Long Term Use of Prednisone in Pets

There can be side-effects from long-term use of Prednisone.

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.

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  1. Hello- we had a question answered by you on Oct. 21, 2014 regarding our beagle, Max. We did get the transfer factors and I do think they helped him, although I wish I had known of them sooner. We lost our poor Max on Feb. 27th, 2015 (just last Friday). In Dec. 2014, his beg legs were giving out. Took him in for an x-ray and vet said spine was narrow in spots but big concern was that his lungs only had 25% (in only one lung) open – the other 75% was full of his cancer tumors. We took him home, and his legs went back to normal after resting a couple of days- back up steps again and everything- this dog was amazing. But, we knew the time was coming soon based on his lungs, and the trachea cancer that had returned in his throat. In Jan., his belly became very bloated. I initially thought this was due to the prednisone, but wasn’t sure. Last week, he began panting constantly, and although he would wag his tail, bark and had a great appetite, he got ‘different’. He lost weight. He went off to a rug far from us and would sit there, faced opposite of us and kind of stare into space. The big change we noticed was he did not want to lay down. He actually fell asleep sitting up and once he’d plop down, he’d prop up right away again. When we’d had a bad night last week of him not sleeping at all- just panting and sitting up, we knew we needed to let him go because he seemed miserable. The problem we’re having is our vet gave us 25mg of Acepromozine before we brought him- it’s a 45 minute drive, and he was always nervous. Once he got there, he was drowsy, and they laid him on the table, and his heart stopped- by itself, no drugs- he just died. Did we overdose him on Acepromozine and stop his heart? Did he know that if he laid down this was going to happen and that’s why he fought it while at our house? Was the prednisone the cause of his abdomen being so bloated, or was it something else? Our vet assured us we did the right thing, but we’re just not sure and have been too upset to call again and wanted an objective opinion. Thank you for your time.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 18, 2015 at 1:29 pm · Reply

      Please know that you did a wonderful Job in keeping Max going for so long. I DONT think the acepromazine was involved in his passing, as it sounds like it was his time. Glad to hear that the transfer factor helped a bit. Sounds like you gave him a wonderful life.

    • It sounds like Max had a wonderful life with people that love him, I don’t think you could have done a thing different.
      We can never know whether we did the right thing or not when we lose a pet, all we can do is try our best. Not even veterinarians know what the best thing is in all cases, after all they’re human just like us. No one’s perfect.

  2. If you recall, I posted a while back about my cat Samantha who experienced bi-lateral deafness after an ear flush. She had an MRI and it revealed two ruptured ear drums and a clogged tympanic bulla. She was put on antibiotic (for about one month) and prednisone (four months now) and actually began to hear again. Her ears don’t move toward sound as cat’s ears typically do and she has trouble localizing, but sound is getting in and it’s enough to improve her quality of life. However, when I tried to fade the pred, she started to lose hearing again, so she went back on. Now I am once again fading because it’s been almost four months and she needs to get off this medication and I am again noticing her hearing diminish, and she shakes her head a few times a day, which she stopped doing on the prednisone. So it seems that there is inflammation preventing her from hearing and the prednisone reduced the inflammation allowing sound to get through, and fading the meds is causing the inflammation to return (hence the head shake and diminished hearing) – that’s my theory anyway. Any suggestions as to a next step that is safer than going back on prednisone which I am not willing to do? What specific natural anti-inflammatory could help with inner ear issues? I want her off the meds but I see her getting worse as we lower the dosage. Thanks for your help.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 18, 2015 at 12:51 pm · Reply

      You could see a veterinary homeopath for an alternative approach for these ear issues http://www.drpitcairn.com for an appropriately trained homeopathic vet in your area. As for other options you could ask your vet about alternative immune suppressive medications such as atopica or cyclosporine to use with and/or instead of prednisone.

  3. Last week my 28-lb. cocker was prescribed 5 mg. Prednisone to take once daily for 5 days. No mention was made of taking her off this medicine gradually. However, I have been reading about this medication and read where it should be tapered before discontinuing it. Vet’s office closed today. I have already given 3 tablets, Should I taper the dosage of the last two tablets? Thanks,

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 18, 2015 at 12:36 pm · Reply

      An only 5 day course of this medication usually does not need to be gradually tapered off.

  4. our 13 1/2 year old huskie/shepherd + mix is on 10 mgs prednisone for probable inflammatory bowel disease. She is eating every meal eagerly for the first time in over a year, which is great! We observe she has completely stopped shedding, and this is unprecedented: she has always shed at least a little, and dramatically with seasons changing. I am wondering whether the pred is responsible for no shedding, and if it is healthy ?

    Thanks,
    Deb

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  6. Our 4 year old boxer was put on a 50mg dose daily of perdition eat the time he was down to 35 lbs and now he’s back up to 65 I’m reading all these normal dosages are around 5mg. Is the 50mg wrong and if so could it hurt him he has been on it daily for 3 or more months

  7. My five year old cat is on liquid Prednisone, as of yesterday, Nov. 12,2015. When my cat & I returned from the Vet, I fed her some cat food. In the meantime, I forgot to put her Prednisone in the refrigerator. Yes, I was told to put it in the refrigerator. Is it safe to give her the next dose or should I let the Vet know? Thanks in advance.

  8. I have a 4.5 yorkie that was ALWAYS itching. I had her on a 2.5 every other day and then a 2.5 does every day of Prednisone. She was still constantly itching every part of herself, not one specific area. I put her on a 5.0 daily dose of Prednisone and the itching has stopped. I am however concerned of the long term effects. She isn’t overly excited or lethargic, she doesn’t seem to eat or drink too much, she hasn’t gained any weight. Any recommendations?

  9. malinda ramsunkerJanuary 5, 2016 at 8:07 am · Reply

    hi there,
    my baby boerboel Milo has been diagnosed with wobbler syndrome we cannot afford the major surgery to his vertebrae to correct this problem, the vet suggested that we give dosages of prednisone and this helped him a lot however the meds are now finished, can we continuously keep him on these meds? he is 60kgs and 1.8 months old, we really don’t have the heart to put him down at such a young age and he loves to run and play and seems fine when he’s on meds, thing is will it cause more damage that way? please help I need some advice

    • Hi I have a 15 year old malemale cat named Baby that has been on prednisone most of his life usually five milligrams to start and 2. 5 milligrams daily after that. It wasn’t on a continuous basis but more often than not. I have a second cat that has cancer and I now have to give prednisone on a daily basis in addition to by- weekly prednisone shots.
      From what I have been told any problems are long term and since the alternative is to have my babies put down I’ll stick with the prednisone. Good luck and Google is a wonderful way to look some of this up.

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  11. Hello, my chewwey was diagnosed with bronchiastasis, he was put on 5 mg of prednisone everyday. We have since cut his dosage down to 2.5 mg, except for when it is ecspecially cold out, he will get the full 5 mg. He is also on 2000mg of fish oil, and 10mg of claritin every day. He has started to show signs of cushings…is there an alternative to the prednisone. He goes back to see his vet again on the 13th of February. Any suggestions would be helpful, so that I may ask her.

  12. Hi, my dear friend Butter’s is a 13 yr old Pit Bull Terrier. He has Lymphoma and is on Prednisone. During the day he sleeps and seems ok, once it is night time, he wants to drink and go out to pee. He also has diarrhea.
    Can I give him anything at night to help relax him and help him to sleep? Maybe low dose of Benadryl ?
    What can I give him to help with the Diarrhea?

    • See your vet about specific anti diarrheal drugs like metronidazole or other intestinal antibiotics that they can possibly prescribe. You can try the natural calming essence Composure and/or Be serene from1800petmeds, or you can ask your vet about other pain meds that have calming effect like Gabapentin or tramadol if appropriate

  13. If your canine child has allergies, before you pay the Vet BIG bucks to prescribe steroids, think Benadryl.
    Short term side effects of steroids are not cool, but long term effects can be terrible.
    Increased thirst…increased urination.
    Increased hunger…increased weight gain.
    Skin yeast infections.
    BIG risk of diabetes.
    How do I know these things? My canine son Ripper had really itchy skin and scratched himself 24/7.
    The Vet prescribed Prednisone pills, and the itching stopped. The increased thirst and increased urination began.
    Ripper NEVER, NEVER, EVER whizzed in the house, and even after getting up twice during the night, he peed on the floor.
    He began slowly but surely packing on the pounds. His itching was under control so I continued the steroids for 2 years.
    His bladder control got better, but the weight gain was bad. I started my investigation of the situation online.
    Without any conversation with my steroid pushing Vet, I read online about the proper way to reduce steroids and stop them.
    I began giving Ripper 25mg of Benadryl twice a day, and his itching problem stopped and did not return.
    Sadly, Ripper got diabetes and we did the pee collection twice per day as well as insulin shots once per day.
    We fought the good fight with diabetes for 7 years, but in the end cancer took my son from me.
    To reiterate… steroids MAY not be the long term answer for your canine child’s allergy problem.

    • Excellent points Burt. Long term prednisone may be no longer necessary as there are newer, hopefully safer drugs like apoquel which can help with long term itching, etc When antihistamines like benadryl or zyrtec work, this also is helpful as well. I recommend supplementing all pets with allergies with omega 3 fatty acids such as nordic naturals pet omega 3

  14. Hello Dr Dym!
    Searching for info in prednisone and lymphoma and came across your blog. We are old patients of yours! Hope you are well! Unfortunately our Portuguese Water Dog was diagnosed with T cell lymphoma and we decided to use prednisone to make him comfortable. Trying to see how long he could last from diagnosis. It’s been 2 months now.
    He’s only six years old.

    • Hi Beth. I remember you and your mom and the health food store well. Actually the average survival time for lymphoma dogs with prednisone alone is typically 2 to 3 months. As I am sure you and your mom are a;lready doing, remember the role that diet and nutritional supplements and possibly homeopathy can play in also trying to help these patients. Good luck with it.

  15. My 28lb cocker spaniel was diagnosed Monday with a strained disc. She’s been put on 20mg prednisone a day (1 1/2 pills). She’s been panting, excessive urination and shivering. The vet today said the shivering was from pain and perscribed 50 mg of tramadol twice daily. I forgot to ask if they can be given togethe. Also, does the dose seem high?

  16. No problem in giving the tramadol and pred together. Dose sounds ok, however your vet may need to adjust dose lower if side effects. Also ask vet if other pain meds like gabapentin or methocarbimol can help as well as I use these often in back problems

  17. My 13 year old terrier mix was diagnosed with Lymphoma in November and has been on Prednisone since that time. He has gain a lot of weight even though I have cut back on the amount of food. Is there anything I can do to help?

    • I would follow the instructions of your local veterinarian. Weight gain is a common side effect of chronic prednisone therapy, but this drug may be necessary for the comfort of your animal. I assume you did not elect chemotherapy in your dog. 4 to 5 months survival on only prednisone therapy is actually quite good, in terms of survival time post lymphoma diagnosis when only using prednisone therapy

  18. Our dog Hooch is a 12 year-old Old English Bulldog 80 lbs. His sister, Maxine, just died who was 9 years old from what we think was encephalitis caused by anaplasmosis and lyme disease. The last week that Max was alive, Hooch started collapsing to the floor and peeing. We thought at first that he was having seizures like Max. We took him to the vet who assumed (because he had not seen a “seizure”) that he was seizing. He did not test positive for lyme, but his lymph nodes in his back legs are swollen, so Hooch is on Doxycycline (400 mg) twice a day — not taking any chances as we lost Max. Hooch continued to collapse — and I realized that he was not seizing — he was collapsing in pain. Took him to the vet and several xrays later, he has swelling in his back around his spinal cord and it looks like three vertabrae are compressed (less space between them than the others). Doctor said all blood tests are normal. So, Hooch was placed on prednisone 20 mg per day. After a few days we told the vet that he does not want to eat (we force feed him), he is urinating way more than normal, and drinking way more than normal. Urinating all over the house. The vet told us to cut the dose in half, but after only a few days, he began to collapse again. He has been on the prednisone (20 mg per day) for three weeks now, and I notice he is breathing heavily when he lays down. His abdomen seems to be raising more than usual and it looks like he is struggling. He does not want to lay on his stomach anymore, he lays non his side and seems uncomfortable. His eyes are bloodshot too. I don’t want him on the prednisone as I fear cushings disease. He is not himself — he walks around as if he is in pain and makes this weird dry heave choking sound. The Doxycycline, I am told, has anti-inflamatory properties too. He will be on that for another 4 weeks to insure against the Lyme that took Max. What else can we do for him? Must we continue to keep him on the prednisone? Is there something else that can help the swelling and give him pain relief? How long is too long on the prednisone? He is a large dog — if he loses muscle mass he will lose the ability to hold himself up. I just don’t know what to do. I am terrified that I am going to lose him too.

  19. Hi Dana. Sorry to hear about this situation. I would ask your vet for a referral to a veterinary neurologist in your area, if the only options your vet has are pred and doxycycline. If it were my dog, I would also consider trying to find a holistic or homeopathic veterinarian in your area, who might be able to help from a different perspective, as traditional drugs used in veterinary neurology are a short list. To learn more and/or to try and find a holistic vet in your area, see http://www.drpitcairn.com and http://www.theAVH.org

  20. Hi, My 12 yr old Boston Terrier began having seizures last August. He was put on Phenobarbitol but also Prednisone for a serious spinal issue. I think we left him on the Prednisone too long, from Aug to Dec. Finally dropped dosage slowly and he came off it, But the damage to his skin was awful! It has greatly improved since coming off the drug but I am having a hard time clearing up the hard plaque like areas of skin under both armpits, back legs, and over his eyebrows. There are also several waxy feeling patches on his belly and chest. Can you recommend a topical treatment that will help soften the hard patches acn help clear the other areas? He is a miracle after what he has been through! He was peeing constantly, panting, drinking water endlessly, and could barely climb up the porch steps! Now he is running, eating and drinking normally, and holding his bladder all night again! His back issue has greatly improved as well. I’ve tried tea tree oil, but so far it’s not helped. But for the horrible skin problem he is doing great! Thanks for any help!

    • HI Jacki. I would have a consultation with a veterinary dermatologist in your area if possible, which would offer best expert diagnosis of chronic skin issue and/or treatment. You could try topical coconut oil applied to areas a few times daily, as well as give it orally at dose of 1/4 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight added to each meal daily. Also put him on an omega 3 fatty acid such as nordic naturals pet omega 3 from `1800petmeds. Topical aloe vera and/or vitamin E also may help as well daily.

  21. 7 year old lab diagnosed with liver disease in March. It took from January to March for the vet to diagnose her but when she was diagnosed her liver enzymes were off the chart and her liver was disfigured. (per sonogram) She was initially put on an antibiotic, antacid, SAM-e, 30 mg of prednisone and 300 mg of ursodiol. She wasn’t eating. 4 months later she is eating and wants to eat all the time. She’s gone from loosing weight to gaining weight. Her respiration rate is up. She is on 20 mg of Prednisone one day and 10 the next. She no longer takes an antibiotic but continues on everything else. When she was 3 she had ACL surgery on one leg and then at 4 1/12, the other leg. This past week she has been hesitant to go upstairs and go in the car (both of which she loves). What are the side effects of keeping her on daily prednisone? Whenever we try to cut it back she doesn’t do well and the vet says to go back to the 30 mg one day 20 the next. She is OK but not well. Are we making her suffer? Is there hope of reversing or getting her liver disease to a manageable point? Is the prednisone effecting her joints? So many concerns.

    • Excellent questions and many possibilities here. Best for you to ask your vet for referral to vet specialist in your area or internal medicine specialist who may be able to offer liver aspirate or biopsy to best determine long term care and treatment. Liver values should be monitored periodically. Prednisone can have many wonderful effects as well as many possible side effects. You may want to consult with holistic vet as well. To learn more see http://www.doctordym.com as well as see book Dr
      Pitcairn’s Guide To Natural HEalth for dogs and Cats by Richard Pitcairn, DVM, phd, which has great suggestions on home diets, liver support, etc.

  22. My 8 year old Old English Sheep dog was recently diagnosed with an auto-immune disease with low white blood cell counts. At some point her count was as low as 40 000 although everything else with her and her lab tests were normal. Our vet told us the normal avg. is around 200 000. He has put her on Prednisone starting at 80mg/a day and now down to 40mg/ a day. Her last test showed her count was up 160 000. Since she has been on Prednisone she has been drinking and urinating 4 times more (which was expected) but we have also noticed she has much less energy than before and she eats 4 times more too. She has gained about 4 lbs in 2 weeks which is concerning to us. I just want to know wether the dosage isn’t too high for her based on other prescribed dosage. Should we be concerned of the side effects and current dosage and discuss this with our vet?

    • HI Ellie. Thanks for your question. There are definitely other options for autoimmune blood and other disorders. While prednisone is the main drug, most commonly the first choice of most veterinarians; if there are unpleasant side effects, then there are other meds such as atopica(cyclosporine), as well as many others that can be explored by your veterinarian. You could also ask your vet for a referral to vet internist in your area if needed for expert opinion on this condition and breed. Given the common incidence of autoimmune disorders and thyroid disease in this breed(sometimes at the same time), it may be worthwhile to have a COMPLETE thyroid profile done on her to make sure hypothyroidism does not exist. I would also talk to your vet about starting your dog on Melatonin at a dose of 6 mg twice daily, as this over the counter supplement from the health food store, also can help with platelet production and bone marrow release of platelets. Even the most traditional of veterinary specialists are now using melatonin in cases like this with autoimmune platelet disorders. Hope this helps

      • Thank you very much for the recommendations. This is very helpful and will definitely discuss these alternative options with my vet.

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