Long term use of Prednisone in pets

An owner holds her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Skin/ear allergies
  • Respiratory disease
  • Asthma
  • 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.

How long can my dog or cat stay on Prednisone?

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.

What are the side-effects of Prednisone in dogs and cats?

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 as well as thinning of the bone and skin. In addition, 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.

Have pet health questions? For any medical concerns, we always recommend you consult your veterinarian. However, for non-emergency questions, you can contact Dr. Dym directly using our Ask the Vet form.

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  1. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 6, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    I would strongly recommend asking vet for referral to center that can do MRI to see if spinal surgery may be better choice.

  2. Hello there
    My 4yr old Minnie Dachshund twisted/ pulled a muscle or has a soft tissue injury in her back from being an adventurous rabbit chaser on our farm. LOL
    She has been sore since Saturday after activities outside.we are fully aware of IVDD dogs as we have had one that’s had a fully blown disc, not partially blown.
    Surgery, crate rest 6 weeks and she was back on those feet-amazing!
    Anyway this little girl is in her pen and having 2 weeks crate rest with 2.5mg per day of Prednisolone. She weighs 6kg (13.2lb) This dog is happy to walk, trot and be in your day but she will not run and sits more than usual. She will take the stairs sideways, No wobbly legs no signs of IVDD. I have spoken to my vet and he said crate rest for a week and 2.5mg per day but just wondered if I should give her more for the start of her crate rest period or see how she goes? She been in crate for two days.I am for 2 weeks in crate to get it mended. Shall I continue on 2.5mg each day of the 2 weeks?
    Look forward to your thoughts.
    PS Great site……

  3. Hi Dr, thank you for this great site.

    My 7 y.o Manchester terrier has a large brain tumour in the motor area of his brain (had MRI, neuro can’t tell which type of tumor as he says it’s really unusual) and has been six months on prednisone now. His only symptoms have been increasing wobbliness and leaning heavily to one side. One month ago the blood tests showed that his liver enzymes are badly elevated and the neuro vet recommended we not increase the dose any further. However, two weeks ago he became so unsteady that he could hardly walk or find food in his bowl to eat, so I have increased the prednisone against advice because while I understand the med is killing his liver, he doesn’t seem to suffer any discomfort from the liver problem (yet) but instead he was miserable when he could hardly walk. He has been much much better since increasing the dose (although I am dreading his next blood test results). He has a bloated belly, very hungry and thirsty but no blood in stool etc and this was all happening before the dose increase. He is on 20mg per day when before it was 15mg.

    Despite all this he is super alert, happy and doesn’t appear in any pain. Have I done the right thing? I see it as buying him some more time, even if his liver fails, as we would have had to put him down if he couldn’t walk. Is there anything I can do to reduce the effect of the pred on his liver (other than denosyl and liver diet which he is already on)?

    Thanks in advance

  4. My dog was just perscribed this drug and was mentioned that he will need to be on it every year for the sure time. is this considered long term, if so should I be looking into other options?

  5. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 18, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    I would ask vet about other options including antihistamines like zyrtec or hydroxyzine(atarax), New drug called apoquel also may be an option which you can look up

  6. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 18, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Hi Caroline. Sounds like you are doing a great job with your dog in keeping him palliatively comfortable with the prednisone. At this point I personally dont see a problem with the higher dose. I also would consider supporting his body holistically with more of a fresh home made diet for liver issues. See the recipes on http://www.K9petchef.com and my friend Chef loreen who has great suggestions. I also use whole food supplements to support the liver as well as gemmotherapies. Make sure you dont use other liver stressful pesticides, etc as well as avoid all vaccinations in case like this. I would consider working with a holistic vet. To learn more go to my website http://www.doctordym.com Many holistic and/or homeopathic vets do offer phone consultations.

  7. Thank you so much for your reply, will do as you suggest.

  8. My senior GWP has just been diagnosed with idiopathic geriatric vestibular disease. She doesn’t want to eat, drink, falls down when she walks. She is 11 years old and has arthritis. I have had her on weekly acupuncture treatments in the past and am considering starting them again but seem to remember reading that acupuncture does not work when a dog is on Prednisone. Could you please tell me if this is correct? Many thanks from me and my beautiful Gertie.

  9. My senior GWP has just been diagnosed with idiopathic geriatric vestibular disease. She doesn’t want to eat, drink, falls down when she walks. She is 11 years old and has arthritis. I have had her on weekly acupuncture treatments in the past and am considering starting them again but seem to remember reading that acupuncture does not work when a dog is on Prednisone. Could you please tell me if this is correct? Many thanks from me and my beautiful Gertie.

  10. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 28, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Susan. While prednisone is not ideal to be on at time of acupuncture, that system of medicine can indeed STILL be effective and I would encourage you to explore that option again. Also working with holistic or homeopathic vet on other aspects of geriatric health, diet, etc may be worthwhile to help with healing. To learn more see my website http://www.doctordym.com Many holistic vets offer phone consultations as well.

  11. Hi my 4 year old Staffordshire bull terroir has got skin condition which is being treated with 3 prednisone a day my vet gas advised that this will shorten her life as she has been on this dose for around 2 years now and will continue until she does pass away! Do you know April how much it will shorten her life please

  12. I have a pit/lab mix that is about a yr and a half old. She has terrible allergies in the summer that make her chew her feet and takes 5mg Prednisone daily probably 4-5 months out of the year. I am curious as to what effect this will have on her over all health.

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 31, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    As long as prednisone used wisely at as low a dose as possible preferably every other day. I have not seen problems with pred in most cases when used in tapering dose and for short periods up to a few months

  14. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 31, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    I find that if prednisone is used in as low a dose as possible preferably every other day that many pets live normal lives You can also ask your vet about other options such as atopica

  15. Hello! I have a 14 1/2 year old chihuahua mix breed. She’s been on prednisone 5 mg once a day every other day for treatment of arthritis. Prior to taking prednisone she was slowing down and would struggle to walk. The prednisone helps tremendously, without it she wouldn’t be able to walk around. She does get some occasional side effects, panting, excessive thirst. Her vet says at her age it’s all about the quality of life, I agree but suggested to vet if it would be better if she takes 2.5 mg daily instead of 5 mg every other day and she said no. I just figured maybe a lower dosage will have less side effects, what is your opinion? Thank you!

  16. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 1, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    I think 5 mg every other day or 2.5 mg daily is fine as a choice, without one being better than the other.

  17. Dr. Dym thank you very much for your reply. I have one more question, can Tramadol be taken together with the prednisone?

  18. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 2, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    There is no issues with tramadol and prednisone together.

  19. Hi..I am from India and I am in a very tense situation. I have one Labrador dog (male) and his name is POGO which is around 7 yrs old, for the past few months (7 months) he produces honking sounds and in the end he yawks but nothing really comes out of his mouth….what should I do…plzzzz help me….some says it’s kennel cough some says it’s chronic disease…is there any medicine to treat..
    I love my pogo…..plz suggest me…..waiting for your early reply….thankyou

  20. My dog has the same issue, it ended up being chronic airway disease (chronic bronchitis), but my vet has her well managed on a bronchodilator prescription as well as steroids.

  21. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 8, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing Angela. yes bronchodilators and often low dose steroids are best way of controlling COPD in dogs.

  22. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Kennel cough runs its course in 10-14 days, so highly doubtful this is kennel cough. could b other airway issue like collapsing trachea, COPD, and/or heart disease, parasites, etc. Best to have vet check and heartworm blood test and stool check for parasites before I can advise.

  23. I have an 8 y/o beagle – 37 pounds. He has been on prednisone for about 9months to treat an adenocarcinoma is him snout. Started on 20mg daily, about 3 months ago we reduced his pred to 10mg daily to try and reduce the eating/drinking/urination side effects, helped for a little bit then back to being hard to deal with, about 3 weeks ago reduced the pred to 5mg daily, again side effects are a little better but we’re still struggling with urination. We’re thinking about dropping to 5mg every other day. Does that seem reasonable? All reductions have been taken under the vet’s supervision and most recent blood work (done when he was taken 10mg daily) showed that he was developing steroid induced addisons. He hasn’t shown any problems with the reductions we’ve done so far but I don’t want to push him into a crisis. What should I be watching for? He has also started having some trouble with stairs – not bad but hobbling a little bit and out of breath at the end. Our sitter recommended trying cosequin to see if that helps. Is it dangerous to take that with pred? He also takes omprezole (in the morning with the pred) and tramadol (1/2 a tablet before bed). We’re generally very happy with his vet but curious what someone else would say. Vet sometimes discounts the impact the side effects can have on both him and us since the pred is generally working and he has done very well with what is generally a fast moving cancer.

  24. Hi,

    I have reduced my dog to 2.5mg Pred every 2 days to keep a returned mast cell tumour at bay (she was diagnosed with this 4 years ago, the vet removed as much as poss) the tumour stayed away for 2 years but she was on preds the whole time. We decided to take her of the preds and put her on Previcox for her joints, her quality of life improved immensely, she became more mobile and not as doped up due to only being able to take tramadol with the preds. Now on whilst on Previcox, the mast cell started to rear it’s ugly head again so she continues to take Previcox but we give her 2.5mg of Prednisolone every 2 days or if the tumour swells, I back this up with Milk Thistle tablets (Brilliant things) once a day and HALF of a 75mg rantidine for acid (mixing Preds and Prev) we have been doing this for last 6 months and she’s doing great, incidently she was 10 when all this started with the mast cell, she’s 14yrs and 2 months now, still going for her daily walk and wagging her tail. Not sure if this might help someone with similar problem but thought I’d share.

  25. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Thankfully the low dose of prednisone is tolerated by your pet at same time as previcox, as most of time as vets we dont use these type of drugs at same time.

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