If your dog is suffering from allergies, skin conditions, or other chronic conditions, your veterinarian may prescribe prednisone as part of their treatment plan. Prednisone is a corticosteroid that helps to reduce inflammation and control the immune system. Although prednisone for dogs can be highly effective and safe in treating some conditions, it can also have serious side effects if not used correctly. This article will provide an overview of prednisone for dogs, including how it works, its benefits, and what to watch out for.

💊 Key Takeaways

  • Prednisone is a corticosteroid used to treat allergies, skin conditions, and chronic conditions in dogs by reducing inflammation and controlling the immune system.
  • It functions as both an anti-inflammatory and an immunosuppressant, depending on the dose administered.
  • Common side effects of prednisone in dogs include increased thirst, urination, appetite, panting, and lethargy, with severity often tied to the dosage.
  • Long-term use increases the risk of stomach ulcers, Cushing's disease, and other complications.
  • Prednisone can interact with other medications, especially NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), significantly increasing the stomach ulcer risk.

What is prednisone for dogs

Prednisone for dogs is a synthetic corticosteroid that mimics cortisol, a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which are tiny glands located near the kidneys.

Cortisol has a variety of functions in the body such as regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation, controlling the sleep/wake cycle, immune responses, maintaining blood pressure, and aiding the body in responding to stress and illness.

What is prednisone used for in dogs?

Prednisone is primarily used to treat inflammation, allergies, and immune system disorders in dogs, offering relief from symptoms such as itching and swelling.

Prednisone serves two primary functions in dogs: as an anti-inflammatory and as an immunosuppressant. The difference between the two depends on the dose used. Lower doses treat inflammatory conditions and higher doses treat immunosuppressant conditions.

1. Anti-inflammatory benefits of prednisone in dogs

Prednisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication that can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions in dogs. It works by reducing inflammation, which is the body's natural response to injury or infection. Inflammation can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, swelling, redness, and heat.

Lower doses of prednisone (0.5mg - 1mg per kg of body weight per day) are often effective in providing anti-inflammatory benefits. This will also reduce the severity of the side effects compared to when higher doses are used.

Some of the most common conditions that prednisone is used to treat in dogs include:

  • Allergies: Prednisone can be used to treat allergies such as environmental or seasonal allergies.
  • Skin conditions: Prednisone can be used to treat skin conditions such as "hot spots" or atopic dermatitis.
  • Ear infections: Ear infections are painful and I frequently used prednisone alongside any specific ear treatments. It dramatically reduces the inflammation and makes the dog feel much better.
  • Neurological conditions: Prednisone, at anti-inflammatory doses, can help with certain types of neurological conditions, such as Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD).

2. Using prednisone as an immunosuppressant in dogs

Prednisone's ability to suppress the immune system makes it a valuable tool in treating certain conditions in dogs. When the immune system becomes overactive, it can start attacking the body's own tissues, leading to autoimmune diseases. Prednisone can help calm this harmful overreaction.

Some conditions where prednisone may be used as an immunosuppressant include:

  • Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA): A condition where the body destroys its own red blood cells.
  • Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP): A condition where the body destroys its own platelets, important for blood clotting.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): A disease where the immune system attacks multiple organs.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): A group of conditions characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
  • Polyarthritis: A type of arthritis that affects multiple joints.

Important considerations:

  • Higher doses: Immunosuppressive effects often require higher doses of prednisone than those used for anti-inflammatory purposes. Doses upwards of 4mg per kg of body weight per day sometimes need to be used.
  • Long-term use: Prednisone as an immunosuppressant is often part of long-term treatment plans, increasing the risk of side effects.
  • Monitoring: Dogs on immunosuppressive doses of prednisone need close monitoring by your veterinarian for potential side effects and to assess the effectiveness of treatment.
dog on carpet

3. Prednisone is also used to treat certain types of cancers in dogs

Prednisone's properties make it a component in some chemotherapy protocols for dogs. Here's how it's typically used in cancer treatment:

  • Lymphoma: Prednisone can be a key part of treatment for lymphoma, a common type of cancer in dogs. It can be used alone for quick reduction of tumor size and to improve symptoms, or it can be combined with other chemotherapy drugs for a more sustained remission.
  • Other cancers: Prednisone may be used with other chemotherapy medications to treat certain mast cell tumors, leukemias, and other cancers.
  • Palliative care: In some advanced cancer cases, prednisone might be used to improve a dog's quality of life by reducing inflammation and pain associated with the disease.

Important considerations:

  • Combination therapy: Prednisone is rarely used as the sole treatment for cancer in dogs. It's most often combined with other chemotherapy drugs.
  • Side effects: The side effects of prednisone need to be carefully considered and managed, especially when used alongside other chemotherapy drugs.

4. Prednisone is used to manage Addison's disease effectively

Addison's disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, occurs when a dog's adrenal glands don't produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. Prednisone plays an important role in managing this condition by replacing the missing cortisol.

The prednisone doses to treat Addison's disease are typically very low, around 0.2mg per kg of body weight per day.

Here's how prednisone helps dogs with Addison's disease:

  • Replaces cortisol: Prednisone mimics the effects of cortisol, a hormone essential for regulating metabolism, stress response, and other vital bodily functions.
  • Controls symptoms: By supplementing cortisol, prednisone helps manage the symptoms of Addison's disease, which may include weakness, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
  • Lifelong treatment: Dogs, but not all, with Addison's disease, may require lifelong prednisone therapy, along with potential additional medications to replace aldosterone.

Note: While prednisone is effective in managing Addison's disease, it's important to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your dog receives the appropriate treatment and monitoring.

How is prednisone administered?

When prescribed for dogs, prednisone should always be given with food to help reduce stomach upset.

It is available in both oral and injectable forms and can be compounded into a flavored liquid for easier administration.

The dosage and frequency of administration will depend on the specific condition being treated and the individual dog's response to the medication. It is important to follow your veterinarian's instructions carefully and not to adjust the dosage without consulting them first.

If you accidentally miss a dose, don't panic, but try to give the missed dose as soon as you remember. However, if it's close to the time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue with the regular schedule. Never give a double dose to make up for a missed one, as this could lead to an overdose.

prednisone for dogs

How does prednisone work in dogs?

Prednisone for dogs works by binding glucocorticoid receptors in the body's cells, which then triggers a complex series of events that ultimately leads to a decrease in inflammation and immunosuppression. Prednisone is converted to prednisolone in the liver. In some animals, such as cats, this conversion may not happen effectively. In these cases, prednisolone may be a better choice.

What are the benefits of prednisone for dogs?

When used appropriately, prednisone is well tolerated by dogs, easy to administer, and is cost-effective. It can be an effective and safe treatment for a variety of conditions in dogs, including:

  • For dogs with allergies, prednisone can help reduce inflammation and itching
  • For dogs with immune-mediated conditions, prednisone can help to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation
  • For dogs with inflammatory conditions, prednisone can help to reduce inflammation and pain

Overall, prednisone is an effective and safe medication that can provide relief for many dogs suffering from a variety of conditions.

What are the side effects of prednisone in dogs?

While prednisone for dogs is generally safe and effective, it can cause some side effects in both the short and long term.

Side effects of prednisone in dogs are often dose-dependent, meaning the higher the dose, the more likely your dog is to experience side effects. Your veterinarian will use a higher dose of prednisone initially, with a tapering dose schedule as your dog's condition improves. Never stop prednisone abruptly without the consent of your veterinarian.

There are several potential side effects associated with prednisone for dogs, the most common of which include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Panting
  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Alopecia
  • Behavioral changes such as irritability and sometimes aggression
  • Increased susceptibility to skin and bladder infections
  • Muscle wasting
  • Weight gain

One of the most severe adverse effects of prednisone is stomach and intestinal ulceration. This is a relatively uncommon side effect but very serious when it occurs.

🚨 Gastrointestinal ulceration can occur within weeks or months of treatment and may lead to life-threatening perforation of the gastrointestinal tract if not addressed quickly. If you notice signs of vomiting, lack of appetite, and/or black stools, discontinue the medication and call your veterinarian immediately!

If you are giving your dog prednisone, it is important to be aware of any potential gastrointestinal side effects, such as vomiting or diarrhea, especially if there is blood present. If you notice any of these signs, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away.

Long-term prednisone use can induce iatrogenic Cushing's disease, which means the prednisone is causing and resulting in the symptoms of Cushing's disease. Symptoms of Cushing's disease include increased thirst and urination, panting, hair loss, muscle weakness and wasting, and a pot-bellied appearance.

If your dog is taking prednisone long-term, your veterinarian will monitor for signs of Cushing's disease and may recommend adjusting the dose of prednisone or may consider alternative therapy if the prednisone is causing the Cushing disease in your dog.

Precautions to take when giving prednisone to your dog

Prednisone is a powerful medication and should only be given to your dog under the guidance and supervision of a veterinarian. When giving prednisone to your dog, it is very important to:

  • Follow the dosing schedule prescribed by your veterinarian and do not skip doses.
  • Give the entire course of prednisone, even if your dog is feeling better, as abruptly stopping prednisone can lead to serious side effects.
  • Do not give prednisone to your dog if they are pregnant or nursing, as it can be harmful to the developing puppies.
  • Do not give prednisone to dogs with gastrointestinal ulcers or a history of gastrointestinal ulcers, as prednisone can make ulcers worse.
  • Do not give prednisone to dogs with a history of Cushing's disease, as prednisone can worsen the condition.
  • Do not give prednisone to dogs with a known allergy to the medication.
  • Do not give prednisone to dogs with corneal ulcers as it can prolong corneal ulcers and may lead to corneal perforation
  • Do not give prednisone to dogs with kidney disease as this can worsen the condition
  • Prednisone may interact with other medications your dog is taking, especially NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) where the use of prednisone with an NSAID can dramatically increase the risk of gastrointestinal ulceration

As always, it is important to talk to your veterinarian before starting your dog on prednisone, as they can help you to weigh the risks and benefits of prednisone treatment for your dog.

dog looking perplexed

Alternative treatments to prednisone for dogs

There are a few alternative treatments to prednisone for dogs that may be effective, depending on the condition being treated. These include:

  • Immunosuppressants such as cyclosporine (Atopica®) or azathioprine
  • Topical corticosteroids for localized skin conditions
  • Antihistamines for allergic reactions
  • Omega-3 fatty acids for inflammatory conditions
  • Probiotics for gastrointestinal conditions
  • Apoquel® (Oclacitinib) or Cytopoint® for allergic dermatitis and environmental/seasonal allergies

FAQs about prednisone for dogs

What is the typical dose of prednisone for dogs?

This depends on the condition being treated. Doses are based on the weight of the dog. For inflammatory conditions where inflammatory control is the main goal, the typical prednisone dose for dogs is 0.5-1 mg/kg/day.

For immunosuppressive conditions such as auto-immune diseases or allergic reactions, the typical prednisone dose for dogs is 2-4 mg/kg/day.

The daily doses may be divided into two doses spaced 12 hours apart. The absolute maximum dose any dog of any size should receive is no more than 80 mg/day.

These doses are general guidelines and you need to follow your veterinarian's recommendations as they know your pet best.

Can prednisone be used to treat lymphoma in dogs?

Yes, prednisone is often used as part of the treatment protocol for lymphoma in dogs. Some tests and chemotherapeutic protocols may need to be done before prednisone treatment can begin. The most common side effects of prednisone, when used to treat lymphoma in dogs, are the same as the general side effects listed above.

Can prednisone be used to treat ear infections in dogs?

Absolutely! Prednisone can help reduce inflammation of the ear canal, which can reduce pain and discomfort. This also makes it easier to apply medicine to the ear canal, as there will be less inflammation present.

In conclusion, prednisone is a powerful medication that can be used to treat a variety of conditions in dogs, but it also comes with a risk of serious side effects. When used properly and as directed by your veterinarian, the potential for adverse reactions is lessened. When deciding whether or not to give prednisone to your dog, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits with your veterinarian. There are also alternative treatments available that may be effective for your dog, depending on the condition being treated.