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 veterinarianJuly 1, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    you are welcome

  2. Hi,

    My 2 year old staffie has some kind of allergy but we do not know what it is. If she is not on the tablets she scratches her eyes and under legs constantly. She is bald behind her ears and constantly loses hair on her chest and belly. She has been on prednisolone 10mg every 2 days. Yesterday she had to have her annual boosters. The vet said it wasn’t worth giving her the injections as the chances are they would not work. This is the first time that we have been told this and she has been on the tablets since she was a few months old. I thought I would rather her have the booster and have that chance of it working. Is this right what the vet has said, or should we still get her vaccinated?

    Many thanks

  3. I have a GSD that is 13 and just had back surgery. It’s been 3 months and she is still not walking very good. I started her back on prednisone 10 once a day and she is getting up and walking a little. I’m wondering if I can add MSM to help instead of more prednisone?

  4. I have a 9 year old terrier mix with chronic bronchitis/ COPD. She frequently gets bacterial infections in her lungs. She is currently on QVAR (1 50mcg puff, three times daily). We alternate every 7 days between Azithromyicin and Amoxicillin to keep her infections at bay. She has also been on between 10 and 20 mg dose of prednisone daily for almost a year and a half. Recently, she has begun to have some bladder control issues (she will urinate while she’s sitting in the floor, almost like she doesn’t even realize she’s going to the bathroom). Is this a long term side effect of prednisone use, should I be worried that she’s developed a kidney or bladder issue from the long term use? Thanks in advance for any words of wisdom.

  5. My 12 year old, 72 lb retriever has just been prescribed 20mg of Prednisone daily. The vet thinks she has a cervical disc problem due to her lack of bowel control (intermittent) and difficult in walking (ataxia) . I don’t like to use steroids so am wondering if anti-inflammatory meds would be safer. She is also on phenobarb 64 mg daily due to occasional seizures and 2 joint supplement pills daily. I have also tried Tramadol for her pain, but after a few days of use it didn’t seem to relieve her pain. The vet feels, rather than increase the Tramadol she wants to use the prednisone instead. I am wondering if an anti-inflammatory medications like Tramadol or Rimadyl would be safer than Prednisone. Thanks in advance for your help!

  6. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 4, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Sometimes increasing dose of tramadol can help with pain. Probably prednisone is better choice other than non steroidal anti inflammatory, if additional meds needed. I agree with your vet

  7. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 4, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Could be side effect of prednisone or perhaps resistant urinary tract infection. SEe vet for recheck, as well as possibly ask about having urine culture done to see if bacteria involved.

  8. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 4, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    I dont think MSM alone will be suffice. I would work with a holistic vet on this one. You could consider acupuncture and/or chiropractic . You also could consider working with a veterinary homeopath who uses homeopathy, nutritional therapies and diet. To learn more about homeopathy, see my website http://www.doctordym.com Many homeopathic vets do offer phone consultations if none in your area.

  9. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 4, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    In my opinion, vaccinating a dog like this for DHPP with severe allergic skin disease can cause worsening of allergies in long run, and given immunity to most core viruses lasts for years to life of pet, I would skip nonessential vaccines at this age.

  10. My 1.75 year old 103 lb dog was diagnosed with IBD via endoscopy with biopsy about 4 months ago. He started at 20 mg prednisone per day and was tapered down to 5 mg prednisone every other day. He has been on 5 mg every other day for about 4 weeks and except a few very minor symptoms for a few days after a short stressful trip a week ago (when also he stole 1/2 piece of pizza) he is IBD symptom free and doing great. When I asked about alternative drugs or tapering more, the vet specialist dismissed me, stating that this is a \chronic\ disease and \some animals must be on prednisone for the rest of their lives\. In the beginning she talked about \remission\, which I thought meant we would have some drug free symptom free time periods. Now I feel like she’s dismissing us.

    I understand it is chronic. Maybe this isn’t your field of expertise, but how does she know he needs prednisone forever if we stopped tapering at 5 mg every other day? Was it because of those symptoms after our trip? Also, will this dose cause side effects? He is really still a puppy and I am worried that this drug will destroy his body. So will IBD, I suppose. He is also on FortiFlora, slippery elm and Pepcid 20 mg BID. Anyway, Thanks.

  11. I have a Rottweiller, 3 years of age. Was healthy and fit up to 2 weeks ago. Started to slow down and sleep, up to last week, I checked him for ticks and he was infested with them, brought him into the Vet and they did bloodwork, he came back positive for Anaplasma, he was given the shot Imidocarb, and put on Doxi and Predni, after 3 days he started to throw up food, he is eating and drinking, my Vet took him off both meds and put him on Ulcer meds, I put him back on the Doxi yesterday and today back on the Predni, so far he’s keeping them both down, but extremely sluggish and sleeping a lot, I’m constantly checking his breathing to see if he’s still here with me. When we did the first blood work his Red Platelets were at 5, where Normal should be between 175-500, I took him the next day and did another blood work and his platelets rose to 55, Tomorrow we go in for another blood test.

    This dog 3 months ago was big and healthy, happy and running and jumping. Now the opposite.

    Am I losing my dog?

    My questions:
    1. Will he get healthy again? Or will he always be slow and sluggish due to the Predni? We will see after tomorrow’s blood test I guess…

    2. What signs will I see if he is getting healthy, seems that the drugs Doxi and Predni are really really effecting him in everyway.

    3. Should I ask my Vet to check for any other “behind the scenes” abnormalties or viruses he may have? If so What?

    Send ANY suggestions or advise for me and my Otto.

  12. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 8, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Hard to say. Sounds like there is something else possibly going on here. I would ask your vet for referral to vet internist specialist in your area. Sometimes additional meds are needed to decrease autoimmune reaction such as aziothioprine or atopica, as well as supplements like melatonin to increase platelet numbers. As he responds, you should see his energy going up. Consider having complete thyroid profile as well to see if thyroid is low in this breed.

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 8, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Not sure how she knows he will need pred forever. I have treated many IBD dogs with homeopathy, nutritional supplements and dietary changes. With that being said, 5 mg pred every other day in dog this size is VERY low dose and shouldn’t’ cause problems. To learn more about homeopathy, go to http://www.doctordym.com Many homeopathic vets offer phone consultations

  14. Thank you for your time Dr. Dym. I’ll check out your website and maybe make an appointment with a holistic vet. Thanks.

  15. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 9, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    HI Shannon. I would be happy to help as well as I offer phone consultations to clients from around the country

  16. My 16lb rat terrier chihuhua mix has asthma and nasty cough. She we have had her on 5mg of prednisone daily for about a yesr. Whenever we try to taper back to 2.5mg and or every other day the cough comes back within a day or two. She has now been coughing constantly even though we have upped her meds to 5mg or 7.5mg of prednisone daily. We have also had her on theophylin by itself andin.concert with the prednisone and that did nothing. She is a rescue. We think she is about 9. We had to have 16 of her teeth extracted, she had mange whenwe got her about 2 years ago, was underweight. Now she has a bad cataract in her right eye so i think she is most likely blind in it. The prednisone has made her gain weight….she was 10 lbs when we got her and makes her super hyperactive when she isnt sleeping. Not sure what to do with her because i am afraid the prolonged prednisone will shorten her life but we also cant live with the constant coughing. Any insight would be appareciated.

  17. Just returned from the vet, we did another blood test and his platelet levels went up, great news. He also wanted me to cut back on the Predi to 25mg every 48hrs due to his panting and heavy breathing, he’s still slow and has no energy, He’s on the Doxi still at 250mg every 12 hours.

    I asked my vet about doing a thyroid check and he advised not necessary at this time. His lungs are clear, temperature is normal, stool is great, eating like a pig, drinking a lot of water from the Predni.

    But how can I get his energy and pep back, I was looking into Echinacea or other natural remidies. I’m sure there’s something else happening, but what????

  18. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 10, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Try gemmotherapies Tamarisk and Common Birch and Common Juniper. Learn more about these on my colleague’s website http://www.thepetwhisperer.com I disagree with your vet on thyroid, as my colleague and veterinary hematologist and expert Jean Dodds, DVM has explained how thyroid supplementation helps most dogs with low platelet numbers due to affect on bone marrow, even those without low blood thyroid levels. Hormone melatonin also seems to help the platelet numbers. I would also try antioxidants like proanthozone from 1800petmeds and transfer factor http://www.powerbod.com/2/michaeldym

  19. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 10, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Make sure your vet has ruled out heart disease. Other options include the great prescription drug for coughs called hydrocodone, which can help many dogs with chronic airway or heart disease coughs. I have also found the natural gemmotherapies helpful known as European Alder and European Hornbeam to be very helpful for tracheal and asthmatic coughs. Learn more about these on my friend and colleague’s website Stephen Blake, DVM at http://www.thepetwhisperer.com

  20. Our 2 year old female rottie is on a dose of 25mg prednisone a day. She has been having severe swelling and loss of appetite prior to the predisone decision. She lost almost 20 pounds before starting pred. Since being on pred for the last 6 months she has gained back a bit of weight, but in no regard is her appetite or thirst come back fully. She is also still getting her swelling for about 3 days straight every two weeks. her head, front and back legs, and all joints get about twice the size. Even the knuckles on her toes. poor girl. My question is even though she is on this strong of a dose, things are not fully letting up and she is urinating all over my house all the time with no control and very mopey and not herself is there something else we can be doing for her? They have done every test they say they can do. Multiple lymph node biopsies, tons of blood and urine work. Ultra sounds, X-rays, skin samples allergy tests. We are now at a stand still of just loading her full of these steroids when they are not even helping everything and making her irritable and sad, I have two little children and she is always so amazing with them I would hate to see her not enjoy them anymore. Let alone anything else heaven forbid happening. Is there a different medication that might help? Something I can ask my vet to do further? A specific diet? Supplements? thanks.

  21. Leena ThattayathuJuly 14, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    My Maltese 1.6 years old, 3.2 kilos was diagnosed for White Shakers Syndrome 3 weeks back. She was put on 10mg perdnisone once a day and valium to control the shakes. The vet took her off the valium after a week. After three weeks and a few days she has improved a lot but the shakes are still there. Is it alright to reduce her dosage to 5mg prednisone while she is still shaking or do we wait for the shakes to be gone completely? Our vet told to reduce the dosage when we are comfortable with it and warned us of long term harm. I am worried that her shakes will be back in full force and then we have to go up to 10 mg again. How long is “long term” for her size and dosage? Would antihistamines or cyclosporine be helpful for White Shaker Syndrome? Thanks lots

  22. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 15, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Antihistamines now help here. Not sure about cyclosporine as have never used it for this, but might be worth a shot. As for dosage reduction rate, length of therapy, that will vary depending on patient. You should be under close care and watch of your local veterinarian in terms of dose adjustments, etc I would also look at approaching this issue homeopathically. To learn more about homeopathy see the booklet on the website http://www.beyondflatearth.com as well as http://www.drpitcairn.com Many homeopathic vets do offer phone consultations as do I. My website http://www.doctordym.com also has info on this form of treatment.

  23. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 15, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    HI Megan Consider working with a homeopathic or holistic vet like myself on case like this for alternative approaches/nutritional supplements, etc. You could ask your vet about drug called atopica, which is steroid alternative or adjunct in autoimmune disorders. Also learn more about homeopathy at http://www.doctordym.com

  24. My parents dog Frosty, a 10 yr old female sheltie was diagnosed with protein losing enteropathy associated with IBD due to food allergies almost a year ago. She did very well on a combination of prednisone, azothiaprine, and a novel protein diet (kangaroo) for 8 months. After that time she declined and her vet and I determined that she developed an allergy to the kangaroo. Her internist recommended changing to a new novel protein and put her back on high doses of Pred. She has been on 20 mg of Pred a day for the last month, as well as her azothiaprine dose every other day. We recently dropped her Pred to 15 mg per day since her albumin levels have been within normal limits. Unfortunately, she has lost almost all her muscle, she’s a skeleton with a big pot belly. And has also developed a nasty skin condition, heavy scaly crusts over very thin skin, in some areas her skin seems in danger of tearing. I read that Pred can cause thinning of the skin so her vet agreed that we should start to decrease the Pred. She is still such a happy sweet girl. She has a voracious appetite (partly due to the Pred I’m sure) and such a will to live. Any suggestions on how I can improve her nutrition without triggering her disease? She is currently on a rabbit diet and I am going to switch her to the Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein diet next month. I read that switching the diet every 3 months before the immune system develops an intolerance is beneficial. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

  25. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 18, 2014 at 4:27 am

    HI Michelle. I would consider consulting with a holistic/homeopathic vet on this one, as it sounds like these more processed commercial diets and strong immunosuppressive drugs may not be answer. To learn more about homeopathic vet medicine, go to http://www.beyondflatearth.com and download booklet on homeopathy. Also see information on my website http://www.doctordym.com Many homeopathic vets like myself do offer phone consultations nationwide. I would also start her on transfer factor plus human version. To learn how to order transfer factor plus, go to http://www.powerbod.com/2/michaeldym

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