Corticosteroid (cortisone), closely related to cortisol, is a steroid naturally produced in the bodies of animals and humans. Corticosteroids act as a steroid hormone that is responsible for maintaining the salt to water ratio of the body, helping it break down fats as well as act as an anti-inflammatory. Corticosteroids encompass a classification of steroids known as glucocorticoids (cortisol) and mineralocorticoids (aldosterone). Both are produced from the adrenal glands located on the kidneys, but mineralocorticoids are associated with a hormone called aldosterone which regulates water and sodium (salt).
Corticosteroid replacement therapy (CRT) is typically administered in the form of a pill or as injections with a necessary prescription from a veterinarian. CRT can be utilized in response to a variety of medical conditions, but it’s primary goal in most cases is to return the body to its normal functionality and/or help with inflammation. Because this synthetic drug is relatively easy to administer and is mass-produced, it is a common suggestion among veterinarians and doctors alike.
The process for steroid therapy can involve several visits to the veterinarian’s office, or little to none at all. For certain dogs, an oral medicine, typically called prednisone, is prescribed and entrusted with the pet owner to administer to their pet at home. In other cases, injections may be recommended, in which case appointments will be scheduled. Each injection appointment will involve a shot of corticosteroids with the dosage typically starting high and ending low.
These injections are catabolic steroids, different from steroids negatively associated with misuse by athletes. Depending on a dog’s general temperament and stress level, the veterinarian and their staff may need to physically hold or harness the dog while administering the shot. Rarely, anesthesia may be required if a dog is particularly difficult to calm.
Whether receiving the steroids orally or by shot, the dog will be slowly tapered off of the initial dosage. This is done in order to “trick” the body back into normal immune system functionality. A routine check-up will be necessary for the veterinarian to confirm the dog is back to its happy, healthy self.
Replacing the failing steroids of the body, particularly in the case of Addison’s disease, is highly effective. Administering glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids orally successfully gives the body, particularly the adrenal glands, its functionality back. When steroids are prescribed in order to suppress the immune system, carefully dosed and administered medications can be equally as effective.
While steroid therapy attains its goal of treating inflammation, pain, and autoimmune disorders, the relief from these ailments may not be long-term. Particularly in cases of disease and cancer, symptoms can return and steroid therapy may be suggested by a veterinarian again. As is the case with all medical conditions, the true efficacy of a treatment is dependent upon the individual health and circumstances of the patient it’s attempting to heal.
While many studies point to the effectiveness of steroid therapy, some pet-owners voice concern over the short and long-term side effects that come with oral medications or injections.
Prednisone, or any other synthetic corticosteroids, generally take two to three hours for the body to process. Within the first 24 hours of receiving steroids, a dog will experience some side effects and their severity will depend on dosage level as well as individual health factors. As per the instruction of a veterinarian, the amount of time spent practicing steroid therapy will vary and thus affect recovery time.
As the body processes out the influx of steroids, a dog may experience symptoms for up to 24 – 48 hours after the last injection or oral intake. Most veterinarians will schedule follow-up appointments in order to ensure the dog’s body is responding well to the therapy with no severe adverse effects. There may be slight skin irritation at the injection site, which will clear up on its own within a few days as long as the dog does not lick or bite at it. Overnight stays are not generally required for steroid therapy.
A prescription for prednisone, depending on vet-recommended dosage and frequency, can cost around $10 to $15, but an exam will be required in order to obtain a prescription. Veterinary exams typically cost around $30 to $40, unless they’re an emergency visit (around $100).
If the steroids are to be administered as routine injections, each shot can cost anywhere between $30 and $100, with injections as a response to a specific area of joint pain (canine arthritis) being $100 to $300. In some cases, a veterinarian may prescribe additional medications to take with steroid therapy, often times these are to combat the short and long-term effects of steroid exposure.
The most vital consideration is the pet’s health and it is due to this that some pet-owners wish to avoid steroid therapy if at all possible. Steroids, such as prednisone, cause many adverse effects, such as:
While on steroids, a dog may have issues fighting off rudimentary illnesses, such as common colds, as the immune system may become suppressed. Some describe this as a treatment that successfully targets and treats one issue, but can make the rest of the body sick in the process. This is not unlike radiation therapy, popular among cancer treatments.
When considering steroid replacement therapy for your pet, understand that these side effects are mostly short-term, especially if the treatment is only needed once. If you have concerns, speak to your veterinarian about other possible methods and realize that steroid therapy is common practice.
There are a number of suggestions pet-owners may follow in order to help their dog avoid developing cancer, autoimmune disorders, allergic reactions, and inflammation:
Routine Appointments With a Trusted Veterinarian
The standard schedule of check-ups is once to twice a year, unless a dog has a condition that requires more attention. The key to potentially curing developing illnesses is to discover it early, before it does irreparable damage or becomes fatal. Not missing appointments to the vet is essential in applying this step.
Nutritious and Allergen-free Diet
To encourage and improve healthy body function, it’s important to research and understand a dog’s dietary needs as well as any foods that may be toxic or allergens. Keeping a dog on track with a protein-packed diet with occasional fruits, grains, and leafy greens can help keep them healthy and away from needing treatments, such as steroid therapy-- particularly in the case of allergies, which are often treated with steroids.
Research and Consider Supplements
The pet-care market is flooded with both natural and synthetic supplements geared towards improving dog healthiness. If you become overwhelmed, seek the advice and expertise of a veterinarian or homeopathic veterinarian. Supplements such as fatty acids found in fish oil, vitamin-E, and even leafy green herbs, such as parsley or rosemary, are all said to encourage a thriving immune system.
Promote Your Dog’s Natural Love for Activity
A healthy heart breeds a healthy mind and body. Despite whatever busy schedule you may have, always make time to get out and be active with your pet. Promoting routine exercise will benefit both your and their lifestyle. This keeps the body healthy and the immune system at its best to protect against illnesses.
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