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Prednisone (and Prednisolone) – What every pet owner should know

Prednisone is a widely prescribed steroid by Veterinary Surgeons.

It is incredibly effective and as such is considered a lifesaving drug that is prescribed to manage acute infections and diseases that may otherwise lead to death. The word to note here is ACUTE. Short term.

Prednisone is indicated for a variety of diseases in animals to induce remission - the partial or complete resolution of symptoms caused by the disease process. The mode of action of prednisone is to act as an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant agent to control bodily responses in acute viral or bacterial illnesses. The word to note here is IMMUNOSUPPRESSANT. The drug suppresses the body’s natural production of corticosteroids in the adrenal glands. Corticosteroids are the hormones responsible for natural control of inflammation.

Most common complications include:

  • Upper gastrointestinal distress marked by diarrhoea and vomiting and ulceration of the stomach.

  • Changes in appetite.

  • Increased thirst leading to higher water intake and more frequent urination.

  • Unexplained changes in body weight.

  • Altered mood and behaviour.

  • Changes in energy and activity level.

  • Ophthalmological complications like glaucoma, cataract.

  • Other common side effects that may be reported include loss of hair volume and skin changes, such as thinning and easy bruising

Abrupt cessation of prednisone therapy is inadvisable due to the risk of withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal effects are largely mediated as a result of adrenal suppression. The most commonly reported withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Non-specific symptoms like malaise, fatigue, weakness and other changes in activity status and behaviour.

  • Loss of appetite, inability to digest food and vomiting.

  • Difficulty in breathing.

Again the key word to note here is SUPPRESSION. In essence your pet’s body is very vulnerable during this time because its own ability to cope has been suppressed and this does not come back overnight. It may take a few months or even a year to resume normal functioning of the adrenal gland if prednisone is consumed for a longer period of time.

Most importantly, because of this suppression Prednisone decreases the immunity of your pet which is therefore at higher risk of developing viral or bacterial illnesses.

These are the key reasons why many dogs appear to have “got better” whilst on the steroids, but almost immediately regress once they are taken off the treatment, or develop new problems.

So what steps can you take to help your pet if it is on/has been on Prednisone therapy?

Monitor their food and water intake closely, since signs of infections are usually masked by prednisone therapy.

Diet – ensure that your pet is on a high quality diet, that includes a full complement of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.

Herbal supportive supplements – spirulina, nettle, dandelion leaf and parsley leaf are great providers of the vitamins and minerals that are essential in maintaining strong adrenal function. Licorice and borage can also gently help boost adrenal output and are particularly recommended post extended steroid therapy. Other herbs such as Siberian ginseng and Astralgus can also play a role in supporting the immune system further and boosting the body’s functional abilities when under stress.

These herbs should be slowly introduced as part of the “weaning off” process when the pet is coming off the steroids. They should then be used for a good month or so post steroid therapy to provide the pet’s body with the best chance of making sufficient recovery to fight for itself.

We would always advise you to ask questions of your Vet before accepting steroid treatment - ask about alternative options, even if they make take longer to kick in they can be much more gentle on your pet's system, and work in harmony with them rather than suppressing their natural immunity systems.

[The following is a link to the UKs leading holistic vet talking about the use of herbs in animal husbandry - very interesting....]

Holistic Hound are happy to advise on alternative options and we can make up bespoke tonics for immune system support, so please get in touch if you would like our help.

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