A vet has issued a warning to pet owners over a 'misunderstood' sign that could mean your dog is in pain. 

Despite being one of the most Googled conditions in dogs - with more than 10,000 searches every month - many owners miss the signs of Cushing's disease.

Natural dog food bran Harringtons vet Peter Wright, has urged owners not to ignore a common sign of the often non-life threatening but incurable disease. 

Here's everything you need to know about Cushing's disease and that key misunderstood sign to look out for. 

This is why you should never feed chocolate to your dog

What is Cushing's disease? 

Cushing’s disease is a condition properly known as hyperadrenocorticism and is caused by an overproduction of cortisone in the body.

We may all have heard of cortisone – the naturally occurring cortisone is a hormone called cortisol, and for various reasons, dogs can experience excessive production of this hormone. 

What role do the adrenal glands and pituitary gland play in Cushing's disease?

One of the most common reasons for the overproduction of cortisol is that a gland (the pituitary gland, situated at the base of the brain) produces a hormone called ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic hormone).

ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands - small glands that sit near the kidneys – to produce cortisol, which is vital to life.

ACTH can be overproduced in the brain, leading to the adrenal glands being overstimulated to produce excessive levels of cortisol.

This overproduction creates problems in your dog’s body.

Cushing’s disease symptoms

Vet Peter Wright has identified various symptoms of Cushing's disease that pet owners should be aware of.

Firstly, dogs develop a large appetite.

Secondly, they drink excessively.

Their skin also starts to thin and becomes fragile; over time, it can become like tissue paper as it loses its elasticity and becomes more susceptible to infection.

In most cases, their coat also becomes very thin over nearly all parts of the body. 

Saffron Walden Reporter: Here are the symptoms of Cushing's disease that every dog owner should know about . ( Getty Images)Here are the symptoms of Cushing's disease that every dog owner should know about . ( Getty Images) (Image: Getty Images)

Wright also says that a pot-bellied appearance is another symptom worth noting.

The vet explains: "They begin to look quite podgy and fat (even though they haven’t actually put on weight).

"What’s happening here is that the collagen – the fibrous network that holds our bodies together – becomes weaker, causing the pot belly as a result. 

"If you notice any of these problems beginning to develop over time, then it’s time for a trip to the vet".

At this stage, your vet will look at the clinical signs your dog is showing and likely perform a series of tests to reach a diagnosis.

Cushing’s disease can be tricky to diagnose sometimes, but taking a couple of blood samples is often sufficient in most cases.

Treatment can start once your vet has identified a higher production of cortisol in the body.

How Cushing’s disease is treated

Vets can use a medication called Trilostane to treat Cushing's disease in the UK and it is usually very effective.

Although Cushing’s disease is incurable, it is controllable, Wright explains.

Dogs with the disease will need to be on trilostane for the rest of their lives. 

What happens during the treatment is that many of your pet's symptoms can be reversed.

Hair starts to grow again, and the body’s connective tissue regains strength.

Dogs don’t appear particularly ill, even though significant changes occur within their bodies.  

Saffron Walden Reporter: Here's how Cushing's disease is treated. ( Getty Images)Here's how Cushing's disease is treated. ( Getty Images) (Image: Getty/ThePalmer)

Once diagnosed with the disease, your dog must visit the vet regularly for periodic blood tests to ensure they are on the correct trilostane dose. 

How can a dog’s diet impact Cushing’s disease? 

Cushing’s disease in dogs is a condition that isn’t particularly affected by diet – a vet-approved dog food is often the best option for your dog, whether suffering from a medical condition or not.

The disease usually affects middle-aged dogs onwards, and as with humans, our diet changes with age, so older dogs need good quality protein rather than a high volume.

They also don’t need as many carbohydrates because they are less active as they age. Omega oils are also beneficial in supporting skin and coat health.