What is Corticosteroid Therapy?

There are several treatments for allergies in or dog, however when a severe reaction is occurring requiring relief, the administration of corticosteroids such as prednisone, usually provides the fastest and most dramatic relief. However, corticosteroids are not without their drawbacks. Several short term and long term side effects can occur as a result of their use. It is recommended that administration of corticosteroids for your dog's allergies be accompanied with veterinary supervision to recognize what the appropriate minimum dosage is to provide relief of allergic reaction, avoid side effects, and to recognize and address side effects if they occur.

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Corticosteroid Therapy Procedure in Dogs

When red itchy skin results in your dog as a result of allergies, corticosteroids such as prednisone, can provide rapid relief of the allergic reaction, usually within 24 hours. Results are usually quite dramatic, with most dogs experiencing relief of their symptoms. 

An allergic reaction is an immune system reaction to a substance in the environment. Prednisone works by suppressing the immune system, thereby reducing the misplaced immune system reaction. Corticosteroids work by mimicking natural hormones produced by the adrenal cortex that work to suppress substances that trigger the immune system response of inflammation. They can be given orally, which is most common and convenient for pet owners, or intravenously or subcutaneously by a veterinarian for faster administration.

Efficacy of Corticosteroid Therapy in Dogs

Corticosteroids such as prednisone are effective tools for the rapid relief of allergy symptoms in dogs. They can be of great benefit in preventing your dog's discomfort and the possibility of injury and secondary infections from your dog interfering with their skin to achieve relief. However, they are not without their drawbacks, and side effects, sometimes serious, can occur. It is very important to ensure that corticosteroids are not used longer than necessary, or in higher doses than necessary, to prevent side effects.

Corticosteroid Therapy Recovery in Dogs

Most dogs receive rapid relief from allergy symptoms after the administration of corticosteroids, and no recovery time is associated with the actual administration of the treatment. However, side effects may develop, so pet owners must be vigilant to identify and address any complications that may arise.

Cost of Corticosteroid Therapy in Dogs

The cost of corticosteroid therapy for dogs will depend on several factors, such as the size of the dog, the drug used, the method of administration, and the duration of treatment. For example, a prescription for oral prednisone administered at home may cost $40 or less for a one-month supply, whereas regular trips to the vet for an injection may cost $50 to $150 each time.

Dog Corticosteroid Therapy Considerations

Veterinary supervision is important to ensure that the minimum effective corticosteroid dosage is used to reduce side effects. 

Short term side effects as a result of allergy treatment with corticosteroids include:

  • Increased fluid intake and output
  • Increased appetite
  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Worsening of skin infections and other bacterial infections if present due to immune system compromise
  • Nausea, vomiting

Long term side effects that may occur if corticosteroids are used for several weeks or a few months include:

  • Suppression of urinary tract infection symptoms resulting in a UTI going undiagnosed
  • Development of thin skin, plaques on the skin, or loss of hair coat, demodectic mange
  • Obesity from increased appetite
  • Muscle weakness due to metabolic breakdown of muscle tissue
  • Inability to heal, chronic sores may result
  • Immune system suppression resulting in susceptibility to bacterial infection and other disease
  • Cushing's disease
  • Prediabetic dogs may experience onset of diabetic symptoms.
  • Inhibited growth in young dogs
  • Ulcers in the digestive tract
  • Fluid retention
  • Kidney problems
  • Hypertension
  • Changes in behavior, irritability, aggression, depression, anxiety

If side effects occur they can be mitigated by lowered dosage, discontinuance or by finding an alternative steroid or treatment. Daily use of corticosteroids is usually only necessary in the early phase of the allergic reaction, and can be tapered off to reduce side effects after initial treatment. Make sure you seek veterinary advice during treatment to adjust dosage and discontinue if no longer necessary. Also, alternative corticosteroids or allergy treatments may be available to address symptoms and reduce side effects. 

Certain medical conditions will result in side effects being more dangerous, and steroid treatment for allergy treatment in these dogs is not advised. Conditions such as diabetes, presence of organ compromise, fungal infection, pregnancy, or lactation may contraindicate steroidal therapy.

It should also be noted that prednisone and other corticosteroids may have interactions with other medications and veterinary advice to ensure that this does not occur should be obtained prior to corticosteroid treatment for allergies. 

Corticosteroid Therapy Prevention in Dogs

Allergic reactions in dogs can be difficult to prevent, but identifying potential allergens with your veterinarian can help you take steps to prevent exposure. Also, veterinary assessment prior to treatment with corticosteroids can identify medical conditions that could result in severe or life-threatening side effects or medications being taken that could interact with prednisone or other corticosteroids and negatively impact your dog's health.