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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.