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Holistic Treatment Options

Holistic and Natural Treatment for Cushings Disease in Dogs

Holistic Vet

While we believe that medicine has its place, a natural treatment is oftentimes preferred when dogs face a certain ailment. There are several studies on Cushings Disease involving top veterinarians who recommend trying holistic approaches before a medicinal regimen. Below are just a few natural remedies worth discussing with your vet.

Natural Treatment Remedy Options:

Lignans for Dogs

Both HMR lignans and flaxseed lignans perform equally well as a natural treatment for dogs with Cushings, though they are derived from different natural sources. HMR Lignans come from the Norway spruce tree and flaxseed lignans come from the hulls of flaxseed. Flaxseed lignans also have fiber;  HMR lignans do not. Both lignans are considered for Cushings treatment because they inhibit two enzymes needed in the production of cortisol.  Lignans work similarly to the melatonin treatment, but they inhibit different enzymes than melatonin. Lignans also have phytoestrogenic activity. They compete with normally occurring estradiol for tissue estrogen receptors, but with less biological (and a gentler) effect. Treatment with lignans also inhibits aromatase enzyme (lowers estradiol) and 3-beta HSD enzyme (lowers cortisol). IT IS VERY IMPORTANT NOT TO USE WHOLE FLAXSEED or FLAXSEED OIL for treatment of dogs with Cushings because the lignan content is very low in whole flaxseed and the flax oil can increase triglycerides. Several pounds of whole flaxseed would need to be consumed in order to get the same amount of lignan that is in flaxseed hulls, which are highly concentrated with lignans.

Our surveys over a span of two years revealed that both HMR lignans and Flaxseed lignans work equally well as Cushings treatment.  In 85% of cases, lignan users reported that at least one Cushings symptom improved in an average of two months. In some cases, this treatment improved all Cushing’s symptoms in the same two month time frame. Some people said that it took up to 4 months of treatment to see an improvement and some customers reported reduced Cushing’s symptoms in as little as two weeks, but the vast majority in our study reported that their dogs experienced alleviated Cushings symptoms in an average of two months of treatment. Benefits of lignan use include:

  • Return of dog’s normal appetite and weight
  • Restore dog’s energy
  • Reduce cortisol levels by inhibiting the 3-beta HSD Enzyme and inhibiting aromatase enzyme, reducing estradiol.
  • Hair growth

While lignans can provide a natural treatment remedy for Cushing’s, the disease will not disappear because the tumors that cause the excess production of cortisol would still exist.  However, natural treatment with lignans and melatonin can inhibit the excess cortisol responsible for some of the Cushings symptoms, thus helping Cushingoid dogs to be more comfortable and improving their quality of life.

Lignans and melatonin work well as a treatment for both normal Cushings and Atypical Cushings.

Another study testing the effectiveness of both lignans and melatonin on Cushings in dogs found that the combination of lignans and melatonin not only reduce cortisol, but act directly upon adrenal tumor cells, effectively treating both typical and atypical cushings disease.  Read the University study here

Suggested doses:  Give 1-2 mg of lignan for each pound of dog’s weight daily. (i.e. a 30 lb dog should have anywhere from 30mg to 60mg of lignan per day).  Lignans only need to be administered to dogs once a day; they can be given as a single dose or, if preferred, the dosage can be split up.

Which Lignan is Best for my Dog with Cushings?

While it is important to choose lignans based on the correct dosage for your dog, most people make the decision based on fiber content. The HMR lignans do not have fiber. Flaxseed hulls (SDG Lignans) contain fiber, but there are SDG extracts with lower fiber options. The more flaxseed hulls, the higher the fiber content. Less flaxseed hulls are best for those who want less fiber. While HMR Lignans and Flaxseed Lignans come from different natural sources, both are compatible with most dogs. However, occasionally one does work as a better treatment than the other. Though it is rare, some dogs may have to switch from one lignan to another. If one type does not agree with the dog’s digestive tract or if the dog experiences allergies, it is recommended to try a different type of lignan to see if it works better.

For more on using lignans to naturally treat dogs with Canine Cushing’s, Click here

Melatonin for dogs with Cushings

Melatonin can be effective in the treatment of Cushing’s because it inhibits two enzymes needed in the production of cortisol.  By inhibiting the enzymes, cortisol levels can be reduced. It is important to use the right kind of melatonin and to keep melatonin in the body at a constant level. It is not recommended to use a rapid release or a timed release.  For dogs under 30 lbs, it is recommended to use 3 mg of melatonin every 12 hours. For larger dogs over 30 lbs, 6 mg of melatonin every 12 hours is recommended. For very small dogs (less than 10 lbs), or for those who wish to give their dogs smaller dosages as a treatment, some vets may recommend 1 mg of melatonin every 12 hours.

Many people think that melatonin is used to help dogs with Cushings sleep better. While that may work in some cases, the primary function of the melatonin treatment option is the reduction of cortisol levels, which in turn, better manages elevated stress hormones in dogs with Cushing’s.

We conducted a survey to determine if dogs using melatonin as a treatment for Cushings experienced heightened, reduced, or the same amount of lethargy. The majority of participants stated that their dogs were less lethargic. However, this depends on the stage of Cushings the dog is in.  It is more important to concentrate on getting cortisol levels back to normal, rather than worry if the dog is a little sleepier than usual.  Most dogs acclimate to the melatonin within a couple weeks and return to normal sleeping and activity levels.  If this is not the case, it is recommended to consult a vet to determine if the benefits of reducing stress and cortisol outweigh the lessening in activity.

For more on using melatonin to naturally treat dogs with Canine Cushing’s, Click here

Why Lignans and Melatonin vs Conventional Western Treatments? 

Conventional treatments are far more expensive and aggressive than homeopathic or natural remedies.  These treatments include chemo therapy drugs. Their goal is to destroy the outer cortex of the adrenal gland in dogs with Cushings in order to slow down the production of cortisol.  Expensive tests are required in order to prevent the drugs from damaging too much of the adrenal gland. If excess damage occurs with this treatment option, cortisol production can stop completely, which can cause Addison’s disease. If this extreme path is chosen, it is critical to test for adrenal damage every month and the cost of testing is very high (around $400 per month, plus expensive drug costs). Trying to control just the right amount of damage is critical. If too much damage occurs, Addison’s treatment will be required for the rest of the dog’s life. Adversely, natural and homeopathic treatment options like lignans and melatonin are so mild that they can be used even if Cushings is only suspected and these natural treatments cannot cause Addison’s. Lignans are safe to give even if your dog does not have Cushings. They have several other benefits for dogs, such as balancing hormones and providing antioxidants, which can help support the immune system.

Other Reasons to Consider Lignans and Melatonin for Treatment of Cushings in Dogs

Lignans and melatonin are often used as a first treatment because:

  • They are gentler on aging dogs
  • There are no side effects
  • The cost is much lower than conventional treatments
  • Unlike harsher treatment options, no ongoing testing is required
  • They can be used even if Cushings is only suspected

Click here to read testimonials on natural Cushing’s treatment options. Read about real life experiences treating Canine Cushings with lignans, melatonin, and more.

What are some other things you can do to help your dog with Cushings? 

When a dog has Cushings, the liver enzymes are elevated and the liver becomes overworked. Dog supplements that help support the liver can be beneficial treatment options for Cushings. Two of these supplements are SAMe and milk thistle.


SAMe, aka (S-Adenosyl L-Methionine),  is naturally occurring in the body. It is naturally produced in a healthy liver for normal liver function; however, SAMe is used up quickly when the liver is overworked.  When a dog has Cushings disease, the liver becomes stressed as it attempts to handle all the excess Cortisol. Supplementation with SAMe can be very helpful.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is a natural compound that has been used for centuries to help with liver problems. Vets will often prescribe Denamarin for dogs, which is a blend of milk thistle and SAMe; however, Denamarin is more expensive than purchasing SAMe and milk thistle individually. A two month supply of SAMe and milk thistle can usually be purchased for the price of a one month supply of Denamarin.

1-2 mg of milk thistle per pound of body weight is usually sufficient for healthy dogs, but for dogs with overworked livers, elevated liver enzymes, etc., up to 10 mg of milk thistle per pound of body weight may be recommended. Always consult a veterinarian regarding dosage as every dog and Cushing’s case varies.


One of the biggest effects of Cushing’s is the adrenal gland’s overproduction of the hormone Cortisol. This can cause major muscle weakness, an abnormal gait, panting, and even hair loss. What does Cortisol have to do with dandelion? Teas, tonics and tinctures made from dandelion have been used for various reasons for hundreds of years. Dandelion tonic can be used to help normalize adrenal functioning. While dandelion’s beneficial properties are not a cure for the disease, they can work very well as a holistic treatment for Cushing’s in dogs and can help alleviate some of the dog’s symptoms. Dandelion can also be beneficial for dogs with liver and kidney problems.

Joint Support

A joint support might be recommended if the Cushingoid dog suffers from hind leg weakness. When a dog has Cushings, they can experience muscular atrophy in the hind legs, which can result in reduced functioning of the hind legs. Veterinarians may recommend glucosamine or an alternative to glucosamine, like an eggshell membrane joint support, which contains rare ingredients that promote joint health and stability.

Diet for Dogs with Cushings

Many customers report that a raw, natural diet has helped their dog with Cushings. Visit our blog to read more about a raw diet and see if it could be right for your pet. As always, consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet. Read More.

For Mild Symptoms

For dogs with minor or mild symptoms, there are several tinctures, compounds, and other natural treatments for Cushing’s in dogs that can help. These include:

  • Arsenicum: Arsenicum can improve excessive thirst (polydipsia), which is often a symptom in dogs with Cushings. Polydipsia can also be a side effect of medications used to treat hyperadrenocorticism (Canine Cushing’s Disease). Arsenicum should be used whenever possible and in conjunction with other compounds on this list.
  • Hepar Sulph and Sulphur: The effect that Cushings has on dogs’ hair and skin is not just limited to patches of missing fur. It can also cause overall irritation and dryness, resulting in discomfort and sensitivity to the elements. Hepar Sulph and Sulphur can help. These mild compounds have been reported to help decrease irritation, improve skin quality, and improve the dog’s appearance and comfort.
  • Burdock: While Burdock is not specifically a canine Cushings Disease treatment; however, it is known to help cleanse and detoxify tissues, thereby removing unwanted byproducts and substances from the body. Its use, especially combined with other supplements listed here, can help improve the overall health of your Cushingoid pet.

Why go Holistic?

There is a growing trend towards utilizing holistic alternatives whenever possible, for our own healthcare and for our pets. Many of these treatments have been used for their benefits for centuries, although with the help of modern science, we now have a better understanding of their properties. As stated, it is often recommended to look to natural solutions first when addressing certain diseases and their symptoms in order to avoid the harsh side-effects that widely used, mainstream medications can cause.

For more treatment options for Canine Cushing’s, check out our page on Vet Recommended Cushings Treatments. Here you’ll find a report from the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine (an authority on adrenal disorders), containing several different options to consider when your dog is faced with Cushings.