Pet Medication 101: Prednisone / Prednisolone

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Pet Medication 101: Prednisone / Prednisolone

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 prednisone and prednisolone are used for, how they work, and potential side effects in cats and dogs. These steroids are two distinct drugs; however, prednisone is converted to prednisolone in the liver. Always consult a veterinarian before giving your pet any medication.

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1. Drug Name:

Prednisone and prednisolone

2. Common Name or Brand Names:

Prednis-Tab®, Deltasone®, Rayos®, Pediapred®

3. How Dispensed:

A prescription is required because improper dosing and use can cause damage. The dose has a wide range for various uses.

4. Forms:

Oral tablets or liquid. An injectable form is available for in-hospital use. It can be formulated as a transdermal gel as well.

The liquid form should be measured out carefully.

5. Drug Type/Class:

Prednisone is a synthetic corticosteroid. It prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. It also suppresses the immune system.

6. Uses in Dogs and Cats:

In the hospital, prednisone/prednisolone is used for emergency situations such as shock (like after an accident), spinal cord trauma, or anaphylaxis (a severe, sudden allergic reaction).

It is also used to control autoimmune or immune-mediated disorders such as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia or thrombocytopenia (diseases that can result in bleeding), many CNS (central nervous system) disorders, some neoplasia (cancers of certain types), dermatologic diseases, allergic reactions such as asthma, hives and itching, inflammatory orthopedic diseases (arthritis), endocrine disorders including Addison's Disease, respiratory disease with an inflammatory component, inflammatory bowel disease, and many other conditions.

7. How it Works:

Corticosteroids are hormones. They are very effective at reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system. Inflammation is the way our immune system responds to harmful substances and trauma and is part of our healing process. However, if the usual control mechanisms that turn the process of inflammation off aren’t functioning properly and it continues unabated, our tissues can become damaged.

With short-term use (one or two weeks), at anti-inflammatory doses, there are very few harmful effects.

Since corticosteroids mimic the body’s response, long-term doses can turn off the body’s ability to respond with the natural hormone (cortisol) when needed. This is why slowly reducing the dose over time is so important, to allow the body to relearn to produce the hormone properly.

8. Side Effects and/or Signs of Overdose:

The most common side effects are:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination – amount and frequency
  • Increased appetite – which can lead to weight gain

At higher doses and long time use, side effects can be more severe:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mild behavioral changes
  • Poor haircoat

The more severe and harmful side effects with long term use are:

  • Gastrointestinal ulceration characterized by a lack of appetite, black or bloody stools, bloody vomit
  • High fever
  • Potbelly appearance
  • Weight gain
  • Weakness
  • Liver enzyme and lipid elevations noted on blood work
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Muscle wasting
  • Abnormally low energy
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis

9. Drug Interactions:

Caution should be used when your pet is also taking any of the following –

amphotericin B, anticholinesterases, aspirin, barbiturates, bupropion, cholestyramine, cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, digoxin, potassium-depleting diuretics, ephedrine, estrogens, fluoroquinolones, insulin, ketoconazole, macrolide antibiotics, mitotane, mycophenolate, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), phenobarbital, rifampin, vaccines, or warfarin.

10. Cautionary Statements:

  • Do not use the prednisone form in cats and horses, or for pets with liver dysfunction (i.e., use prednisolone), as they cannot efficiently convert it to prednisolone.
  • Do not use in pets that are undergoing allergy testing within the next month, unless otherwise advised by your veterinarian
  • Do not stop this medication abruptly; taper it slowly to avoid complications
  • Chronic or inappropriate use of corticosteroids, including prednisone, can cause life-threatening hormonal and metabolic changes like Cushing’s disease.
  • Do not use with fungal infections except if treating Addison’s disease
  • Prednisone/prednisolone should not be used in pets that are allergic to it, have viral infections, ulcers, tuberculosis, or Cushing’s disease.
  • It should be used cautiously in pets with diabetes, heart or vascular disease, other types of infections, osteoporosis, cataracts, high blood pressure, or kidney disease.
  • Use prednisone/prednisolone cautiously in young animals as this medication can stunt growth.
  • Extreme caution should be used when using prednisone/prednisolone in pregnant or lactating pets or pets receiving medications that can cause ulcers. Birth defects can result.
  • The risk of GI ulcers may be increased if corticosteroids and other drugs prone to causing ulcers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are given at the same time
  • The immune response to vaccination may be reduced when corticosteroids are given at the same time
  • Routine monitoring of liver enzymes, blood pressure, blood sugar, and electrolytes along with a physical exam should be performed regularly.
  • As this is a drug with many potential side effects, it’s best to use it only when a definitive diagnosis has been found. By doing this, alternative or multimodal treatments may be used to decrease the dose, frequency, or need for steroids. Nutrition/diet, herbs, acupuncture, and chiropractic care can often add to a regular treatment protocol without as many side effects and with great results.

Read more:

Signs of Pain in Cats

Signs of Pain in Dogs

Ask a Vet: 10 Important Questions to Ask at Your Next Vet Visit

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