Prednisone and cats - uses and effects

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By Tess Thompson

Corticosteroids are a group of steroid hormones produced naturally by the adrenal cortex, the ovaries in females, and the testicles in males. Corticosteroids ensure that the major tasks of the body are performed at a regular pace. Sometimes when the natural system of the body malfunctions, synthetic corticosteroids are required to ensure that the pet can continue a comfortable and long life. These corticosteroids can be classified under the following categories:

  • Mineralocorticoids: These corticosteroids produced by the cortex of the adrenal glands influence the metabolism of sodium and potassium. These corticosteroids are not used as much as the others.
  • Glucocorticoids: These are the most prominent steroids that can be used to treat a cat in cases of dysfunction. They are also naturally produced by the adrenal glands. The glucocorticoids are responsible for breaking down proteins and fats for conversion to glucose.
  • Sex Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone are produced by the ovaries in females, and testosterone is produced by the testicles in males.

Prednisone is a synthetic corticosteroid. It belongs to the glucocorticoid class. The effectiveness of the use of prednisone as a veterinarian medication depends upon the dosage prescribed. Different doses are used for different conditions:

  • Low doses are mainly used for inflammatory conditions, like allergies.
  • Moderate doses are used as appetite stimulants and antiemetic agents (prevents vomiting and nausea).
  • High doses are used during chemotherapy treatment for cancer and for treatment of immune and auto-immune related diseases, like ulcerative skin diseases.

Corticosteroids are also used for treating certain disorders like inflammatory bowel diseases, intestinal lymphoma, and adrenal or pituitary tumors in cats. They are also dependable and provide quick relief. The superior capabilities of this drug have lead to abuse. Pet owners are prone to look for short cuts and resort to giving a large dose of prednisone at the mere sight of any illness. Further, prednisone is not devoid of side effects. Although it relieves the symptoms of the ailment, it can cause many other issues to surface.

Since cats require higher doses of prednisone for desired results, they are most likely to face maximum side effects from the drug. The nature of the side effects depends on the period for which it has been ingested. If prednisone is ingested for more than seven days, there is a chance that the cat may become dependent on the drug. Long term use suppresses the natural adrenal function and abrupt discontinuation of prednisone can cause serious ailments. There are other effects of prednisone, as listed below:

Short term effects

  • Increase in high blood pressure, particularly in diabetic cats
  • Fluid retention
  • Renal disorders and increased urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Poor coat quality
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers and disturbances, such as vomiting and diarrhea
  • Muscle degeneration
  • Behavioral changes

Long Term effects

  • Eye disorders
  • Weight gain
  • Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease in dogs is probably the most feared side effect of high doses of prednisone. Since cats are less prone to Cushing’s disease, many cat owners are unfamiliar with this disease. Since Hyperadrenocorticism in a dog is so prevalent, dog owners tend to be more aware of the precautions, symptoms, and treatment of the problem.

Since this otherwise "wonder drug" can cause such serious concerns, there is no doubt that it should be administered only in emergencies and under the guidance of a veterinary specialist.

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