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 10 comments
  • Virginia
    Reply

    Allergies ( autoimmune disorders– scratching, biting incessently, etc.) in my dogs have been resolved by changes in diet to organic, non- GMO. It can take just 3 days to notice the difference.

    • yourolddog
      Reply

      Hi Virginia:

      Thanks for sharing. I agree completely that it’s really all about diet and the quality of the food!

      Janie

    • Frances Archuleta
      Reply

      Hello Virginia,

      I have an old german shepard who has food allergies. Is that what your dogs have?

      Thanks,
      Frances

  • Stuart
    Reply

    Great article! My Jack Russell is 8 years old and has been in prednisone for really bad eczema for almost 5 years. She’s got horrible side effects which my vet keeps denying are due to her meds.. I’m working on getting her off them but it’s hard watching her itch. If you don’t mind sharing I also found this website very informative:
    http://hubpages.com/animals/Side-Effects-of-Steroids-in-Pets

    Keep up the great work!

    Stuart

  • Gary Olinghouse
    Reply

    My mini schnauzer has a large benign brain tumor which he has received radiation treatment for.
    The vet has him on 10mg prednisone a day along with a seizure med. I also give him K9 immunity plus daily. Is it okay for me to put dandelion root in his food while on a daily prednisone regimen? (I have been dicing up 3 small roots in his food daily)
    If there is another supplement(s) you might recommend in addition I would appreciate any suggestions in doing all I can to help slow the tumor growth.

    Thanks,
    Gary

    • janie
      Reply

      Hi Gary:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mini schnauzer. This must be hard for you both.

      I don’t know of any bad interactions between dandelion root and prednisone. However, prednisone increases the need to urinate and dandelion leave are often used as a diuretic which increases the need to urinate as well. But, you’re using the root and that is typically used to help with digestive issues.

      Bottom line. I don’t know of any negative interactions between the two. I do think you should consider Resvantage with regards to slowing tumor growth along with a healthy, high protein diet. You can read more about Resvantage here if you want Gary. I would also include a good multivitamin and colostrum for immune health. You can also find both of these in our store if interested. These are especially important because he’s on prednisone. Hopefully, the steroid isn’t long term which can have it’s own negative effects as read in the article.

      I hope your boy improves and continues to get better. Remember diet and whole foods ARE vital Gary.

      Janie

  • Michelle McCaughtry
    Reply

    What are alternative types of treatments for spinal issues and neurological issues? Our 10 year old rottie boy is struggling with spinal disc issues and his back legs are weak and he’s falling down alot. He’s been on an antibiotic for a month for a nasal infection and prednisone every other day for the discs.
    We just lost our 12 year old rottie girl to cancer last week and since she’s gone he’s gotten worse symptom wise. Was he just hiding how bad he really was and now that she’s gone he doesn’t feel the need to hide it? Dr wants to increase the prednisone and add another anabolic steroid on top to see if we can build up his muscle mass in his back legs and rump area…

    • janie
      Reply

      Hi Michelle:

      I’m not sure if you took a look at our spinal disease products in our store? If not, I think you should. Here’s a link if you want to learn more. My recommendation would be our Denenerative Myopathy Kit. This is a disease that often affects Rottweilers.

      I personally would not increase the prednisone or add another anabolic steroid. I would do everything I could to try natural methods first. I would love to know what kind of a diet you are feeding?

      Dogs are very, very good at hiding how they really feel. After all, they are always trying to please and keep us happy. I’m sure you’re not, but I can’t recommend enough that you never vaccinate or use chemical flea and tick products on your old boy.

      I hope this helps. Please let me know if you need help at all.

      Janie

  • Christine Geraci
    Reply

    My 7 year old boxer has always been a picture of health. Then 3 weeks ago, she seemed slower and then deteriorated daily until she couldn’t control her bladder, balance, a head tick or had the strength to jump into her chair. She’s had an ultrasound (organs looks good), a chest X-ray, which showed spinal arthritis but early, multiple blood test (fine), urinalysis fine. She final had a MRI that showed a mass and the base of her brain. The radiologist doesn’t think it’s a tumor but it’s caused her spinal fluid to back up onto her brain. She’s on omeprazole to slow her spinal fluid, denamarin to protect her liver and prednisone to reduce the pressure in her brain. She has improved, but the side effects of the steroids are terrible. The panting and urination make it impossible to do anything or go anywhere and she’s a far ways from her self. Shes eating zignature turkey dog food. She is a white boxer, so healthy until now, but I’d like to see if a diet change may help. In literally a week she has become a shell of herself. I want to give her the best shot. No one knows why this happened or what caused the mass. Thanks.

    • janie
      Reply

      Hi Christine:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your boxer. She is still young! Had you applied any chemical flea and tick medicine on her recently or given a vaccine within the last 3 months?

      Janie

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