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 can produce fast and good results. For example, the amount of itching and scratching reduces dramatically within 24 hours of taking Prednisone.
Unfortunately, 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, we should avoid using steroids 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. There are three kinds of steroids: 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. The cortex section of the adrenal glands is responsible for producing glucocorticoids. They chemically break down proteins (e.g. muscles) and lipids (e.g. body fats) and convert them 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.
Vets predominantly prescribe glucocorticoids 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:
- immuno-suppressant (they suppress the immune system)
In addition, vets frequently use steroids in the initial treatment of patients with severe shock.
Some forms of cancer (e.g. 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.
Vets use them to treat not only allergies such as canine atopy, but also other inflammatory diseases. For example, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, osteoarthritis (especially canine rheumatoid arthritis), and intervertebral disc disease.
Steroids are immuno-suppressive. It means that they can decrease the body’s response to substances or organisms that are potentially harmful or foreign.
So, steroids such as Prednisone are commonly used in dogs to control the dog’s response to allergens such as pollens. As a result of this drug use, the dog usually shows a drastic reduction in the allergy symptoms.
Potential Side Effects of Prednisone for Dogs
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. This can of course greatly affect the dog’s quality of life. Some such side effects include:
- 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 We Use Prednisone for Dogs to Treat Allergies?
Since the side effects of steroid use are numerous and serious, should we use corticosteroids (e.g. predisone for dogs) to treat dog allergies?
Many veterinarians believe that if they use corticosteroids rationally and for a short period of time, the drug can greatly help reduce dog allergy symptoms. For example, steroids can bring fast relief to dogs with symptoms such as itchiness, skin irritation and inflammation.
The most important key to remember when using steroids to treat dog allergies is:
- Use as low a dose as possible,
- Use as low potency as possible,
- Only use steroids for a short a period of time.
For example, before using oral steroids, try using topical steroid cream first.
Due to the long-term nasty side effects, we should not put dogs 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.