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Prednisone for Dogs: Uses, Dosage, and Side Effects

Prednisone is commonly prescribed by veterinarians for a variety of health problems. 

Prednisone for Dogs: Uses, Dosage, and Side Effects

Prednisone is commonly prescribed by veterinarians for a variety of health problems. 

By: Dr. Juli G., DVM 

Advances in veterinary medicine and increasingly better-equipped pet parents have resulted in dogs living longer, healthier lives than ever before. Regular veterinary care is part of responsible pet ownership and will also aid in the early identification of diseases. It's not uncommon for your DVM to prescribe your pup medications that can also be used to treat people. However, never give your dog any medications prescribed to you because dosing and formulations are different for dogs, and human-sized doses can be life-threatening to pets. Steroid medications, like prednisone, are commonly prescribed to dogs for various ailments, like asthma or hives. However, they can also cause various side effects that pet owners should be aware of and monitor. 

What is Prednisone?

Prednisone is a synthetic steroid similar to the hormones produced naturally by your dog's adrenal glands. It is metabolized through the liver, where it is converted to prednisolone which is absorbed by the body and can affect multiple organ systems. Prednisone has a variety of functions, including decreasing inflammation and helping to suppress an overactive immune system. Prednisone can also function to combat certain types of cancer cells. The overall effect of prednisone on your dog's body depends on your pup's immune system, underlying medical problems, and the dose recommended by your veterinarian.

When You May Be Recommended to Give Your Dog Prednisone

Prednisone is commonly prescribed by veterinarians for a variety of health problems. Before giving your dog this medication, your veterinarian may recommend various screening tests, including blood chemistry, to determine if your dog can benefit from prednisone medication. Steroid medications can substantially affect multiple organs, especially the liver, so it's critical to establish a baseline for organ health before giving your dog any medications.

Common medical conditions that may be treated with prednisone include:

  • Addison's disease (hypoadrenocorticism): This endocrine disease prevents dogs from naturally producing enough steroids, so prednisone may be prescribed as a hormone replacement. 
  • Allergic reactions: Anaphylactic or allergic reactions from an insect sting, vaccine reaction, or other allergen can cause sudden swelling and hives. Prednisone can help decrease these immediate effects.
  • Itching or other skin conditions. The anti-inflammatory properties of prednisone can provide quick-acting itch relief for dry skin or fungal infections
  • Asthma: Prednisone can help decrease airway inflammation so that an affected dog can breathe more easily. 
  • Autoimmune diseases: Diseases such as Lupus or immune-mediated hemolytic anemia result from an overactive immune system. Prednisone can help treat these conditions by immune system suppression.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: In addition to dietary modifications, prednisone can help reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Joint or spinal inflammation: The anti-inflammatory properties of prednisone can help reduce swelling and indirectly provide pain relief for orthopedic conditions like arthritis or disc disease. 
  • Cancer treatment: Prednisone can help treat some cancers by helping to slow neoplastic cell growth.

Prednisone Dosage for Dogs

Prednisone is a quick-acting steroid that can provide almost immediate relief for sudden symptoms like an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. The exact dose and prescribed formulation will depend on the diagnosis and severity of the disease.

Low-dose prednisone is often prescribed to fight inflammatory diseases or acute allergic reactions. Higher doses may be prescribed to achieve immune system suppression for diseases like cancer or immune-mediated anemia. Ensure to follow your veterinarian's instructions for dosing. Because the body naturally produces steroids, giving your dog a synthetic steroid may disrupt this natural process. Therefore, most prednisone prescriptions will be a tapering dose to allow the body to adjust and adequately produce its own steroids once the medication has been cleared from the body.

Prednisone may be given to your dog in pill form, liquid, or by injection when they are in the hospital. Never double up on a dose if you accidentally miss one, and closely follow your veterinarian's prescription instructions to prevent an accidental overdose. 

Terrier dog rests on a leather couch

Side Effects of Prednisone in Dogs

As with any medication, side effects can occur during treatment. Like people, your dog's medication reaction will be specific to their underlying health and immune system. Predisnose can have side effects that will likely subside once the medication is out of your dog's system. Your veterinarian will discuss potential side effects; however, inform your DVM if your dog has a severe or unexpected reaction or if side effects continue once they have completed their course of prednisone.

The most common side effects associated with short-term use of prednisone include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite 
  • Excess panting
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting or diarrhea (immediately inform your DVM if this occurs)
  • Weight gain

Long-term prednisone use can have more severe effects, some of which may be lifelong or lead to other illnesses like diabetes or elevated liver enzymes.

Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following adverse effects from long-term prednisone use, which may include:

  • Dark, tarry, or bloody stools
  • Hair coat changes or hair loss
  • Potbelly appearance
  • Behavior changes, like aggression
  • Muscle wasting
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems (i.e., pancreatitis)

How to Monitor Your Dog on Prednisone

Dogs prescribed long-term prednisone will likely require several veterinary checkups. Regular blood work to monitor your dog's organ function and blood sugar may also be necessary because prednisone can lead to adverse effects and cause other disease processes, like diabetes. Additionally, inform your veterinarian if you are giving your dog any medications, supplements, or herbal formulations because prednisone may have negative drug interactions with other medications or supplements.

Notify your vet if your dog is taking any of the following medications:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Aspirin
  • Antifungal medications
  • Blood thinners
  • Cyclosporine (i.e., Atopica)

How to Support Your Dog While on Prednisone

Because prednisone is prescribed for various ailments, follow your veterinarian's instructions for treatment and care closely. The side effects can be challenging for dogs and dog owners; patience and extra TLC are critical while your dog is undergoing treatment. Ensure to bring your dog out for ample bathroom breaks, as they will likely have more frequent urination needs while undergoing treatment. Always consult your veterinarian before giving your pup any new supplements or changing their diet.

Native Pet Relief Chews

Depending on the underlying ailment your dog is suffering from, the following may provide additional support for your pup:

Prednisone can provide quick relief for dogs who are diagnosed with a variety of health conditions. However, it should only be used under the strict guidance of your veterinarian because additional health problems can occur with incorrect or long-term use.

For more information and tips on your pet's health, check out the Native Pet blog.

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