Steroid Treatment for Dogs


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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 โ€“ 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 weakness.
  • Mineralocorticoids โ€“ 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 urination.
  • Adrenal Cortical Steroids โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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 dogโ€™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?

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 -

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Eye disease
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Heat stroke
  • Infections
  • Immune-mediated disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung disease
  • Neurologic/central nervous system disorders
  • Termination of pregnancy
  • Shock
  • Skin disease
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Trauma

What are the short-term side effects?

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 โ€“

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Panting
  • General loss of energy
  • Development or worsening of infections (especially bacterial skin infections)
  • 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 effects?

When steroids are used for longer than 3 to 4 months, side effects become concerning. The most common long-term side effects are โ€“

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
  • Development of thin skin, blackheads, and a poor or thin hair coat
  • 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 bacterial infections
  • Increased susceptibility to fungal infections (especially of the nasal cavity) and
  • Development of adult-onset demodectic mange
  • Predisposition to diabetes mellitus

Cushingโ€™s disease is always a possibility when a dog is administered a lot of steroids. Signs of Cushingโ€™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.
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