Steroids are among the most commonly prescribed conventional treatment for dogs with inflammation, but the danger and negative effects of steroids are often left on the sidelines.

In this article, we’ll present a balanced point of view of steroids for dogs that takes these adverse aspects into account with regards to choosing how to treat your dog’s pain or allergies.

The first thing to establish when discussing steroid use is that there are two main categories of steroids: anabolic and anti-inflammatory.

Types of Steroids

Anabolic steroids are the sort of steroids that you hear about in weight-lifters and other athletes trying to gain muscle mass.

These steroids are rarely if ever prescribed for pets, but anti-inflammatory steroids are among the most commonly prescribed of all treatments.

Anti-inflammatory steroids are also known as corticosteroids or catabolic steroids. Corticosteroids are produced naturally in the body by the adrenal glands and have a variety of functions. They are involved in the immune system, in the metabolism of nutrients, in the maintenance of blood electrolyte levels, and even in your dog’s stress response.

The body produces two types of corticosteroids: glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. The former regulates carbohydrates, the metabolism of fats and proteins, and the reduction of inflammation. Mineralocorticoids handle the body’s water levels and deal in electrolytes.

Prescribing Steroids in Dogs

Considering the value of corticosteroids in the body, one might imagine that the prescription of these hormones in medical applications for your dog would be relatively safe. That is, unfortunately, not always the case.

The most common forms of corticosteroids prescribed to dogs are prednisone, prednisolone, triamcinolone, and dexamethasone. Methylprednisolone is also commonly prescribed. These are all what’s known as “synthetic corticosteroids,” which have an increased effectiveness and period of activity. These steroids are generally approved in pill format or through injections.

Emergency use…

The most common reason a veterinarian will prescribe a corticosteroid is inflammation, but there are other applications as well. Sometimes glucocorticoids will be prescribed in emergencies, like if your dog has a sudden injury and requires rapid treatment of things like brain swelling or other traumatic effects. In these cases, corticosteroids are beneficial and life-saving.

Non-emergency use…..

But in most cases, corticosteroids are prescribed in non-emergency situations where other treatments would present less risk. Conditions like dermatitis, colitis and enteritis are often treated with steroids. Bowel conditions like inflammatory bowel disease is also associated with corticosteroid treatments, while everything from inflamed gums to asthma are also on the list.

Why Steroid Treatments Can Be Dangerous

The issue here isn’t with corticosteroid treatment in responsible applications. The issue is with the overuse and with the side effects.


steroids for dogs


There are numerous side effects to corticosteroid use. These include:

  • Increase in thirst and/or appetite
  • Weakens immunity
  • Increased symptoms of allergies
  • Weight gain
  • Increase in urination
  • Ulcers and other associated gastrointestinal concerns
  • Blood clots
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hair loss

Sometimes these side effects must be mitigated with the original condition. Sometimes the side effects are worse than the original condition.

The biggest issue of all, however, is that corticosteroids treat the inflammation, BUT NOT the root cause of the inflammation, which essentially means that the underlying cause is still present. Many pet owners aren’t even aware of the fact that their dogs are receiving corticosteroid treatments, which means that many pet owners aren’t aware of the pile of side effects and the potential for leaving the main condition untreated.

“The epitome of modern medicine treats the symptoms and leaves the cause of those symptoms untreated.”

Changing the Treatment Mindset

Considering the cause of inflammation and not just the symptom of inflammation clearly changes the role that corticosteroids will have in your treatment arsenal. Doing this requires you to be an active pet owner, one who is engaged in the life of your four-legged friend and one who knows the various things he or she is ingesting or handling on a daily basis. This is not always easy.

But changing the treatment mindset is the safest and most compassionate way forward. We can’t simply treat symptoms as they arrive with bandaged medicine. We must treat root causes and root conditions to avoid the onset of other symptoms and problematic, harmful side effects.

Pets with allergies must be treated in a way that eliminates the cause of the allergies (allergens and so on) and allows the pet a chance at recovery and a happy life free of symptoms.

steroidal alternatives

Regrettably, much of Western medicine is calculated around treating symptoms and flouting causes and I find this heartbreaking.  Think of most advertisements for headache medications, for instance. Treating the headaches to “get you back to normal” is a big part of the game for pharmaceutical companies because it ensures you continue to treat the headaches without expounding on the source of the headaches.

It’s the same way for pets. Why wouldn’t a company dependent on cash from corticosteroids continue to peddle these “treatments” as the ultimate option? Why cure a dog’s condition when you can continuously and perpetually treat the symptoms from said condition?

You can just see the dollar signs, can’t you?

Of course, there are always those who will sell the efficacy of corticosteroids as treatment options. These professionals are not wrong. They are effective treatment options in certain cases, but they are not cures. They treat symptoms and should be consequently approached accordingly.

Keep the negative effects of steroids in dogs in mind. Educate yourself. Make an informed choice. And love your dogs.

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Showing 39 comments
  • Helen

    I have a American Bulldog who is allergic to insect bites. I use natural products to protect her from fleas and ticks and they work but have not found anything that works against mosquitoes etc and when she gets bitten she comes out in hives all over and red skin. Nothing works apart from the steroids. She is also extremely anxious so steroids make her worse. She now has extremely dry paw pads and I’m wondering if that could be connected to steroid use as it has been bad summer for biting insects and she has been on steroids for most of the past 2 month. I hate giving them to her but don’t know what else to do. She also has all the normal side effects from the steroids.

    • janie

      What natural product are you using for fleas and ticks?


  • Shari L Scroggins

    my mother took her lab to the vet Friday he was 11yrs had spots like hot spots he couldn’t leave them alone licking them away. The Vet give her some antibiotics and steroids to clear whatever it was up, and broken hearted today ( Sunday) my mother tells me they had to rush Tiny to emergency car he couldn’t walk an they no sooner got him on the table when the vet said meds enlarged his heart he died moments later,,

    • janie

      Hi Shari:

      I’m so very, very sorry to hear what happened to Tiny. So many stories like this. Educate yourself and your mom about what is happening in veterinary medicine including vaccines and the problems that sooooo many animals and pet owners are experiencing. Leave a review on Yelp and the office in which you experienced this.

      I’m very sorry.


  • Chris

    Allelujah! The person running this has far more common sense and ethics than the money grabbing Medics. Yes, every time, treat the Cause, NOT the symptoms. But of course, that doesn’t bring in a continuous Dollar stream, does it? I do not own pets, but am interested in a friends pet being prescribed Steroids/side effects. Thank you so much for the detail information you presented. Just to finish, your example of human headaches is a very good one. I am blessed cos I have never suffered with headaches! This info also applies to us Humans, treatment keeps the (huge) Pharmacutical industry wheels turning.

  • Kim

    My 2 yr old Lab/Shep/Husky mix was diagnosed with Lick granuolma. He has some very nasty spots on his front legs. Vet prescribed antibiotic and prednisone pills. It’s not even been a week and I’m ready to stop the steroid. He can’t get enough to drink then can’t hold it so goes in the house. Not like him at all. Appetite is extremely ridiculous as well. They say his wounds are superficial ,the problem is ijn his head. He has separation anxiety (always has)and doesn’t get enough exercise. I’m gonna work on the exercise part and see if it helps. The urinating is awful. I feel bad for him

    • janie

      Hi Kim:

      It’s good to hear that you understand the importance of exercise. Lick granulomas are often associated with boredom and alot of built up energy. Unfortunately, in order for the lick granuloma to heal, you have to stop your dog from licking it.

      What you can do to stop the licking is to take an old kid’s sweatshirt. Cut both sleeves from the shirt, so that you have loose arms that you can slide up over your dog’s legs. You can keep them on by using shoe laces or a safety pins (BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THE PINS SO THAT THEY DON’T OPEN). I use the pins, but I make sure that there’s enough “give” in the sleeve so that the pin doesn’t pop open, yet stays on.

      Before placing the sleeves on, I would first gently wash and dry the legs with dawn and warm water. Then use Humane Healing which can be found here.

      I hope this helps.


  • Lori

    Great article. My goldendoodle (6.5 yr) used to have frequent wet dermatitis until I switched to a prescription food high in fish. Last week, however he developed a spot on his leg that I could not manage with homeopathics (Florasone Cream) and triple antibiotic ointment. I took him to the vet (my regular vet was out) and he gave him a shot of Dexamethasone. It has been a bad experience. Extreme thirst, such frequent urination that I had to take him out all through the night every two hours. Panting. He is losing a lot of hair when I brush him, as well. I had asked the vet if I could expect frequent urination and he said no and did not inform me of any other side effects.
    The spot is not improving, either. He is wearing a e-collar during the day but can’t sleep with it, so he licks it at night. Any suggestions are appreciated.

    • janie

      Hi Lori:

      I know it’s been awhile since you posted here and I apologize for not having time to respond until now.

      Anyway, I will send you an email and if you want you can communicate with me thru email.

      I’m sorry to hear this about your young boy.


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