Corticosteroids, such as Prednisone, are usually the first option that comes to mind when thinking of dog allergy treatment.
These medicines usually work very well and results can be seen very fast. For example, the amount of itching and scratching reduces dramatically withing 24 hours of taking Prednisone.
However, Prednisone for dogs comes with a lot of side effects as well.
In fact, steroids are perhaps one of the most controversial drugs in conventional medicine.
Many people think that with all the possible side effects, steroids should be avoided at all costs and there is no place for them in veterinary medicine.
This one-sided way of thinking is of course far from the truth. If used correctly (i.e. the right dose, the right patient, the proper length of time), steroids can and do bring relief to dogs with allergies.
What Exactly are Corticosteroids
Steroids are actually substances that are produced by the adrenal glands in all mammals. Three kinds of steroids are produced: mineralocorticoids, sex steroids, and the glucocorticoids.
Briefly, mineralocorticoids are responsible for maintaining the levels of the minerals sodium and potassium in the body.
Sex hormones are produced primarily by the ovaries in the female and the testicles in the male. Examples of sex hormones include the female hormones estrogen and progesterone and the male androgens such as testosterone.
Glucocorticoids affect glucose metabolism and are produced by the cortex section of the adrenal glands. They cause proteins (e.g. muscles) and lipids (e.g. body fats) to be chemically broken down and converted into glucose.
Also, the glucocorticoids cause carbohydrates stored in the form of glycogen to be converted back to glucose and deposited into the circulating blood.
It is glucocorticoids that are predominantly prescribed to treat canine health problems, such as allergies.
What Do Corticosteroids Do
Corticosteroids (or glucocorticoids to be exact) can do a number of wonderful things. They are:
- analgesic (pain-relieving)
- antipruritic (itch-relieving)
- immuno-suppressant (they suppress the immune system)
In addition, steroids can be used in the initial treatment of patients with severe shock.
Some forms of cancer such as lymphosarcoma and mast cell tumors also respond to high doses of glucocorticoids (with or without other medications).
The ability of steroids to control inflammation is the most common reason for their use in medicine, and they are used in dogs to treat not only allergies such as canine atopy, but also other inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, osteoarthritis (especially immune-mediated osteoarthritis, such as canine rheumatoid arthritis), and intervertebral disc disease.
The fact that steroids are immuno-suppressive means that they can decrease the body’s response to substances or organisms that are potentially harmful or foreign.
Therefore, steroids such as Prednisone are commonly used in dogs to control or decrease the dog’s response to allergens such as pollens, resulting in a drastic reduction in the allergy symptoms shown by the dog.
Prednisone for Dogs – Potential Side Effects
While steroids such as Prednisone for dogs have a lot of use in veterinary medicine, they can also cause a lot of side effects.
Short-term adverse effects include appetite gain, increased thirst and consequently increased water intake and urine output.
Long-term side effects are more serious and can affect a dog systemically, thereby greatly affecting the dog’s quality of life. Some such side effects
- Immune system weakening and suppression; this causes a higher risk of the dog getting infections.
- GI problems, including ulcers, pancreatitis, etc.
- Skin problems, such as a loss of hair, acne, skin infections, and bruising.
- Cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension.
- Liver problems, e.g. hepatopathy (a liver disease) may occur if excess steroids are used.
- Muscle and bone weakness caused by changes in calcium utilization, resulting in osteoporosis and possible cartilage destruction.
- Metabolic imbalance, resulting in obesity, fatty liver disease, and increased blood fat.
- Eye problems, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
- Hormonal problems, resulting in infertility, adrenal gland diseases, abortion, etc.
- Behavioral problems, resulting in aggression, depression, and lethargy.
Should Prednisone for Dogs be Used to Treat Allergies?
Since the side effects of long-term steroid use are numerous and very serious, should corticosteroids (e.g. predisone for dogs) be used to treat dog allergies?
Many veterinarians are of the opinion that, if used rationally and for a short period of time, corticosteroids can greatly help in the treatment of dog allergy symptoms (e.g. itchiness, skin irritation and inflammation).
As mentioned above, steroids can bring fast relief to dogs suffering from allergies.
The most important key to remember when using steroids to treat dog allergies is to use as low a dose and potency for as short a period of time as possible.
For example, before using oral steroids, topical steroid cream should be tried first.
Due to the long-term nasty side effects, dogs should not be put on long-term steroid therapy if at all possible.
For those who are on long-term therapy, regular monitoring is essential. Monitoring should include physical examination and blood and urine tests and should be given every two to three months.