Steroids - This class of drugs is generally
divided into two main categories: Anti-inflammatory
steroids and Anabolic steroids.
Anabolic steroids are commonly misused
by weight lifters and body builders to increase muscle
size and strength. Although this category of steroids
is sometimes used for certain medical conditions in
our pets, anti-inflammatory steroids are by far the
most commonly used drugs in this class for our pets.
Of the many uses for the anti-inflammatory
category of steroids include: Allergies, spinal
inflammation, brain swelling and inflammation, immune
mediated diseases, inflammation from arthritis, stomach
and intestinal inflammation.
Steroids of this class are highly effective
in reducing inflammation and swelling, and symptoms
of such are usually relieved in a short period of time.
Some of the more commonly used drugs of this class include
Prednisolone, Medrol, Dexamethasone, and Triamcinolone.
Typically, if prescribed orally, these
medications are given at an initial starting dose, and
then tapered to lower doses, until discontinued.
This class of steroids tends to mimic a naturally occurring
hormone in the body known as adrenaline. While
a patient is taking anti-inflammatory steroids, the
patient's production of adrenaline may decrease, as
the body "sees" the orally administered steroid
as the same molecule. If the steroids are then
discontinued abruptly, this decreased production of
adrenaline can be detrimental to the patient.
Therefore, a tapering of the oral dose of steroid is
necessary to prevent a possible deficit of adrenaline
in the patients body.
Side effects - of anti-inflammatory steroids
can be numerous. In dogs and less often in cats,
the most commonly seen side effects include an increase
in thirst and appetite, followed by an increase in urine
production, and possible weight gain.
In dogs, panting can be a common side
effect, and sometimes mood alterations can occur.
These mood changes may make the dog irritable and sometimes
can result in a "nice" dog suddenly snapping
at its owners. Often times, tapering the dose
of steroids down, will result in a decrease of the side
If side effects predominate while the
pet is on steroids, alternative medication may be required.
Long term usage of steroids (usually over a period of
months), may induce internal changes to the patients
body, resulting in an over-production of the patient's
cortisol (patient's own body steroid) production.
This condition, known as Cushing's disease, can necessitate
the need for specific treatment. Otherwise, simply
slowly reducing the dose of steroid, will result in
an automatic decrease in the patients cortisol levels.
If specific medication is necessary to
reduce the over-production, this can be a serious complication.
Skin lesions can occur in the patient with over-production
of cortisol, which can result in hair loss, or red,
angry, patches of skin which form scabs over time, or
result in a thickening of the skin in the affected area.