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Cushing's and panting.

Species: Dog
Breed: Jack Russell
Age: 11-15 years
I saw where you advised a person on dog breathing problems, that is could be Cushings. My dog does have and is being treated for Cushings since August 2012. My Vet is not real versed in this disease. What I want to know specifically is what causes breathing problems in these Cushings dogs. It seems labored at night, with periods of normal breathing. It is appears this happens when she lays down. She snores and has like a throaty congestion sound also. What is the mechanism causing this? She is on 20 mg Vetoryl morning and 10 mg evening. She has had all the tests, bloodwork, and ultra sound just to let you know. Please help me as my Vet cannot answer this. I am wondering if this labored breathing is straining her heart??

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Cushing's is a very complicated disease. As you likely know, it is a problem where the adrenal glands (little glands that sit above the kidneys) secrete too much hormone. Dogs with cushing's almost always have a strong increase in thirst and urination and then there are other possible symptoms such as a poor hair coat, a large belly and panting.

So why do dog's with cushing's pant so much? It's likely a combination of things. Dogs with cushing's can develop calcification in their lungs. This can make the airways less elastic which makes them a little harder to open and close for the dog. This results in the dog having to put more effort into breathing and as a result they pant more.

Dogs with cushing's often have liver enlargement. When the liver gets large, it can put pressure on the diaphragm and can make it so that the lungs can't expand fully. This can result in panting as well.

There are other theories as well as to why dogs with cushing's will pant more than others. Some vets wonder if the dogs may have tiny "thromboembolisms" which are tiny blood clots that can affect the blood supply to the lungs. Or, it is also possible that the cushing's disease causes the muscles of the rib cage to weaken. We know that cushing's can cause a weakening in abdominal muscles which is what causes a dog to have a larger abdomen with this condition. The same is conceivably possible in the chest. If the chest muscles are weak then more effort would have to be put into breathing.

With all of that being said, none of these things should cause actual congestion. It is possible that there is something else going on. Dogs with cushing's have higher levels of steroid in their system and this can make it harder for their body to fight infections. It is possible that a mild pneumonia has developed. Or, it's possible that Tipper has a mild upper respiratory virus. Another possibility is that there is heart disease that is starting to appear. There are other possibilities that are less likely such as a cancer in the chest.

At this point, if your vet is not seeing any sign of heart disease or infection then there is not much more that can be done. We don't really have a treatment that helps reduce the panting in dogs with cushing's.

If you really wanted to go further and do more tests you could ask your vet about taking some chest xrays if they haven't been done yet, or even an ultrasound to examine Tipper's heart.

Hopefully that has helped, but please let me know if you have more questions.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Dr. Marie:
Would there be anything to help ease her breathing if it is calcifications? I will have my vet check for pneumonia, etc. and I am getting a chest xray. What would account for the throaty noises she is making and the snoring?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm not aware of any treatment for the possible calcifications.

However, while most dogs that I see with Cushing's have an excess of panting, I can't say that I have ever seen one with throaty noises and snoring. I would go looking for something else.

One other possibility that I didn't mention above is a dental infection. Dogs with cushing's are more prone to infections so this is possible. If there is an infection in the root of a tooth such as the carnassial tooth (the large upper tooth responsible for chewing) then this can affect the nasal passage. Infections like this can be helped for the short term with antibiotics, but ultimately the tooth needs to be pulled in order for the problem to go away completely.

I think an xray is an excellent idea and then while you are there you can ask your vet to do a thorough exam of the mouth as well.

Dr. Marie.

Customer reply:

I have researched on the internet quite a lot and most people with dogs who have Cushings say the dog snores and has breathing problems. I will however tell my Vet to check the mouth, although she was on a 2 week antibiotic shot for a UTI about 4 weeks ago. Would that have knocked out pneumonia, and/or tooth infections? Prior to having Cushings she had annual tooth cleanings, and I brush her teeth every day.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

That shot was likely Convenia and Convenia is not usually great for dental infections. It could possibly help somewhat with pneumonia.

Customer reply:

would a humidifier help her breathe better at night- why doesn't this happen when she is standing if it is calcification?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I think the problem here is that we don't know what is causing the breathing problems. If this problem is connected to the cushing's then it is probably a combo of things mentioned above (calcification, liver enlargement, muscle weakness, etc). So, when a dog is resting, the muscle weakness could be more exaggerated and perhaps lying down makes the liver sit in a way that causes even more problems for the lungs to expand. But really, it's just a guess. I don't think anyone knows.

There's definitely no harm in trying a humidifier to see if it will help!

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.