Pain Relief Medications (Steroids) for Dogs and Cats

What are steroids?

Steroids are medications that relieve pain and inflammation. Pharmaceutical corticosteroids mimic natural steroids, but are in a much higher concentration. They are generally used for emergency rather than chronic treatment of painful conditions. Because steroid drugs have serious side effects, they require a prescription, and your veterinarian may request periodic blood tests to confirm your pet's liver remains healthy. Some veterinarians recommend supplementing with SAMe (Denosyl) to protect the liver.

Key facts about steroids for dogs and cats
  • Steroids are given to pets for emergencies, inflammation, allergic reactions, and cancer.
  • Steroids help control inflammationand allergic reactions, and help reduce pain.
  • Potential side effects include: stomach ulcers, delayed wound healing, thyroid hormone suppression, immune suppression, increased appetite, fluid retention, weak bones, and thinning hair/hair loss.
Recommended pain relief medications (steroids) for dogs and cats
Examples of steroids used for pets

Pain medication for pets can be applied topically to your pet's eye and skin for pain relief (as a steroid cream), taken orally, or as a steroid injection into the joints and muscles. Oral or injectible forms of prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, and triamcinolone are used to treat pets with bone and joint pain. These medications require a prescription.

Pet health problems helped with steroids

Steroids affect every organ, and possibly every cell in your pet's body. They are used to control inflammation, allergic reactions, and pain. They can be used for emergency treatment when your pet's system is overreacting and causing life-threatening swelling, and for routine use to control pain, allergic symptoms, itching, and swelling. Steroids are routinely used to supplement pets whose adrenal glands aren't producing steroids; and they can be used to treat some forms of cancer.

Steroids: The good and the bad

Steroids are powerful healing drugs. Like any powerful drug they can also cause harm. Some steroid side effects that may occur in your pet include stomach ulcers, delayed wound healing, thyroid hormone suppression, immune suppression so that the body doesn't fight infection well, high blood sugar, and swollen liver. Many pets will drink more and urinate more (polydipsia and polyuria or PUPD). Some pets will have an increased appetite, and some will have fluid retention (edema).

With long-term use, your pet's bones may weaken (osteoporosis), skin may thin and hair may fall out (alopecia). If given to pregnant pets, fetuses can be malformed, or they may be miscarried. Steroids can affect your pet's sense of well-being. Some pets feel happy, and others become irritable.

Prednisone vs. Prednisolone

Prednisolone does not have to be converted by the liver to an active molecule, but Prednisone does. For pets with liver failure, Prednisolone is preferred.

Making steroid use safer for pets
  • Use Omega 3 Fatty Acids like Super Pure Omega 3, Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet (for dogs), Brite Coat Chews, and Lipiderm to reduce inflammation so your pet is able to use a lower dose of steroids, or doesn't need to take them as often.
  • Use the smallest dose of steroid that is effective.
  • Start the steroid before the problem becomes severe, rather than waiting until it is severe.
  • Provide your pet with plenty of water because steroids often increase thirst. Provide for more frequent potty breaks.
  • Weigh your pet periodically, and note changes in appetite. Keep your veterinarian informed of these changes.
  • Have blood and urine tests as requested by your veterinarian.
  • Because pets on steroids can develop stomach and intestinal ulcers, check the stools for the presence of blood. Blood from an ulcer passes through the gut along with food and is digested into a black, tarry substance. Finding a blackish stool is reason to stop medicating. Notify your veterinarian immediately.
  • Never give your pet steroids without your veterinarian's advice.
Max's Tip

Prednisolone should not be stopped suddenly. There should be a gradual reduction in dosage before stopping.