What’s the Vet-Recommended Diet for Canine Cushing’s Disease?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jan. 16, 2023
bulldog standing over blue food bowl

Cushing’s disease develops when a dog’s body produces too much of a steroid hormone called cortisol. Chronically high levels of cortisol in the body leads to recurrent infections, skin problems, a pot-bellied appearance, and increased appetite, thirst, and urination.

While canine Cushing’s disease can be difficult to diagnose and treat, it can be controlled. And, along with traditional medical or surgical therapy, pet parents can help support their dog through diet.

Treatment Options for the Two Types of Cushing’s Disease

The treatment method your veterinarian recommends depends on the type of Cushing’s disease your dog is diagnosed with: pituitary or adrenal.


Adrenal tumors can be treated through abdominal surgery. If the mass is successfully removed from the dog and the tumor hasn’t spread, this type of Cushing’s disease can be cured. 

Medications are often used to manage the disease prior to surgery or when surgery isn’t a good option.


Pituitary tumors are the more common form of Cushing’s disease in dogs, making up 80-85% of cases. Pituitary tumors usually cannot be surgically removed, so many dogs must receive medications like mitotane or trilostane for the rest of their lives.

Recommended Diet for Canine Cushing’s Disease

No matter which form of Cushing’s disease your dog has and how it is treated, their diet remains important. Nutritional therapy, when used correctly, can support a dog’s overall health and may be used to address specific symptoms.

No single diet is appropriate for all dogs with Cushing’s disease, but there are some general characteristics to look for. Talk to your veterinarian to determine the ideal diet for your dog.

It’s Formulated for Adults

The food should meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) recommendations for adult maintenance (ideally one that is not formulated for all life stages). Adult food is not as calorically dense as foods designed for other life stages, such as the puppy stage, which can help dogs with Cushing’s disease stay slim.

It's Low in Fat With Moderate Fiber

Some dogs with Cushing’s disease have excess levels of body fat. To help combat this, a food that’s lower in fat (less than 12% on a dry matter basis, or DM) and moderate in crude fiber (8-17% DM) is reasonable. This type of food isn’t appropriate if a dog with Cushing’s disease is underweight.

To find the DM value for a specific nutrient, calculate DM value of the food:

100% - % moisture listed on package = % dry matter (DM%)

Then calculate the DM value of each nutrient:

Fat % listed on label ÷ DM% multiplied by 100

Fiber % listed on label ÷ DM% multiplied by 100

Label Values


Dry Matter Values

Moisture: 10%



Fat: 9%

(9% ÷ 90%) x 100


Fiber: 10%

(10% ÷ 90%) x 100


It Contains Highly Digestible Protein

The protein in the food should be highly digestible. Some qualifying examples include:

  • Egg whites

  • Muscle meats (chicken, beef, lamb)

  • Organ meat

It’s Low in Sodium

Your veterinarian will recommend avoiding foods that are higher in salt (sodium) if hypertension is present. Diets with a low sodium level help maintain normal blood pressure.

Recommended Foods for Canine Cushing’s Disease

For many dogs who have Cushing’s disease and are a little overweight, a high-quality adult dog food that’s designed to help prevent weight gain is appropriate. Good options include:

Do You Need to Supplement a Canine Cushing’s Disease Diet?

As long as you are feeding a nutritionally complete and balanced dog food, nutritional supplements for dogs with Cushing’s disease are usually not necessary. However, if your dog also has another health problem, your veterinarian could recommend an appropriate nutritional supplement. Your veterinarian can help you determine the best food and supplement (if necessary) for your dog.

For example, a dog with both Cushing’s disease and arthritis might benefit from taking a joint supplement that contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.

Additional Health Care Tips for Dogs With Cushing’s Disease

Taking care of a dog with Cushing’s disease requires extra attention to detail.

  • Follow all of your veterinarians recommendations with regard to medication administration, diet, and follow-up care.

  • Don’t restrict water. Dogs with Cushing’s disease tend to experience increased thirst, and an adequate source of clean water should always be available to them. When the disease is controlled, Cushingoid dogs should not drink as continuously as they do when unregulated.

  • If your veterinarian has recommended weight loss for your pup, get serious about a program to get (and keep!) the pounds off. If you aren’t sure how to safely accomplish this, ask your veterinarian for help.

Treatment for Cushing’s disease can be complicated. Your veterinarian will be your best resource in helping you navigate the treatment process so that your pet can live their healthiest life.

Featured Image: SolStock/iStock via Getty Images

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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