Did you know that dogs take medical steroids? However, the prescribed steroids for dogs are different than steroids that body builders take to bulk up—those are anabolic steroids, and they mimic testosterone.
When a veterinarian prescribes steroids for your dog, that is shorthand for corticosteroid. Corticosteroids are synthetic drugs that mimic cortisol, a substance made naturally by all mammals, including dogs and people. In this article, you will learn about different types of steroids for dogs and their purpose.
Why Would a Dog Be on Prescription Steroids?
Steroids are useful tools that can help with many different diseases. They provide a variety of benefits depending on the prescribed dosage.
Medical steroids reduce inflammation and swelling, and they suppress hyperactive immune function. For example, you may be familiar with cortisone cream, which is an over-the-counter-strength steroid cream that people use for skin rashes.
Steroids for dogs can be prescribed for topical use, pill form, inhalation through a nebulizer or inhaler, absorbed through the gums or injected into the bloodstream, muscles or under the skin. If your dog suffers from an inflammatory condition, such as skin hot spots from flea allergies or a swollen ear from an aural hematoma, then your veterinarian can prescribe a low-dosage steroid to provide anti-inflammatory effects.
Steroids also are prescribed for auto-immune disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease, Lupus erythematosus and immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. In these conditions, higher-dosage steroids are prescribed for a longer period of time to suppress the immune system enough to stop the body from attacking itself.
Veterinarians also prescribe steroids for an adrenal disorder called Addison’s disease. In Addison’s disease, the adrenal gland, which is responsible for making natural steroids, stops creating steroids, so synthetic steroids must be supplemented by mouth.
Prescription Steroids for Dogs and Their Functions
You already might be familiar with canine prednisone, the most common type of steroid prescribed. Prednisone is prescribed for inflammatory or allergic conditions, and it is used in many ailments ranging from skin rashes, to brain inflammation, to auto-immune diseases, to bee stings.
Another common steroid that is formulated in liquid suspension for injection is triamcinolone, under the trade name Vetalog. Vetalog is a long-lasting steroid that usually is prescribed for severe dermatitis—itchy, red inflamed allergic skin—but it can be used for other inflammatory or allergic conditions as well.
If your dog has ever experienced an ear infection, then chances are your veterinarian prescribed a topical ointment containing dog antibiotics, antifungals and betamethasone, another common steroid used to reduce ear inflammation and pain associated with infection.
Even though these drugs have different names and chemical structures, they all fall under the same category of steroid.
What Are the Risks of Prescription Steroids for Dogs?
While steroids are helpful tools for treating many diseases, improper use turns them into a double-edged sword that can create additional problems.
The main risk of prescription steroids for dogs is a condition known as Cushing’s syndrome, where too much steroid is in the body. Cushing’s syndrome in dogs causes them to gain weight, drink a lot, pee a lot, eat a lot, pant a lot and lose hair. In addition, dogs with Cushing’s develop an impaired immune system, making them more susceptible to skin and urinary tract infections.
Other steroid risks include stomach and intestinal ulcers, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, anxiety or hyperactivity, and destruction of the adrenal gland. If you give a dog too much steroid, you can shut down the adrenal gland and create the opposite of Cushing’s syndrome—Addison’s disease, which can be life-threatening.
Your veterinarian has been trained in the proper use of steroids and can advise you on the risks and benefits of using steroids in your dog. And in some instances, steroids are not the best answer to a problem. This can be frustrating to some pet owners, who just want “the shot that fixed their pup the last time,” but when your veterinarian says no to steroids and gives you alternatives to try instead, remember that your veterinarian has your pet’s best interests at heart.
When used correctly, steroids have many lifesaving properties that can cure disease; however, steroids must be dosed properly and under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian to reduce the likelihood of negative side effects. With proper administration, steroids for dogs can help many pets recover from painful and debilitating conditions.
Featured Image: Via iStock.com/SerhiiBobyk