to try and get a grip on the symptoms.

The skin on his mostly bald back was now hard and crusty, cortisol shows no mercy in humans nor animal. I gave him weekly antimicrobial baths to heal his skin and put special dog skin lotion on him daily to soothe it, changing it up at times with pure aloe vera and vitamin E. To prevent him from licking his back I put lightweight velcro capes on him (didn't want to get a neck cone he would have hated that). It took several weeks but his skin did begin to improve and become more supple, though unfortunately the skin problem kept creeping further down his back to his tail. Once the base of his tail had the skin crusties he stopped wagging it I assume because it hurt to do so (sad to see since he was always a happy dog wagging his tail).

After 2 weeks on Trilostane he went back for his required checkup and blood test, basically they have you come back in to make sure the drug is working at the initial dose (if you are so lucky) or if they have to adjust the dosage. At this time he was drinking much less water and his appetite was minimal, he became very picky in what he ate and when (never was before). I think I spent more time preparing his special variety meals than I did my own, offering him various types of meat and veggies and yogurt. I have to mention that when a dog

He was walking around more which seemed to be a good sign, pacing actually (which I later learned was most likely because he was in discomfort). The blood test showed his cortisol to still be a bit too high and they increased his daily dosage of Trilostane. Getting him to take the pill now was challenging since he was fussy about eating, smearing some natural peanut butter or yogurt on it and then sticking it towards the back of his throat was the only way to do it, and then offering him anything he wanted to eat since it requires to be taken with food. Very frustrating since his appetite was now very low. After a week his water consumption dropped to nothing more than a quick lick and then he would tire out at the water bowl. Chicken broth worked for a day or so to keep his liquid intake going but then he didn't want anything to do with food or liquids anymore.

By now his poor body was weak, his nose crusty (never a good sign), and his third eyelid was now visible in his eyes (white lid at bottom of eye) which is a sign of dehydration. He was no longer happy and I could tell he was uncomfortable with everything and couldn't lay down for more than 30 minutes at a time. When I'd let him outside he'd go stand in the yard staring at nothing, his nose was too crusty to even sniff the air for fun smells. Looking back I can interpret it as him contemplating looking for a place to lie down and pass away peacefully.


In Conclusion...

In the middle of March on a beautiful Sunday, I lifted Oddjob (now 5.5yrs old) up and carried him to my bedroom. I put him on the bed in front of the open window where he could look out. There was a nice cool breeze blowing in and the sun was shining on the bed. He fell asleep in the sunshine with me laying beside him petting him and talking softly to him. It was a gut wrenching experience for me, because what I was telling him between tears was how much I loved him and appreciated all our years together, I was saying goodbye to my best friend. His quality of life was gone and I made the hard decision every pet owner dreads. While I am grateful that I had the chance to have that peaceful last day with him and got to say goodbye, that feeling of a dagger in my heart ran deep. This picture is the last taken of him from that shared sunny nap on the bed, he's cuddled up with a little stuffed dog toy that looks like him.

Later that evening with the support of a friend I took him to a 24 hour vet hospital to be put to sleep (clinic is less busy at night and less stressful on dog and human). The doctor came in the room and was extremely patient and had great bedside manner. When the doctor left the room briefly to get a gurney to start the procedure, Oddjob did something he hasn't done in weeks. He was standing in the middle of our waiting room and out of the blue started wagging his tail. It was emotional to see, it was as if he was saying "thank you", I have no other explanation for it since there was no other stimulation in the room to cause his tail to wag. The doctor prepped him and put a soft blanket over his body so that only his head and front legs were exposed. As he lay on the padded gurney I pet his head and talked to him while the needle was injected, ten seconds later it was over, he was finally in a comfortable final rest.

It hurts deeply typing this even though a few months have passed. I'm not sure I'll ever completely get over losing him, and will most certainly never ever forget my beloved poky little puppy. He was the shining light in my life and words can't express the feeling of deep loss, my world revolved around him and life just isn't the same without him. If I could have traded years off my life to save his health I would have done it, he meant that much to me.

I miss you my beloved Oddjob, your life was cut way too short and I hope sharing your story helps others in their decisions and I hope someday there is a cure for this horrible disease.

PS - If I had a rewind button I would have listened to my gut instinct and gotten a second vet opinion immediately. The disease is manageable and the earlier treatment starts the better and several more happy years can be had with your pet. In my case I started off with a misdiagnosis and the disease had the chance to get too advanced. Cushings disease is random, there is no preventative, and I hope to never have another encounter with it again. To all of you who are currently dealing with Cushings, I wish you good luck. Stay strong and know that you aren't alone in the emotional roller coaster. There IS hope.

With love,
Oddjob's mom


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Canine Cushings Disease dog photo

Interesting Facts

Cushings Disease is most common in dogs, and is mostly seen in middle and senior aged dogs. Pituitary gland tumors are more commonly found than adrenal gland tumors.

Approximately ten out of every million humans are diagnosed with Cushings Disease.

In horses it is referred to as ECD, Equine Cushings Disease.

Cushings Disease, while not seen as often in cats, is more likely to affect females than males and diabetes is commonly diagnosed along with it.

Did you know....

"Cushings Disease is the most common endocrine disorder in older dogs. It's important that people are aware that while there is no cure (yet) the condition IS treatable and many more happy years can be had with their beloved pet."