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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469 Comments

  1. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 9, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Lots of questions. As long as pred tapered slowly like you are doing, typically no crises are seen. As for issues with stairs, the cosequin is fine with pred, but also try antioxidants like proanthozone, as well as yucca intensive from 1800petmeds. Also use supplement like super joint enhancer as well.

  2. Hello, my dog 7 year old boxer/pit mix developed severe allergies about 3 years ago. 1.5 years of allergies was terrible scratching of snout, biting feet, scratching ears until bleeding, and smelly ears with gross stuff inside. We changed diet to Nutrisca’s grain-free salmon and chickpea dry feed with about 2000mgs fish oil00mgs omega-3 pills and 1000mgs vitamin-E pills daily. It was becoming a nuisance to deal with \heat\ cycle. We decided to get her spayed. Blood work revealed low blood platelet count. Started prednisone to increase platelet count. It worked and also relieved the severe allergies (all symptoms). During weaning process she would breakout with skin infections. Solved with simplifex(I think)antibiotic most of the time. We have suffered severe hair loss during long use of prednisone. Dog developed a lump on snout, vet prescribed same antibiotic. Lump went away but now there is a significant sized skin infection on her back. Vet was explaining a new drug that is available but on back order until next year. Dog weighs about 65-70lbs. Prednisone dose is 20mgs daily. Now dog has bladder control issues. (Prednisone symptom). Question #1 is are there other versions of prednisone that can be used? Question #2 can lowering prednisone dosage reverse bladder control issue? I don’t want her sitting in urine all day while at work. Unfortunately I don’t have a fenced in yard either. Question #3 will another round of antibiotics cause problems with the prednisone?

  3. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 10, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    You could try oral dose of methylprednisone tablets, which you could check with your vet. Budisonide is a different form of a steroid which has less side effects and may be an alternative. You could also ask vet about drug called atopica or cyclosporine. Consulting with a holistic veterinarian trained in a type of therapy called NAET therapy also may help. You can google this on line Good luck

  4. Hi..My 13 year old cat has recently been diagnosed with early stages of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.
    She has then been diagnosed with allergen induced asthma.
    The vet told me at this time there should be no medication given to her about her heart (as it is early stages)..yet has given her 2.5 dose of prednisone in intervals of every 7 days and to taper off every other day….
    Repeat the process when she relapses again with the asthma attacks.
    Is there anything else that I can give to her besides the Pred as I am concerned about the HCM.
    *note* The sneezing never stops (she sprays thin liquid from her nose as she sneezes..not oozing thickness)
    She still seems off to me..even with the Prednisone.
    The sneezing offsets the hacking asthma attack.
    Also..shouldn’t I have her on some sort of heart medication as she has the murmur with early stages of HCM?
    I would appreciate any advice..thanks!

  5. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 14, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    HI Tracey. Excellent questions. Every heart specialist is different when they decide to start heart meds on an HCM cat. They usually base this on measurements taken after an echocardiogram. As for asthma alternatives you could try chlorphenirimine at dose of 2 mg twice daily and DMG liquid from 1800petmeds, however may be worth while trying a homeopathic or holistic approach here, which tends to be more proactive in case like this. To learn more about homeopathy see booklet on the website http://www.beyondflatearth.com as well as my website http://www.doctordym.com Many homeopathic vets do offer phone consultations as do I nationwide.

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  7. Hello Dr Dym,
    Our 7 year old 42 pound mix has just been diagnosed with a calcified disk or two. On 9/5 he was placed on 10mg Prednisone 1 tab Q 12 hours, Methocarbamol 500mg 1 tab BID, then Tramadol 50mg tab 2-3 times daily as needed for pain was added on 9/10
    I’m an RN and I just noticed his RR has increased to 60/min is this due to side effects of these meds?
    I know Prednisone can increase RR

  8. My puppy Finley (black lab retriever basset mix) was diagnosed with meningitis in late January this year after a couple of months of not really knowing what was wrong. Finally, on September 8 he finished his tapering of Prednisone, stopped at 10mg every other day. He weighed in at 68 lbs., and is 15 mos. Old. Ever since last Wednesday, he seems to be lethargic, really has no appetite for his food (but wants his treats and my food), and did have projectile diarrhea, but only on that Wednesday. He has also started shedding. ..a lot, which is unusual for him. We took him back to the vet and did some blood work which came back clean, but still he isnt showing signs of his normal puppy self. Is there usually an adjustment period for dogs when they come off of Prednisone, due to the immunosuppressive nature of it? Or is it possible his meningitis is back? Please help me and my baby boy!!

  9. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 19, 2014 at 11:35 am

    HI Terra. Lots of possibilities here. You may want to ask vet to do an ACTH stim test to make sure Finley’s adrenal glands are adequately functioning to produce their own cortisol(the body’s own version of prednisone). Sometimes dogs on chronic prednisone can develop adrenal issues. If this is ok, then likely another condition going on here that a workup may be indicated. Does not sound like meningitis. Given the young age of the symptoms, as a holistic vet, I think his “meningitis” may have been secondary to the vaccinations he was getting during those puppyhood ages. It may be worthwhile consulting with a holistic oriented vet to work on diet, supplements, etc and potentially using homeopathy to try and slowly restore his immune system and health. To learn more about homeopathy, go to http://www.beyondflatearth.com and download booklet. Also see my website http://www.doctordym.com Many homeopathic vets like myself do offer phone consultations nationwide.

  10. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 19, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Hi Judy. Prednisone can cause increased respiration and/or panting, but pain can also cause that as well. You could ask vet about drug like Gabapentin which we are using more and more of for pain control in dogs with back issues/pain. I would replace the methocarbimol with that drug

  11. I have a cat that we rescued off the streets nine years ago, she’s approximately 11 years old now. Three years ago she stared wheezing, upon getting her examined, she was put on cortisone injection monthly and she’s done well with that. The other day, I noticed her using the litterbox to pee pretty freq. Since I have another cat that had been diagnosed and treated for a URI, I took a urine sample in and was told to bring in the cat. Her blood sugar was 430 and the vet suggested we either put her down or put her on insulin 2x per day with a weekly blood test. I understand it’s only a matter of time for her having to be on both cortisone and insulin. The thing is, she’s been fine since the visit. No freq peeing, eating, drinking and playing. Yes, she has “sick” eyes but I was told she’d start going downhill. Any idea if this is remission or what? Thank you.

  12. I have a 5 year old yorkie/poo rescue. We were in Lebanon Oregon in our RV this summer and I made an appointment to have her teeth cleaned – they called and said they couldn’t clean her teeth because blood test cameback and she had a red blood cell count of 12 and normal is 30 – 45 – we took her to specialist in Springfield Oregon – another vet had said he felt a mass in her spleen – so Springfield did ultra sound and said they found swollen spleen, swollen liver and some hardening in her intestines – thought it was cancer – they gave her blood transfusion and called us the next morning with good news – she didn’t have cancer – she had auto immune disease and something in her body was attacking her red blood cells – they sent her home at 22 redblood count after transfusion and azathioprine 6.4mg capsule every other day – prednisone 5 m cut in l/2 – l/2 in am l/2 in pm – after a week her count was back down to 14 so she added cyclosporine .5ml a day – after 2 weeks we are home now and our vet took blood work and I was so sure she would be gaining red blood cells and she is still at 13 – they have put her back on 5 mg a day of prednisone – no one has said anything about why this isn’t helping – or what happens when we go through all this medicine? Any thoughts/ideas – she is a wonderful little girl we love so much but I know that long term pred use isn’t good either. Jackie Mullen

  13. Thank you so much!

  14. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 22, 2014 at 12:34 am

    I would ask for consult with vet internist or specialist in your area. Also some of these pets need multiple transfusions to give them boost until meds work. Dose of Pred is 1 mg per pound per day and NO tapering for at least 6 weeks and/or blood levels have stabilized. Vet specialist can also do bone marrow aspirate to make sure no problem there.

  15. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 22, 2014 at 12:36 am

    Sometimes diabetes can be temporary in cats, as long as no further long acting cortisone injections are used.. Make sure you feed her a low carb, low grain diet like wysong epigen diet from 1800petmeds. Also can ask vet about steroid that tends not to cause diabetes like oral budesomide.

  16. Thanks for the reply. She hadn’t had an injection for three weeks when she was tested at 430. Also, I’d done some research and asked the vet about the oral cortizone when I took her in. She almost died from an asthma attack a few months ago so he feels she wouldn’t do well with the low dose oral cort. I’ll speak to him Tuesday when he’s back in the office, get her tested again.

  17. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 22, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Most veterinary specialists and internists have no problem and actually recommend oral cortisone to the long lasting injections. Safer for pet overall

  18. We have an 8 yr old German Shepherd/Chow mix who had ACL surgery earlier this year on a hind leg. During extended recovery she slipped on the wood floor and injured herself somewhere that now causes her front legs to be mostly numb, which makes walking a challenge. We tried her on Pred. for a while along with Tramadol but when we tried weaning her off it she went into “fuzzy lump on the carpet” mode and wouldn’t move at all. I was syringe watering her and pushing food pieces into her mouth to nourish her.
    After several vet visits it was determined that we could either get a very expensive MRI to determine exactly where the issue was and then treat it with Pred., or just accept that she has a lesion(s) somewhere in her brain or spine and treat her the same way. Obviously we went the second route.
    Experimenting with dosages brought us to methocarbamol, tramadol and 15 mg of Prednisone twice daily and she – on good days – stumbles around stubbornly, waggs her tail and smiles at us. Bad days are little better than Fuzzy lump status. We have accepted that this is her reality until she decides to leave us.
    What we’re seeing now, however, is that her skull and neck bones are very prominent – her skull appears shrunken with large indents above her eyes. Other areas are slimming down too, probably from the fact that she doesn’t eat as much as she used to but her face shows it dramatically. Could this be a result of the drugs she is on?

  19. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 26, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Most likely due to a combination of her chronic disease, as well as the cortisone drug.

  20. Hi, our West Highland Terrier, Eddie, is almost 5yrs old and has had skin problems and ear infections for 2 years. Our vets has just completed allergy testing and said Eddie is allergic to to the natural bacteria that lives on a dogs skin and mentioned something cease called Malassezia. I’m confused and worried. Meeting with vet again on Wednesday so will ask more questions then. Eddie is coming to the end of a course of steroids and antibiotics and vet has ordered a serum they are going to use to inject Eddie with but said there are no guarantees it will work. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. One thing the vet said which greatly upset me was….. We have to consider his quality of life!?!?! Eddie has always been and still is a happy healthy lively dog, he has gained weight with the steroids and has an unquenchable thirst and is passing water more recently which I understand to be side effects of the steroids but is his diagnosis life threatening? We bathe him 3 x weekly in Malaseb shampoo to help with his skin which is presently clear. I appreciate any advice. Eddie is our first dog and we do not have any experience or a history in these thinks. Thanks x

  21. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    HI Lindy. Sorry you are going through this. Inhalent/contact allergies and/or atopy is VERY common in this breed and certainly no need to question his quality of life. There are many options besides these allergy shots, including a drug called atopica, as well as trying other antihistamines, including zyrtec, chlorphenirimine, etc. There is also a NEW wonder drug called apoquel for allergies which will soon be available again, as it is on backorder. Read about it on line. Also MANY holistic options including NAET therapy, which you can also read about, and classical homeopathy, which is something i have been trained in. To learn more about that see http://www.beyondflatearth.com as well as my website http://www.doctordym.com Good luck….. If ever in doubt, get second opinion.

  22. I had St. Bernards who were showing seizure issues. Best vet advice i have ever received….have them test their thyroid!! Mine had hypothyroid (very common in large breeds) a tiny thyroid pill daily stopped all seizures for the duration of their lives with no side effects!!

  23. My dog has been taking predisone for 6months due to bad allergys he has been getting the allergy shots for 6 months now not improving yet. Now he is taking 5mg a day of prednisolone for about a month so far. I am so worried of the long term affects from all these drugs. He’s 81/2 allergies started when he was 8

  24. I forgot to mention I have tried all the other drugs out there including the new one on the market. It didn’t work. Also should my vet be doing blood work on him to make sure he’s ok.

  25. Galo my Lalrador mix, has a big allergic problem, his skin gets very dry, He looses his hair in spots, he also has a limping problem on His back legs which was diagnosis as arthritis on the hips. He has been given Cotoconosele, Prednisone and many other meds but he does not get any better, specially in regards to His allegic problem. What do you suggest, perhaps an anthistaminic.?

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