Prednisone is a synthetic corticosteroid used by many veterinarians to treat a wide variety of conditions in dogs including:
- Disorders of the central nervous system
- Endocrinal disorders, like Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease
- Growth of a tumor
- Immune-mediated diseases
- Emergency situations, like spinal cord trauma
- Inflammation-related respiratory and bowel disorders
The side effects of prednisone depend directly on the total amount and duration of the drug administered. Short term use of prednisone is less likely to cause any damaging side effects. It is only when the dose reaches an immunosuppressive level that the side effects start causing concern.
An overdose of prednisone can cause a suppression of normal adrenal functions, Cushing’s disease in dogs and destabilization of metabolism if withdrawn abruptly. Short term use can cause excessive urination, abnormal hunger and an increase in appetite for dogs. Prolonged use, even in recommended dosages, may cause:
- Gastrointestinal ulcers
- Inflammation in the pancreas
- Muscle degeneration
- Weight gain
- Behavioral changes
- Skin and hair coat problems
Prednisone is normally termed as a ‘good drug that has bad side effects’. It becomes necessary to use the drug for serious ailments in dogs, but uncontrolled use can be extremely dangerous.
Some precautions can limit the downside of this useful drug to a large extent.
- Avoid using prednisone along with diuretics as it can cause electrolyte imbalances. Potassium and digitalis levels need to be monitored constantly.
- If the body perceives that prednisone is being provided externally, it is likely that the natural production of the hormone will stop. One dose of prednisone lasts for more than a day. Once the condition is controlled it should be tapered off by increasing the intervals between doses. This keeps the adrenal glands active and prevents then from stopping production completely.
- Dogs on systemic corticosteroids are more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections. As systemic corticosteroids suppress immune responses, it is likely that the dog may not show signs of infection such as high temperature. Constant monitoring of such signs during the stage when the drug effects are at a low is important.
- Do not use prednisone along with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs can interfere and cause ulceration and bleeding in the stomach or intestines.
- Prednisone should be used for diabetic patients only when required to save the life of the patient. Corticosteroids tend to increase the requirement of insulin, therefore causing complications in the management of diabetes.
- The female hormone, estrogen, interacts with corticosteroids by acting synergistically to increase the affect of prednisone and cause abortion. It should not be used when your dog is pregnant.
- To be effective, prednisone must be converted to prednisolone by the liver. If the animal is already suffering from some hepatic disorders, it is advisable to administer prednisolone rather than prednisone.
- Prednisone is not advisable for dogs having systemic fungal infections, except in cases where your dog is suffering from Addison’s disease.
- Avoid using prednisone for young dogs. If necessary, it should be used with care as it is liable to cause gastrointestinal ulcers.
Hyperadrenocorticism in a dog or Cushing’s disease is a life threatening condition and prednisone needs to be used. However, used indiscreetly it can actually cause Cushing’s disease in dogs. There is no reason why you cannot manage this contradictory situation by educating yourself about how and when to use the drug appropriately.