You adore your dog. After all, your four-legged friend is a member of your family. We understand this because our dogs are very much our family members as well.
That's why when something is wrong with Fido, dog owners can often find themselves quickly spiraling into panic mode. A timely trip to the veterinarian will often leave a pet owner feeling calmer in one sense, but potentially more concerned in other areas.
What are all these medications? Are they all necessary? Why do they have a laundry list of associated side effects?
Again, we understand what a worrisome time this can be. First, your beloved pup is ill, which is bad enough on its own. But then, you have to make the difficult choices regarding which medication is right for your pup.
The fine print may read that your pup's allergy drug may also have long-term negative side effects. Unfortunately, many drugs that we use to help our pups feel better can have some pretty serious side effects. This may not make sense, but it is the reality for many conventional medications.
In this article, we are breaking down an extremely popular steroid drug called prednisone. We hope to answer all of your questions and concerns about prednisone. We want to help our readers become as educated as possible on the medication so that they can make the best decision possible in terms of their fur baby's health.
What is Prednisone for Dogs
Prednisone is a synthetic steroid that is commonly prescribed to treat a wide array of ailments. In fact, you may have heard of the steroid before because it's also commonly prescribed to humans.
Prednisone is an anti-inflammatory drug and is a key player when it comes to reducing inflammation in dogs and humans.
What are Corticosteroids
Corticosteroids are often referred to as steroids. Corticosteroids, such as cortisone, are steroid hormones that are produced in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates and are involved in many activities in the dog's body, including:
- Stress response
- Nutrient metabolism
- Control of inflammation
- Immune system response
- Maintenance of blood electrolyte levels
The steroid hormones can also be produced synthetically, often in the form of prednisone.
Prednisone is very similar to, but more potent than, cortisol, a naturally-produced adrenal hormone. Cortisol is released in response to stress. This release is regulated by what’s called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Essentially, when the body senses stress, the hypothalamus in the brain starts a chain reaction that leads to cortisol release by the adrenals.
When a dog has an illness that lowers the natural, healthy levels of cortisol, a synthetic form of cortisol like prednisone is often required.
What is a Steroid
Steroids are synthetic drugs that are formulated to closely resemble the naturally produced cortisol and are used for medicinal purposes.
You may have heard of steroids being used illegally in sports or thought to yourself that the rage-filled gym junkie is "probs on steroids." These steroids are called anabolic steroids are formulated to resemble testosterone. Although anabolic steroids can be used to treat certain medical conditions, like delayed puberty or muscle loss, they are often misused by bodybuilders to enhance muscle building.
However, steroids are also very important in the world of Western medicine to treat individuals suffering from a wide range of conditions.
What is Prednisolone
Prednisone and prednisolone are corticosteroids that are used to treat inflammation and autoimmune diseases and regulate the immune system.
Once a pet parent administers the prednisone, the dog's liver metabolizes it into prednisolone.
If your dog has a pre-existing liver condition, any form of liver dysfunction, or has high liver enzyme levels (i.e., ALT, ALP, AST or GGT), then your veterinarian will prescribe prednisolone instead of prednisone.
By prescribing prednisolone, the vet can ensure that the body is able to absorb and process the drug effectively.
Typical Prednisone Uses
Prednisone for dogs is typically used to treat the following conditions:
- Liver conditions
- Anaphylactic shock
- Cushing's disease
- Addison's disease
- Autoimmune disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Arthritis-associated joint pain
- Central nervous system disorders
- Cancer (e.g., dogs with lymphoma)
- Inflammatory orthopedic conditions (e.g., arthritis)
- Allergies (e.g., medication-induced, environmental)
- Skin diseases such as eczema, itchy skin, and dermatitis
Prednisone Side Effects in Dogs
Common side effects of prednisone (and most other steroids) include:
- Skin infections
- Loss of energy
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Development or worsening of infections, particularly bacterial skin infections
Steroid Side Effects
The side effects of steroids mimic those of prednisone.
Side Effects of Prednisone (Long-Term Use)
In most cases, steroid drugs like prednisone are given on a short-term basis.
However, if your vet prescribes prednisone for a longer duration (generally longer than four months), make sure that you are taking Fido in to see the vet regularly to monitor long-term effects, like liver and kidney dysfunction.
If either of these conditions develop due to prednisone usage, they can typically be resolved if caught early on and prednisone is discontinued.
Here is a list of the potential side effects of long-term prednisone and prednisolone usage:
- Gastric ulcers
- Liver damage
- Delayed healing
- Muscle weakness
- Increased risk of infection
- Inhibited growth in young animals
- Behavior change (e.g., aggression)
- Development or worsening of diabetes
- Urinary tract infections in up to 30% of patients
Administering Prednisone for Dogs
Most veterinary medical experts state that the use of prednisone and prednisolone should be short-term and at a small dose level to reduce the possibility of adverse reactions.
A general rule of thumb is to use as much prednisone as required, but as little as possible. Additionally, as soon as the dog's specific condition allows, the pet owner should slowly wean their pup off the drug.
Even a small daily dose has the potential to cause serious, harmful reactions. For this reason, pet owners should keep a close eye on Fido whenever new medications (especially a heavy steroid like prednisone) are being added to their dog's life.
You may not necessarily notice an individual side effect of prednisone. However, that one symptom can turn into many seemingly overnight. This is why it’s imperative for dog parents to be aware of the potential side effects to know what to look for.
The common doses of prednisone and prednisolone are:
- 0.5 mg/lb for anti-inflammation
- 1 mg/lb to suppress the immune system
Your veterinarian will consider your dog's specific condition and needs to determine the exact dose that your dog will need.
Cats may also be prescribed prednisone and prednisolone. Their dose will also typically vary according to a cat’s individual needs.
Furthermore, it is extremely important that pet owners do not accidentally miss a dose when administering the steroid.
Prednisone for dogs must be given at the same time of the day (or as close to it as possible) and at even intervals (e.g., every 12 hours).
Again, prednisone is used when the body is not making enough glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, on its own. However, prednisone is not supposed to be a permanent replacement for the deficiency.
A dog owner must inform their vet about any other medications that their pup is taking.
This is because prednisone and prednisolone can have very harmful reactions when mixed with certain other drugs, including those listed below:
- Amphotericin B
- Other steroid medications
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Etogesic, Metacam, Previcox, Novocox, Vetprofen, and aspirin)
Additionally, standard vaccinations will often be less effective if administered while the dog is taking prednisone or prednisolone. Furthermore, dogs who are pregnant or nursing should take prednisone and prednisolone only under close supervision.
As you likely picked up on, prednisone is a medication that pet owners must take seriously when it is prescribed to their pup. Dog owners must ensure that they administer the drug appropriately and that they are able to monitor Fido during this time.
Without proper monitoring by the pet owner, a dog can suffer serious adverse side effects when taking prednisone or prednisolone. We know your dog means the world to you. The last thing you want is for the medication they are on to cause more harm than good.
Natural Alternatives to Prednisone for Dogs
Luckily, there are other options. As pet owners, we are fortunate to be living in a time where we have natural alternatives.
Every day, more holistic options are making headway in the world of natural healing (and we are super grateful).
Additional Natural Remedies
Although CBD is our number one favorite all-natural remedy, we want to provide pet parents with information on other supplemental herbs that can also greatly benefit Fido.
Turmeric is a great herbal solution for a wide range of inflammatory conditions. It has an anti-inflammatory effect without the potentially toxic side effects. That's why we include it in our Relief CBD Dog Treats. Turmeric is also great for pet parents!
The herbal supplement known as yucca root is definitely one you'll want to look into. Yucca root contains beneficial levels of:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
Furthermore, studies show that yucca root alleviates allergies and joint and arthritis pain, and boosts the appetite in dogs not receiving the necessary nutrients from their food source.
We do want to note that dog owners should not give their pups yucca root on a daily basis. Too much yucca root may irritate the digestive tract.
Therefore, pet owners should use yucca root to treat specific conditions, not as a daily supplement.
Echinacea is a wonderful, natural way to boost your dog's immune system. There is one downside, though: eventually, your pup's body gets used to the herbal supplement and therefore stops responding to it.
This doesn't cause your dog harm, of course, but you want an herbal supplement to benefit Fido in all possible ways. Therefore, it's best to use echinacea off and on for optimal results.
Have you heard of the incredible powers of licorice root? Get ready for a nice, health-conscious surprise. Licorice root contains a substance called glycyrrhizin that functions as a natural corticosteroid.
The herbal solution stimulates the secretion of hormones by the adrenal gland. That's right, it aids in producing the same hormones that prednisone aims to produce, except licorice root is all natural.
The herb, therefore, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and reduces swelling. It also eases skin conditions and associated skin allergy symptoms.
Ginger is another excellent natural way to reduce inflammation and associated pain and swelling.
The herbal solution blocks the body from producing inflammatory chemicals, such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes.
Comfrey can reduce bone inflammation in a natural, healthy, and effective way.
It's easy to forget the importance of a healthy diet. In both humans and our fur babies, we should consider food as a means to heal. Whenever possible, we recommend pet parents to feed Fido a species appropriate, raw food diet.
Raw food diets have the necessary nutrients for your dog to live their best, healthiest life possible. Consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to devise a raw food diet that is best for your pup.
So many kibble diets are massively processed, leaving pet owners unsure about the food’s true nutrient value. Although many commercial dog foods come with what’s called an AAFCO label that indicates that the food meets the minimum nutritional requirements for a dog, raw food diets can still be an appealing dietary alternative to processed foods. Therefore, we are firm believers of raw food diets!
Along with a great, health-conscious diet, we encourage pet parents to not overlook the benefits stemming from a consistent exercise regimen and physical therapy when seeking to heal specific conditions.
Pet owners should ensure that their pup stays at a healthy weight and is getting plenty of physical and mental stimulation every day.
Prednisone for Dogs: A Final Thought
At the end of the day, trust us when we say that we understand your undying need to ensure that your pup lives the best life possible. For this to be possible, as pet owners, we have to know everything we can about what we are giving our fur babies.
Understanding the dangers of conventional medicine is not an effort to scare our readers away from Western medicine but rather to educate. When you know better, you do better. Consider a holistic, natural source of healing. You won't regret it.
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, she pursued a non-traditional career path as a veterinarian.
JoAnna completed a 2-year postdoctoral research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, then became a medical writer. As founder and owner of JPen Communications, a medical communications company, JoAnna is passionate about educating pet parents about pet care and responsible pet ownership.
Although she does not currently have any pets to call her own, she loves living vicariously through other pet parents and watching Nat Geo!