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Prednisone for Dogs

Prednisone is a powerful synthetic steroid, generally prescribed to reduce swelling and inflammation in dogs, and one with potentially dangerous side effects.

Melvin Peña  |  Aug 14th 2015


What is prednisone?

What is prednisone? Prednisone is a synthetic steroid that mimics the functions of cortisol, but in a much more powerful and concentrated form.

So what is cortisol? Cortisol is a hormone that is produced naturally in the adrenal glands, located close by the kidneys, both in humans and dogs. One of its functions is to break down glucose and convert it to energy that a dog can use in his daily activities. It has important healing and health functions, as well, and these are the focus of prednisone for dogs, as well as prednisolone, its metabolized variant.

What is prednisolone?

Well, when prednisone enters the kidneys, it is activated as prednisolone. If there is weak or compromised liver function, prednisolone for dogs may be administered instead for the same effects. Both prednisone and prednisolone are catabolic steroids. Their primary function in dogs is to relieve swelling and inflammation that arise due to any number of medical conditions. Let’s learn more about prednisone for dogs, its uses, and its potentially dangerous side effects!

What is prednisone used for in dogs?

Prednisone has a wide range of applications for medical treatment in dogs. Usually, it is deployed in treating severe allergies, or other conditions that involve a great deal of swelling and inflammation. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Breathing problems, such as asthma or respiratory infection
  • Joint pain associated with arthritis
  • Skin irritations or itching due to allergic reactions, eczema, or dermatitis
  • Severe allergic reactions, like anaphylactic shock
  • Addison’s disease, in which adrenal function is compromised
  • Cancer, including lymphoma
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Prednisone and prednisolone for dogs are very useful steroids, but very strong, twice as powerful or more than the cortisol naturally produced by their own adrenal glands. It should be administered with great care and precision.

What is the proper dosage of prednisone for dogs?

Is there a standard prednisone dosage for dogs? Not really. For humans, typical prednisone dosages include 20mg, 10mg, and 5mg. Dogs come in so many shapes and sizes that standard human dosages are far too high for them to tolerate. A dog’s veterinarian will take size, age, weight, and overall health condition, as well as the state of the dog’s liver to process steroids, into account before prescribing a dosage that is individually tailored to them.

How is prednisone administered?

Prednisone and prednisolone are versatile steroids, and are available in a number of formats. Prednisone can be given orally, topically, or by direct injection. It can be prescribed for dogs as tablets, pills, eye drops, liquid, syrup, injection, or topical ointment. A dog’s veterinarian will determine which form and what prednisone dosage are best for a given dog, based on the dog’s condition and particular needs.

Side effects of prednisone in dogs

Side effects of prednisone for dogs are not mild, and can affect multiple internal and external systems, and yield a number of behavioral changes. Unless the situation is dire indeed, prednisone and prednisolone should be avoided when it comes to treating puppies, very young dogs, and dogs that have diabetes or are pregnant. It is particularly dangerous for young dogs and puppies, since long-term use of prednisone can slow or inhibit their normal patterns of growth and restrict their progress toward physical maturity.

In adult dogs, the side effects of a prednisone regimen intensify over time. Behavioral changes can worsen, leading to random aggressive outbursts or periods of depression. In the digestive system, long-term prednisone use in dogs can lead to the development of ulcers, which repeated instances of vomiting and diarrhea will exacerbate. The increased drinking and urination that dogs experience while on prednisone can negatively impact them as well. Over time, long-term effects of prednisone in dogs include the possibility of urinary tract infections.

These side effects of long-term prednisone for dogs are the tip of the iceberg. As an immunosuppressant, over time, prednisone can affect the basic function of a dog’s immune system, making them far more vulnerable to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Prednisone for dogs can also lead to obesity and diabetes in dogs. Because it mimics and floods a dog’s system with horomones linked to the adrenal glands, long-term prednisone treatments can cause normal adrenal gland functions to shut down completely.

Alternatives to prednisone

We’ve all seen commercials for medications where an announcer with a soothing voice tries to reassure us that “side effects are generally mild,” before launching into a laundry list of serious, or even fatal, side effects. We’re not going to mince words here with prednisone for dogs. It’s a serious and powerful synthetic steroid, and should only to be prescribed by a veterinarian to treat serious medical conditions.

Given the risks associated with prednisone for dogs, it’s logical to ask whether there are any alternatives. For example, is there a generic for prednisone? There are actually several synthetic steroids available for dogs, each with a name longer and less prounceable than the last, such as dexamethasone and triamcinolone. Your dog’s vet will work with you to determine the correct alternative. Is there an over the counter form of prednisone? No. These medications are so strong, they are only available by prescription.

The homeopathically inclined dog owner may ask whether there is a natural prednisone substitute for dogs. It is thought that a number of fruits, vegetables, and natural oils may reproduce the anti-inflammatory effects of prednisone. However, the amount or combination needed to achieve the effects would likely be disruptive to a dog’s normal diet or produce ill effects on a dog’s digestion. If a dog’s condition is serious enough to require steroids such as prednisone or prednisolone, dietary supplements are probably going to prove insufficient.

prednisone for dogs

Prednisone dosage by Shutterstock.

Has your dog ever been on prednisone?

Another thought that might occur to a dog owner is to give human prednisone from an existing prescription to a dog. This should never be done. As we’ve seen above, human dosages of prednisone are much greater than they are for dogs. Steroids this powerful and that carry this many risks should only be given to a dog under veterinary supervision. Have you ever had a dog on a short- or long-term prednisone prescription? Share your experiences in the comments below!

About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a one-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Idris, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.