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PrednisoneDr. Mok the “Pet Doc”
COASTAL ANIMAL VETERINARY CLINIC
This week’s article covers a widely known universal prescription drug: PREDNISONE. In use over fifty years within the human and animal medical fields, it has the distinction of being a savior or a killer, depending on the circumstances. This article covers some of the myths and realities of this medication. Prednisone, as with any prescription drug, is only to be prescribed by a physician or veterinarian. Veterinarians have been taught all the ramifications of whatever drug is prescribed. They have also been taught all the interactions of the drug, as well as any drug-related effects. Finally, we will cover how this or any drug may affect concurrent diseases. EXAMPLE: diabetes.
In the broadest sense, prednisone is a drug in the class of steroids. This brings up one myth. All steroids are the same. Actually there are two classes of steroids. The first is corticosteroids and the second is anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are those drugs that can build muscle mass. Consequently, some athletes have abused these drugs and many competitions regularly screen for illegal anabolic steroid usage. The two classes of steroids are polar opposites. Prednisone is in the class of corticosteroids. While anabolic steroids help build muscle mass, corticosteroids can be “catabolic” which means that they can cause muscle mass loss over a period of time. Interestingly enough, when I was in Australia, some veterinary practitioners would prescribe anabolic steroids to animals that were on long-term prednisone. They felt that this would offset muscle loss due to prednisone therapy. Here in the United States, anabolic steroids are cautiously used due to the potential for human abuse. Some clients have claimed that prednisone makes their pet aggressive. Although this is not a commonly listed side-effect of this medication, sometimes I wonder if it is because people misinterpret prednisone as actually being an anabolic steroid. Anabolic steroids can produce aggressive behaviors. The second big myth is that prednisone is really dangerous and can kill your pet. Yes and no. Actually, for many diseases, if it were not for rational use of prednisone, your pet would surely die. It is easy to classify things as black or white, but there are always shades of grey between black and white. Another notable point is that all pets produce their own corticosteroids, like prednisone, normally and naturally. In fact, cortisone production is a necessity in a dog or cat’s body. Failure of cortisone production can lead to a disease called Addison’s disease that can be fatal. However, it is true that doctors and veterinarian are able to prescribe prednisone at much higher doses than the body may normally be able to manufacture. Based on how high a dose is prescribed, the owner may notice side effects in their pet. The higher the dose of prednisone given, the greater risk for side effects. Different levels of doses have profoundly different results when given to your pet.
The most common side effects seen with prednisone are increased water intake, and, consequently, increased urination. Appetite may increase. Other side effects can be panting, upset intestinal tract: vomiting and diarrhea. Long- term usage may change the skin and coat, as well as behavior and body shape through loss of muscle mass. Long term usage in dogs can lead to signs of hyperadrenocorticism or Cushings disease. This disease can occur in older dogs due to the dog producing too much of its own cortisone. Thus by giving too large and long a dose of prednisone, the dog may be at risk for this same disease. Due to all the possible side effects of this drug on every portion of your pet’s body, your veterinarian may recommend routine checkups while your pet is on this medication. The checkups may also include blood work or other testing to insure your pet’s well being. Prednisone interacts with many other drugs. Your veterinarian knows about these and other potential bad drug reactions that may develop with concurrent prednisone usage. A common safe practice is to properly wean your pet off of long term prednisone usage to insure that his/her body starts producing cortisone naturally. These higher doses of prednisone lead your pet to believe that it does not need to produce cortisone anymore. Again, failure of the body to produce cortisone can lead to Addison’s disease or hypoadrenocorticism that can be fatal.
When it comes to prednisone or any other prescription medication, rely on your veterinarian to guide you to the best medication for your pet. Safe drug therapy insures a safe outcome in the pet’s health. Do not diagnose and medicate your pet. Leave that job to a professional, your veterinarian.
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