Prednisone in Dogs

Posted by Nicole Wanner, D.V.M. on

Dog with veterinarian next to bottle of prednisone

When your dog needs treatment for a health issue, it's natural to want the best for them. Prednisone is a common prescription drug in veterinary medicine that many dog owners will encounter.

This article aims to provide a brief but comprehensive guide on prednisone for dogs. We'll discuss prednisone's uses, side effects, drug interactions, and more.

What is Prednisone?

Prednisone is a prescription corticosteroid medication. It is chemically similar to cortisol, which is produced in your dog's body. Generally, prednisone works by reducing inflammation or replacing natural steroid hormones. Prednisone is used in both people and animals.

Prednisone Vs. Prednisolone

Prednisone and prednisolone are often used to treat similar health conditions. They're different but related medications. Prednisone is a prodrug that the liver must metabolize before it can have a therapeutic effect on the body (1).

In contrast, prednisolone is the active metabolite of prednisone. Prednisolone can be a better choice for dogs with liver problems. It is also used in cats since they can't metabolize prednisone properly (2).

Happy dog sitting in the grass

What Is The Use for PrednisoneĀ In Dogs?

Prednisone is a versatile medication. It is used in veterinary medicine to treat a variety of health conditions in dogs, either alone or in combination with other drugs.

Generally, prednisone is used to manage allergies, inflammatory skin diseases, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and other conditions. It can also treat certain hormonal imbalances like Addison's disease (3).

How Does Prednisone for Dogs Work?

Prednisone and prednisolone are both steroid hormones. They bind to glucocorticoid receptors in cells throughout your dog's body, and the effects are specific to each organ. Prednisone's effects also depend on the dosage.

At lower doses, prednisone has general anti-inflammatory effects. At higher doses, it can suppress the immune system, which can be helpful in treating autoimmune diseases and certain types of cancer.

What Are The Benefits of Prednisone for Dogs?

When prescribed appropriately, prednisone is an effective drug. It can reduce inflammation and control an overactive immune system. These mechanisms of action can be beneficial for dogs with arthritis, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and various other conditions.

However, it's important to note that while prednisone can be effective and safe, long-term use increases the risk of side effects.

happy dog running through the woods

PrednisoneĀ Dosage for Dogs

Your veterinarian will determine the appropriate prednisone dosage for your dog. The right dose of prednisone will depend on the health condition to be treated, your dog's weight, and other factors. Prednisone dosages will generally be lower for inflammatory diseases and higher for cancer and autoimmune disorders, but each dog's needs are unique.

Is It Possible for Dogs to OverdoseĀ on Prednisone?

Prednisone overdose in dogs is unlikely if you follow your veterinarian's dosage instructions carefully. However, it could happen if your dog gets into the medicine cabinet or through a dosing mistake. Signs of prednisone overdose in dogs might include vomiting with or without blood, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and bloody or tar-like black stools.

If you suspect a prednisone overdose, immediately contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control center. Reputable poison control helplines include:

  • Pet Poison Helpline
  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control

Consultation fees may apply for helpline services.

Can Dogs Take Prednisone for a Long Time?

Most veterinarians prescribe prednisone for a limited time ā€” usually only a few weeks ā€” to minimize the risk of serious side effects. However, some dogs with severe health conditions may require long-term prednisone treatment.

In this case, your vet will discuss potential risks and list adverse signs to watch for. They may also suggest strategies to reduce the risk of serious problems with long-term prednisone use, such as every-other-day dosing.

Prednisone for Dogs: Side Effects

Prednisone can cause short and long-term side effects.

The most common side effects of prednisone include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination/house accidents
  • Panting
  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Stomach upset

Examples of more serious prednisone side effects in dogs include:

  • Delayed wound healing
  • Hair loss (alopecia)
  • Weight gain
  • Black, tar-like stools
  • Muscle loss and weakness (atrophy)
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Tar-like stools are suggestive of severe ulcers in the stomach or intestinal tract.Ā (This side effect is uncommon but serious and can be life-threatening if left untreated.)

Prednisone & Prednisolone: What are The Risks?

Prednisone and prednisolone may not be suitable for dogs with certain medical conditions. Your veterinarian may not prescribe prednisone if your dog also has one of the following conditions:

  • Viral or fungal infection
  • Cushing's disease
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Allergy to prednisone or prednisolone

In these cases, your veterinarian will develop an effective alternative treatment regimen to replace prednisone or prednisolone.

Dog with alert symbols on either side

Prednisone Precautions to Take

Always follow your veterinarian's advice and dosing schedule when giving prednisone or prednisolone to your dog. Prednisone can also make your dog more susceptible to infections.

Carefully monitor the healing of any scrapes, cuts, or other skin lesions your dog acquires, and contact your vet if you notice a persistent cough or other respiratory signs.

Potential Drug Interactions

Prednisone can interact with a variety of other medications, including other steroids, hormones, NSAIDs, heart medications, seizure medications, certain antibiotics, and others. Prednisone and prednisolone can also affect how well vaccines work and increase insulin requirements in dogs with diabetes.

Therefore, always inform your veterinarian about all drugs, supplements, and vitamins your dog is taking.

Alternative Treatments

Prednisone is a widely used drug in veterinary medicine. However, a different therapy may be required if your dog takes medications that interact with prednisone. Alternative treatments to prednisone will depend on the condition for which your dog is being treated.

Alternative options may include immunosuppressants, topical corticosteroids, antihistamines, Cytopoint, and other drugs.

Tips for HelpingĀ Dogs Taking Prednisone

If your dog is on prednisone, you might notice an increased thirst and appetite. Provide frequent outdoor breaks and never restrict water access, even your dog's intake seems excessive.

Prednisone can also cause weight gain, so managing your dog's diet and exercise appropriately is important.

dog running happily through the grass

Discussing Prednisone with Your Vet

Before starting your dog on prednisone, thoroughly discuss the potential benefits and risks with your vet. Be open about your dog's health history, medications, and supplement regimen to prevent interactions and side effects.

Ask your vet for clear examples of adverse effects to watch for, and report any similar changes you see in your dog right away.

Conclusion

Prednisone can be a very effective medication for treating inflammatory and immune-related health conditions in dogs. However, it's crucial to follow your veterinarian's instructions, monitor for side effects, and maintain regular check-ups.

By taking these steps, you can ensure that prednisone is a safe and effective part of your dog's treatment plan.

References

  1. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/pharmacology/inflammation/corticosteroids-in-animals
  2. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/respiratory-system/respiratory-diseases-of-small-animals/feline-bronchial-asthma?query=prednisolone
  3. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/endocrine-system/the-adrenal-glands/addison-disease?query=addison%27s

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Author

Dr. Nicole Wanner graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 2018. Currently, she is an academic research veterinarian studying CBD and DNA. Her research has been published in trusted international research journals. Dr. Wanner is passionate about pet wellness and has professional interests in genetics, behavior, and healthy aging. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and reading sci-fi novels. She shares her home with her husband Evan and their two mischievous rescue cats, Sylvie and Nemo.