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Steroids are one of the most commonly prescribed medications for
dogs. Not many pet owners know that there are many different
classes of steroids, and all of them work differently and have
their own set of possible side effects. Read on to know more.
Glucocorticoids – They are the most commonly
used class of steroids in veterinary medicine. The list is a
long one and includes names like triamcinolone, prednisone,
prednisolone, dexamethasone, betamethasone, fludrocortisone,
flumethasone, methylprednisolone and hydrocortisone. At low
doses, these drugs are very effective at reducing inflammation.
At high doses, they suppress your dog's immune system.
Generally, they are used to treat allergies and other
immune-mediated diseases. However, many doctors also prescribe
it to treat Addison's disease and shock. The most common side
effects include increased thirst and urination,
gastrointestinal ulcers, abnormal behavior and muscular
Mineralocorticoids – The adrenal glands of
dogs with Addison's disease does not produce enough of
glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. The latter are
responsible for maintaining water and electrolyte balance in
the body, while the former play a vital role in stress
response. Desoxycorticosterone is an injectable
mineralocorticoid, while fludrocortisone has both
glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid activity. Although both
these drugs are safe, they can cause increased thirst and
Adrenal Cortical Steroids – Cosyntropin and
corticotropin are used as a diagnostic tool for dogs with
Addison's disease and Cushing's disease. The injections are
given as a part of the ACTH stimulation test. There are no side
effects to these drugs as they are administered just once.
Estrogens – Estradiol and Diethylsilbestrol
are steroid hormones that are used to treat female dogs who
suffer from urinary incontinence. They are also used to
encourage them to come into heat. In rare occasions, it is used
to treat benign prostatic hypertrophy in male dogs. Estrogens
can suppress the bone marrow and lead to blood disorders, and
increase the likelihood for certain types of cancer.
Progestins – These are steroid hormones that
are prescribed to postpone the heat cycles and reduce the
chance of false pregnancies. They are also used to treat
certain skin conditions. Medroxyprogesterone and megestrol
acetate are the most commonly prescribed progestins. Possible
side effects include increased appetite and thirst, enlargement
of the mammary glands, behavioral changes, and an increased
risk of diabetes, acromegaly, Cushing's disease,reproductive
disorders, pyometra and certain types of cancer.
Androgens – Mibolerone, Danazol, and
testosterone belong to a class of steroid hormones called
androgens. They can be used to treat urinary incontinence that
is responsive to hormones. They can also be used for
suppressing heat cycles and reducing the risk of false
pregnancies. Liver toxicity, masculinization of female dogs and
an increased risk of certain types of cancer are some of the
more potentially troublesome side effects.
All you need to know about steroids for dogs
Steroids or Corticosteroids or cortisones are a class of steroid
hormones that are produced in the adrenal glands. Steroids
perform many activities in a dog’s body. Steroids manage stress
response, immune system response, control of inflammation,
nutrient metabolism, and maintenance of blood electrolyte levels.
Why do veterinarians prescribe
Steroids are prescribed primarily for their anti-inflammatory
properties. In high doses, they act as immunosuppressants.
Prescribed steroids are usually synthetic and are usually much
more potent than naturally occurring steroids. They also tend to
last much longer. Steroids are also used to treat -
- Eye disease
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Heat stroke
- Immune-mediated disease
- Kidney disease
- Lung disease
- Neurologic/central nervous system disorders
- Termination of pregnancy
- Skin disease
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
What are the short-term side
A dog may experience any or all of these effects shortly after
taking steroids. The effects range based on the steroid used and
the dosage administered. The effects are –
- Increased thirst and urination
- Increased hunger
- General loss of energy
- Development or worsening of infections (especially bacterial
- Vomiting or nausea (less common)
Some dogs can also become diabetic with the use of steroids.
However, diabetes usually resolves itself once the dog stops
taking steroids. Many side effects can also be eliminated by
simply lowering the dosage or frequency of the steroids.
What are the long-term
When steroids are used for longer than 3 to 4 months, side
effects become concerning. The most common long-term side effects
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
- Development of thin skin, blackheads, and a poor or thin hair
- Poor wound healing ability
- Development of obesity due to increased hunger
- Muscle weakness secondary to protein catabolism (breakdown)
- Development of hard plaques or spots on the skin called
calcinosis cutis. These plaques are the result of calcium
deposition in the skin.
- Increased susceptibility to opportunistic or secondary
- Increased susceptibility to fungal infections (especially of
the nasal cavity) and
- Development of adult-onset demodectic mange
- Predisposition to diabetes mellitus
Cushing’s disease is always a possibility when a dog is
administered a lot of steroids. Signs of Cushing’s disease
include increased thirst as well as urination, an increase in
UTI's and skin and ear infections, a "pot-bellied" appearance,
thinning skin and hair loss.
How can you reduce the risk of
any side effects?
- Unless specified by your vet, avoid using steroids on a daily
basis. Only life-threatening immune-mediated diseases require
long-term daily steroid use.
- Other treatment options should be looked at if your dog
requires more than three-four months of steroid usage.
- Dogs on long-term corticosteroids should be monitored with
quarterly examinations and with urine cultures and blood tests
every six months.