One of the more commonly prescribed drugs in veterinary medicine is the drug Prednisone. The most common use of this medication is as an anti-inflammatory agent used in a wide variety of chronic diseases, including chronic inflammatory bowel disease, chronic skin/ear allergies, chronic respiratory disease and asthma, as well as chronic neurologic disorders. Prednisone has also been used as an immune suppressive agent in immune mediated disorders of the body, as well as part of many chemotherapy protocols.
When used appropriately, short-term use of Prednisone does not have a lot of side effects in animals; however, when used long- term, there are increased risks of toxicity and side effects. Common side effects include increased thirst/urination, appetite and respiratory rate, as well as changes in behavior from lethargy to hyperexcitability. Secondary organ problems of the pancreas (including diabetes and pancreatitis), liver and adrenal glands may occur. Thinning of the bone and skin also may occur with long term use of Prednisone. Secondary viral and/or bacterial infections in any organ system may occur, especially of the urinary tract and skin. In some sensitive pets, gastrointestinal erosion and ulceration may occur, leading to bleeding and possibly anemia.
Whenever a pet is on long-term Prednisone, it is always worthwhile asking about other alternative drugs, including other anti-inflammatory agents, including antihistamines, as well as other immune suppressive agents such as cyclosporine. Herbal remedies such as licorice may also be helpful in some cases. Most pets, however, can be maintained on chronic low-dose alternate day Prednisone therapy for a long time, as long as periodic veterinary exams and labwork are done to detect any possible side effects.