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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Prednisone for Dog Cancer

Updated: June 2nd, 2020

Cortisone drugs have a bad rap.

Pharmaceuticals like prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, budesonide, and triamcinolone are drugs in the cortisone family. And over the years these medications have achieved much attention as bad chemicals.

This is very likely due to what could be described as overuse.  These drugs of have historically been prescribed for a wide variety of medical conditions in medicine.  Since these meds provide symptomatic relief for many problems, a large number of people–as well as pets–have received them.  And the truth is that we have likely used them excessively in our patients in the past.

As time went on, the medical community began to realize that cortisone drugs have side effects that warrant other meds being tried first.  In other words, using higher doses of cortisone drugs when milder treatments could have been effective has been shown to be the wrong strategy.  We have witnessed this phenomenon in allergies and arthritis in particular.

However, when one is coping with a cancer diagnosis, the realization must be made that cancer is extremely aggressive.  In spite of all of our medical advances, it still resists treatment.  Thus, in order to get an edge on cancer to promote longevity and life quality, we need to use a broad range of tools to attack this disease.

Cortisone drugs have their place in cancer medicine.  The side effects that are seen with cortisone use are rarely life threatening, while systemic cancer is always life threatening.  Therefore if the drug can increase a patient’s lifespan and the disease will proceed relentlessly without it, it is sensible wisdom to at least consider its use.

Here are guidelines for the use of the most common drug in this class, prednisone, taken from Plumb’s Veterinary Handbook, the gold standard of veterinary drug texts:

1.  Glucocorticoids can mask disease! Try not to use them until you have a diagnosis.

2.  Make a specific diagnosis!

3.  Determine course from outset

4.  Determine endpoint before you starting treating

5.  Use the least potent form for the minimal time

6.  Know where glucocorticoids inappropriate. (Behrend 2007)

Prednisone and prednisolone are central players in cancer chemotherapy protocols, most commonly for lymphosarcoma.  And the good news is that they really make a difference in both life quality and life span.  Oncologists are achieving median survival times of 10-14 months using these chemo protocols.  This is most definitely worth considering.

The bottom line is that in some cases we have swung too far in being anti-drug.  We need a balanced approach to cancer treatment.

We should always consider diet, apoptogens, anti-metastatics, pain control as needed, and efforts to convert our patients to a cancer-fighting brain state.  We must consider surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (all of these are discussed in the Guide).

For more helpful information, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Don’t forget, when using cortisone drugs, decrease the dose of Apocaps to ¼-1/2 the labeled dose if your dog is receiving cortisone drugs, give with a full meal, and use this combination under veterinary supervision only.


Dr. D

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  1. Susan Kazara Harper on June 23, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Mary Anne, That’s the decision that only you and your dog can make. Remember that a prognosis is based on data from other cases, and your dog is his own unique self. There are many variables. Get him onto the best nutrition you can ( and really work with your vet. Statistics help guide us but are not a crystal ball. Liver support form your vet and/or from some lovely natural sources like milk thistle. Good luck!

  2. Mary Anne Bainbridge on June 13, 2015 at 5:32 am

    My 10 year Chihuahua was diagnosed with a pituitary macroadoenma 2 months ago. He is 8 pounds and was prescribed prednisone 7.5mg. I didnt give him that large does but started at 6.25mg. We have whittled it down to 3.25mg on the advise on my vet. he is worried about liver issues. my dog is having no ill effects of the high pred dose. no excessive drinking/peeing or accidents or eating. His long term prognosis is not good so i don’t understand why my vet is worried about his liver. I want to to be a as happy and comfortable for as long as possible. If the pred is controlling the edema and swelling from his timor shouldn’t we just lave well enough alone?

  3. Susan Kazara Harper on September 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Hi Zoey,
    Your vet or vet oncologist ultimately needs to be the one to advise whether preds is advisable for your dog. Prednisone is a steroid / anti-inflammatory which can be effective in treating cancers.

    Usually Piroxicam is the NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) of choice used with SCC. Pages 358 & 359 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide discuss this further.

    Each dog is unique and your vet is the professional on the scene, so to speak, who knows the ins and outs of your dog’s case. Please ensure you advise your vet not only of your choices but of any other supplements you may be using to help your dog. This will let your vet do his or her best job for you and your dog.

    Good luck!

  4. Zoey on September 2, 2014 at 8:30 am

    is it a good to giveprednisone to my dog with scc???

  5. Frankie Keane on May 5, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    My Dog Jonni was diagnosed with lymphoma 3 weeks ago. We have her on prednisone and I started her on a suppliments program called k9critical care…
    I just bought graviola extract…I don’t want to just start giving her new stuff, but after all I’ve read, it seems very aggressive towards cancer and I guess I want to explore all possibilities.
    Thoughts as to how much? Interactions?
    Thanks for your advice,


  6. Jane on January 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    My 3 year old Papillon was diagnosed with lymphoma 6 months ago. He is a big baby he is afraid of his own shadow — so we decided against chemo. The vet put him on predisone 2.5 mg 2 times a day. He is hungry all the time and has gained some weight. I think these are the side effects of the predisone. Recently his lympho nodes on his neck are swollen more then usual. He seems to have some trouble breathing — he snorts alot. He has always been a lazy dog but he seems to be a little more uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do. Is there a test I can do to see if the cancer has spread? I was told when he loses his appietite I will know he is sick but does the predisone mask that. I don’t want him to suffer. What do I do? Please help me I just lost my cat last week and I am not ready to suffer another loss.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Sorry about your cat and now your dog. If the lymph nodes are more swollen, it is likely that the pred is no longer working, so you need to get to your vet. Remember we never stop pred without a slow taper. Pred typically only keeps the lymphoma under control for about 2-3 months. I am sorry about everything you have been through, but I recommend you recheck your dog with your vet asap.
      All my best, Dr Sue

  7. Lora on December 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    My 80 lb mixed great dane/black lab has bone cancer. She can’t put any weight on her left back leg. It’s to the point where we have to carry her up the stairs. We were told she has 2-3 months to live. She is currently taking 10 mg of predisone, 100 mg of Tramadol, 1,500 mg of Pau D’ Arco, and 1,200 mg of Graviola. My question is would it be ok to give her more predisone? Her leg is quite swollen. I am so afraid of overdoing her. What is the max mg of predisone I can give her daily for the inflammation? And also I was wondering if she is getting enough Tramadol for pain and the max for that daily?

  8. Yamuna on August 22, 2012 at 12:57 am

    My 10-year-old male (not neutered) Lab has recently been diagnosed with prostate tumor (through x-ray and ultrasound) and vets here in India (Bangalore City) have indicated tumor removal surgery ASAP. It started off with urinary tract infection about 14/15 days ago with symptoms of incontinence, strong urine odor, and difficulty defecating in the last 7 days. He is on antibiotics since then (Ceftriaxone and Fortified Procaine Penicillin for 10 days and Taxim tablets twice daily thereafter). But it is very active, healthy, no fever or lethargy at all except for the increased urination. There is no loss of appetite or any other signs of external weakness.

    I would appreciate if you can suggest the best course of treatment and prognosis for my angel.

  9. Iva Morgan-Sloan on February 17, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Last July my precious cocker was diagnosed with Lymphoma at 5 years old.
    I decided homeopathy would be worth a try, together with a total change in
    food. I contacted a homeopathic vet. We worked together with homeopathic
    medicine. He also recommended all food be raw organic food including meat.
    I varied the food and fortunately Teddi loved it as “soup”. He remained his
    happy cheerful self and while the cancer did not shrink, the nodes did not
    enlarge either. Over time his back legs area lost their muscle, this did not
    interfere with his running around the garden etc.,. Fast forward to last month
    (January 2012) when I decided if I could find a way to shrink all the nodes and
    then return to homeopathic treatment that could be the answer. So I started
    Teddi on prednisone. Within two days he became very ill. His breathing became
    very difficult, he would no longer eat. His whole body became “skin and bone”
    and within a short time there was no choice but to have him put to sleep.
    I know there is no cure for this type of cancer but I do feel the homeopathic
    treatment did slow it’s progression considerably and was a very gentle treatment which certainly extended Teddi’s life and enabled him to enjoy every
    moment. It goes without saying that switching medicines was a dreadful mistake.

  10. lynn on January 6, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Hi, I understand that you may not time or first-hand examination to help me, but perhaps some of your other readers may or you can point me to other resources. My Golden was diagnosed with a mass cell tumor from a needle biopsy yesterday. This came on suddenly. She has had soft cell “fatty binine tumors for years.” This one had also seemed fatty until this week, when it swelled to, well, it looks like she has an oozing, bloody tennis ball lodged into her stomach. We noticed it Wednesday night. She had been perky and happy the day before! She is almost 15 and vet doesn’t recommend surgery given her age. Also discovered she has a thyroid problem. We are giving her benedryl, antibiotic (yesterday only), topical powder to dry her oozing tumor and special betadine cleanser to lightly clean her wound once a day. We are to start prednisone on Sunday (had to wait three days because she’s been on Dermax for arthritis). I bought your book last night and am half way through it. I’m learning a lot from it. But I’m a little frustrated that it doesn’t seem to address situations with older dogs that aren’t candidates for surgery, chemo or radiation. I’m going to gradually start the diet if she makes it long enough, but I would like to see you address more about treating dogs that are already at the end of their average lifespan. More hospice type care. My dog went from seemingly fine to two days later having a oozing surface tumor, not eating, needing help to stand, and intermittent light whining, which breaks my heart. She vomited last night after taking antibiotic which we cut out for the time being. I can’t stand to see her in pain, yet I don’t want to give up so quickly. I just found out she had cancer! But she can’t get up by herself and I’m not able to lift her alone. She’s 92 pounds even after being on a very limited organic commercial food diet the past two years (hence the thyroid problem) Vet says to try to hang on so she can start the prednisone on Sunday. She has pain med in interim, but she still whines especially when I leave her side. Is there anything else natural she can take to help with pain?

    Everything I find on mass cells just assumes tumor will be removed or inoperable ones will treated with chemo and radiation. If my dog was a couple of years younger vet says would definitely remove it, but not the wisest option now. With dogs this old the time that might buy isn’t to me worth the loss in quality of life. I would so appreciate it if you can point me and others like me to some resource.dealing with older dogs with Mast Cell tumors that aren’t candidates for surgery or chemo. Something beyond just diet and good interactions, something that helps with pain and is not prohibitively expensive.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on January 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm

      Dear Lynn
      I am sorry you and your loved dog are going through this.
      have you read the Guide? There is whole slew of information that could benefit your dog. If no surgery, you might discuss with your vet: combination apoptogens, oral and injectable neoplasene under veterinary supervision, matrix 3 cisplatin impregnated beads from Wedgewood pharmacy, antihistamines, antacids, dog cancer diet, beta glucans or modified citrus pectin, injectible corticosteroids, Kinavet or Palladia, among others.
      I hope this points you in a good direction
      Dr D

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