Prednisone and Other Steroids:Do They Do More Harm Than Good?

by Cate Burnette, RVT

Veterinarians typically prescribe topical and oral steroids as the first line of defense to combat your dog’s skin allergies and all the itching and scratching that comes with them. Atopy (a reaction to airborne allergens), plus food and flea bite allergies have all been shown to be lessened by the use of particular steroids. However, giving your dog these medications in large amounts and over an extended period of time can lead to dangerous, and often life-threatening side effects.

Finding a more natural, organic-based anti-inflammatory treatment is an option pet parents need to consider if a dog has been allergic for a long time.

PLEASE NOTE: we urge you to NOT take your pet off steroids, or lower the amount per dose, without discussing this issue with your veterinarian first.

How do steroids work in my dog’s body?

Glucocorticoid steroids, such as prednisone, prednisolone, and dexamethasone, are derived from cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, tiny organs that sit on top of the kidneys. Cortisol – and steroids – works much the same way as adrenaline, regulating the absorption of glucose in your dog’s body and working to maintain high energy levels, particularly in times of stress or during exercise. At the high dosage levels prescribed by veterinarians, steroids minimize the inflammation associated with an allergic response.

How long should my dog be on steroids?

Veterinarians know that many dogs treated for extended periods of time with oral steroids tend to suffer from side effects, so if your pooch is on them for a time period longer than 2 to 3 weeks, you should be instructed to give the meds every other day. There are usually no side effects if the drug is given for a shorter time span. To combat the negative effects of the drugs when coming to the end of the prescription, most veterinarians recommend that your dog taper off the medication, giving less and less each day until the pills are all gone.

What are some side effects of steroids?

There are numerous side effects possible from giving your dog anti-inflammatory steroids, the most common of which is an increase in thirst and appetite. This, in turn, is followed by increased urine production and possible weight gain. Panting can be a common side effect and, just as in humans, steroids have been known to cause mood alterations in some animals – changing a normally placid dog into an irritable, snapping pet.

Long term steroid usage can lead to an overproduction of your dog’s own natural body steroid, cortisol – a condition known as Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s requires specific veterinary treatment to lower cortisol levels. Without that treatment, your dog can suffer from red, angry skin lesions, hair loss, and thickening of skin in the affected area. Diabetes, the over-abundance of glucose in your pet’s system, can also be caused by long-term use of glucocorticoids.

Are there any natural alternatives to steroids I can use to treat my dog’s skin problems?

The colloidal oatmeal in some organic, all-natural shampoos relieves the itching and inflammation seen in allergic dogs. Additionally, ultra-rich deep conditioners with shea butter plus oatmeal moisturize and condition your dog’s fur while healing her dry, flaky skin. Because so many skin allergies are caused by flea bites, all-natural flea protection sprays can help keep those unwanted pests away from your pooch. Those sprays containing peppermint oil, tea tree oil, and eucalyptus oil have been shown to be effective in repelling mosquitoes, fleas, and other bothersome insects.

To get more tips on how you can stop your dog’s constant scratching, click below to get our free ebook. Written by vets and holistic pet practitioners, it’s jam packed with ideas and solutions to make your dog’s life more comfortable.

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1 Comment

  1. My French Bulldog was on Prednisone for many years because of horrible allergies. When Atopica came out we switched him to that; however, because he had been on the Prednisone for so long his skin had a very bad reaction. He now has these thick areas of skin that just won’t go away. As per our vet, we have been using medicated shampoo to try to dissolve these hard lesions, but to no avail.

    Does anyone have any suggestions?


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