- ACTH stimulation test
- Low-dose dexamethasone suppression test (LDDST)
- Urinary cortisol:creatinine ratio (UCCR)
Unfortunately, none of the diagnostic tests used in dogs with suspected Cushing's syndrome are totally reliable, and both false-positive and false-negative results are common. Because there are inherent problems with these diagnostic tests, the veterinarian is frequently challenged when attempting to properly interpret the dog’s tests results.
It is important to remember, however, that the predictive value of a positive screening test result for Cushing's increases in direct proportion to the number and severity of clinical signs and biochemical changes that develop in this disease. Therefore, one must always remember the importance of the dog’s signalment, history, and physical examination findings when interpreting the diagnostic test results of all pituitary-adrenal function tests.
Who should be tested for hyperadrenocorticism?
Who should NOT be tested for hyperadrenocorticism?
Testing for Cushing's syndrome is not recommended if the only abnormality is an increased serum alkaline phosphatase (SAP) activity on a serum chemistry panel, and the dog is otherwise apparently healthy. It is difficult enough to interpret endocrine tests in dogs with clinical signs of the disease; if they have no clinical signs, all of the endocrine tests may be difficult to interpret because of false-positive and false-negative results. The first step in workup in these dogs may include an abdominal ultrasound or bile acid testing.
One should not screen dogs for hyperadrenocorticism when the dog is sick with clinical signs that would not be related to Cushing's syndrome (e.g., vomiting, anorexia, weight loss). Many non-specific illnesses and other systemic diseases will produce false-positive results with the endocrine tests. Remember, hyperadrenocorticism is only slowly progressive, so hyperadrenocorticism is never an emergency diagnosis.
Before diagnostic testing is performed, it is therefore always good to ask oneself: if the test results would indicate hyperadrenocorticism, would I then feel confident to start treating with mitotane (Lysodren®) or trilostane (Vetoryl®) given the clinical picture of the patient? Would treatment help the dog's clinically signs? If either answer is "no," then it is probably best not to screen for hyperadrenocorticism in the first place.
My dog has clinical signs of hyperadrenocorticism and now other nonrelated illness − now can I test?
If the dog has any or all of the clinical signs of hyperadrenocorticism, yes, you should proceed with testing of the pituitary-adrenal axis. However, it is necessary first to ensure that the dog is not being exposed to exogenous glucocorticoids, including topical glucocorticoids on the eyes, ears or skin. First check with the owner to ensure that they are not applying topical glucocorticoids to their own skin − sometimes, dogs may ingest glucocorticoids by licking steroid-containing cream off of the owner's skin. If there is any doubt, ask the owner to bring in all and any medications that dog is receiving (including over the counter preparations) and anything that the owner or owner's family might be using in order to verify that no glucocorticoids are in any of these medications.
Next, obtain a routine database (CBC, serum chemistry analysis, and complete urinalysis) before any endocrine testing is undertaken. Finding the expected clinical pathology changes in a dog with suspected Cushing's syndrome helps confirm what the initial history and physical exam suggested. Typical abnormalities in dogs with hyperadrenocorticism include high values for serum alkaline phosphatase, alanine aminotransferase, low to low-normal serum urea nitrogen, and dilute urine specific gravity. On the CBC, we may see a 'stress' leukogram (elevated mature neutrophils and monocytes, decreased lymphocytes and eosinophils), and a hematocrit and RBC count at the high end of normal.
What about now? Now should I use one of the screening tests?
If all the analyses point to hyperadrenocorticism at this stage, test away! In an upcoming blog, I'll be discussing the pros and cons of the ACTH stimulation test for Cushing's syndrome.