Steroids for dogs are among the most commonly prescribed conventional treatment for dogs with inflammation, but the danger and negative effects of using 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 regard 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.
Which Types of Steroids for Dogs are Available?
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 with electrolytes.
Can Steroids Harm my Dog?
The issue here isn’t with steroid treatment in RESPONSIBLE applications. The issue is with the overuse of prescribing steroids for dogs. Steroids and antibiotics are the go to choice from traditional veterinarians for almost any problem dogs seem to have and sadly our pets are feeling the negative effects of the repeated and ongoing use of these synthetic drugs.
Sometimes these side effects must be mitigated with the original condition. Sometimes the side effects of steroids for dogs are even worse than the original condition. The biggest issue of all, however, is that steroids 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 steroid 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.”
What Other Negative Effects Does Steroids Have on 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 that are known as “synthetic corticosteroids,” which have increased effectiveness and period of activity.
These steroids are generally approved in pill format or through injections.
The most common reason veterinarians prescribe steroids is for 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 are also associated with corticosteroid treatments, while everything from inflamed gums to asthma is also on the list.
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.
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 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 steroids 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 the 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 using steroids in dogs in mind. Educate yourself. Make an informed choice.
And, flush out all the garbage in your dog’s body by using Bentonite Clay daily for four months and then once daily for a week every three months.
Editor’s Note: The blogpost was originally published in June 2014 and completely revamped and updated for accuracy on January 2021.