Pet Medication 101: Dexamethasone

Dexamethasone for dogs

It’s important to understand a medication’s uses and side effects before giving it to your pet. This medication info sheet is meant to give you a good understanding of what dexamethasone is used for, how it works, and potential side effects in cats and dogs. Always consult a veterinarian before giving your pet any medication.

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1. Drug Name:

Dexamethasone

2. Brand Names:

Azium®, Dexasone®, Decadron®, Dexium®, Dexameth-a-Vet®, Dex-a-vet®, Maxidex®, Neofordex®, Hexadrol®), Voren

3. How Dispensed:

Prescription-only

4. Forms:

Tablet or liquid (for oral administration)

Injectable in the vein or muscle when in the clinic

Also as an aerosol for respiratory conditions or in topical eye medications

5. Drug Type/Class:

Dexamethasone is a member of the glucocorticoid (steroid) class of hormones.

6. Uses in Dogs and Cats:

Dexamethasone is rarely used for its influence on glucose and protein metabolism; It is, however, used in higher doses for the broad anti-inflammatory effect. These are some of the uses for dexamethasone:

  • Anti-inflammatory (especially for joint pain and itchy skin).
  • Immune suppression (treatment of conditions where the immune system is destructively hyperactive. Higher doses are required to suppress the immune system).
  • Cancer chemotherapy (though usually prednisolone, another steroid, is favored for this use).
  • Central nervous system disorders (as in IVDD to relieve swelling in the spinal cord)
  • And some other less common uses

7. How it Works:

Dexamethasone is a catabolic steroid. Instead of building the body up, it breaks down stored resources (fats, sugars, and proteins) to be used as fuels in times of stress. Cortisone is a natural catabolic steroid hormone produced by the body's adrenal glands whereas dexamethasone is synthetic.

8. Side Effects and/or Signs of Overdose:

  • Most commonly: increased drinking, urination, and appetite when given at any dose
  • At higher doses: dull/dry haircoat, weight gain, pot-bellied appearance, muscle weakness, panting, vomiting, diarrhea, or elevated fat or liver enzymes on bloodwork analysis
  • Other more serious side effects (usually with more prolonged use): stomach or intestinal ulcers and bleeding, leading to black, tarry stools, bloody vomit, black specks like coffee grounds in the vomit, frank blood in the stools, loss of appetite, and/or fever
  • Other possible outcomes include: secondary infections, inflammation of the pancreas, activation or worsening of diabetes mellitus (more likely in cats), muscle wasting, and changes in behavior
  • It can also interfere with certain lab tests such as ACTH stimulation tests, blood cholesterol, ALP, urine glucose (sugar) levels, potassium levels, thyroid hormones, skin tests, and white blood cell counts

9. Drug Interactions:

Dexamethasone should be used with caution when combined with amphotericin b, anticholinesterase agents, aspirin, barbiturates, bupropion, cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, diazepam, potassium-depleting diuretics, doxorubicin, ephedrine, fentanyl, fluoroquinolones, indomethacin, insulin, -azole antifungals, macrolides, mitotane, NSAIDs, phenobarbital, phenytoin, praziquantel, quinidine, rifampin, vaccines, and vincristine.

10. Cautionary Statements:

  • When given orally, it is best when given with food to reduce GI problems
  • Measure liquids carefully to avoid overdose
  • NEVER give with NSAIDs as this will increase the chance of stomach or intestinal ulcers
  • Do not give to pets with systemic fungal infections, diabetes, or GI ulcers, or if they are allergic
  • Do not give to rabbits or pets having surgery or recovering
  • Use caution in cats as they can develop diabetes mellitus
  • Use cautiously in pets with kidney disease, heart disease, bacterial or fungal infections, or in pets that are pregnant or lactating
  • It can retard growth in young animals
  • Do not stop abruptly if used for more than two weeks

Read more:

Pet Medication 101: Prednisone/Prednisolone

Pet Medication Guide: What Common Medications Can and Can’t Dogs Take?

Flea and Tick Medication Guide for Pet Parents

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