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Pet Pharmacy:
Steroids

 

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 Prednisone, 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 effects. 

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.