Sometimes, prednisone for dogs can seem like a ‘magic’ pill that makes dogs feel better when they suffer from conditions such as allergies, immune-mediated diseases, or even cancer…
But while this drug can help a lot of dogs, it’s important to compare the risks versus the benefits, especially when using it long term.
Below, you’ll learn some important things, including what prednisone is, what it’s used for, the most common side effects, its use in dog cancer, and more.
Topics I’ll cover include…
- Prednisone versus Prednisolone.
- What type of drug is prednisone?
- What is prednisone used for in dogs?
- How long it takes for prednisone to start working.
- What are the side effects of prednisone for dogs?
- Why it’s important to use the ‘lowest effective dose’ of prednisone.
- Monitoring recommended for dogs who use prednisone long-term.
- Contraindications (use caution with prednisone if your dog has any of these conditions).
- Potential drug interactions (which drugs don’t mix well with prednisone).
- HOW to give your dog prednisone.
- WHEN to give your dog prednisone.
- How to stop giving prednisone: The importance of stopping slowly rather than suddenly.
- Prednisone dosing information for dogs.
- Prednisone for dogs with cancer.
- Alternatives to prednisone for dogs.
Is It Predni-sone or Predni-so-lone?
If you’ve had dogs or other pets for whom steroids were prescribed, you may have given them prednisone or its very similar cousin prednisolone—or even both forms at different times in your pet’s life.
To avoid confusion, know that these two drugs are practically equivalent—in fact, they’re really just prednisone in two different states. So, the names are often used interchangeably.
Basically, if your pet takes prednisone into their body, their liver naturally converts it to prednisolone.
For certain pets—mainly cats, horses, or individuals of other species who are in liver failure—the conversion to prednisolone is more difficult. So, for those individuals, prednisolone is the preferred drug.
However, for dogs who are healthy—or who have a health condition that doesn’t affect their liver—either form of the drug may be used.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use the term ‘prednisone’ throughout this article—but the same information generally applies to prednisolone, too.
Also, prednisone is commonly shortened to ‘pred’ in conversation—so I’ll use that term in this article, too.
What Type of Drug Is Prednisone?
Prednisone is what’s known as a “glucocorticoid.”
Besides prednisone and prednisolone, commonly used glucocorticoids in pets include hydrocortisone, dexamethasone, methylprednisolone, triamcinolone, and others.
These drugs are steroids. But, they’re not what might typically come to mind when you think of a “steroid.”
Many of my clients assume that when I mention steroids, I’m talking about testosterone—an understandable mistake, since anabolic steroids like testosterone are widely publicized on the news, especially when it comes to sports and athletes.
However, that’s not what prednisone is. So, rest assured your furry friend won’t build up their muscles or ‘hulk out’ when they take prednisone.
The body naturally produces different kinds of steroids.
One category of steroids govern the reproductive system (for example, androgens/testosterone, estrogen, and progestogen).
Another type of corticosteroids are produced by the adrenal glands. Within that group, there are two forms…
- Mineralocorticoids, which affect electrolyte and body water balance.
- Glucocorticoids—prednisone is a synthetic glucocorticoid.
Glucocorticoids mimic cortisol, a natural substance that fights inflammation, has many effects on metabolism, and is involved in the body’s fight-or-flight stress response.
Glucocorticoids mimic cortisol, a natural substance in the body that fights inflammation and affects metabolism. Cortisol is also released in response to stress.
The effects of glucocorticoids are far-reaching, with impacts on nearly every cell type and body system in dogs and other mammals.
That’s part of the reason they can be used to treat a lot of different health problems—and also the reason why so many side effects are possible when using prednisone for dogs.
What Is Prednisone Used For In Dogs?
Frankly, quite a lot!
Because of its powerful anti-inflammatory effects, prednisone can aid with a wide variety of medical conditions.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some of the most common veterinary uses of prednisone…
Prednisone for Dogs With Allergies
One of the most common reasons this drug is prescribed is for allergic conditions, which tend to make a dog very itchy and prone to scratching and licking themselves until they get skin infections.
Prednisone can provide some much-needed relief and help to prevent future occurrences. It’s also helpful in treating sudden allergic reactions, such as a swollen muzzle following a bee sting.
Prednisone for Dogs With Ear Infections
Along the same lines, prednisone can also be very helpful for ear infections.
The ear canals are an extension of the skin, and therefore ear problems often benefit from similar treatments to skin problems.
Prednisone for Dogs With Cancer
Prednisone is helpful with a wide variety of cancers, especially lymphoma.
Prednisone is often used for dog cancer, especially lymphoma. But there are things you can do in addition to meds like pred — diet, supplements, nutraceuticals, and mind-body treatments that help dogs with any type of cancer.
Sometimes, prednisone is used as part of a chemotherapy protocol and has a direct effect on cancer growth and spread.
Other times, it’s used for what we call “palliative therapy,” meaning that whether or not it changes the course of the disease, it can make your dog feel a lot better.
While it’s not right for every dog nor every type of cancer, for some patients, prednisone can really give them a good quality of life. I’ll provide many more details on this in the section below on Prednisone for Dogs With Cancer.
Prednisone for Immune-Mediated Conditions in Dogs
Just like humans, dogs can be affected by a number of different diseases that occur as the result of an overactive immune system.
This can include chronic conditions such as lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and certain neurological conditions, to name a few.
It also includes sudden, life-threatening immune reactions like immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), a condition in which the body rapidly destroys its own red blood cells for reasons that are often unknown.
Prednisone for Addison’s Disease in Dogs
Addison’s disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, is a condition in which the adrenal glands don’t produce enough of two kinds of hormones: cortisol, as well as another class of hormone, called mineralocorticoids. The disease is most common in certain breeds such as Standard Poodles and West Highland White Terriers.
This condition is fatal left untreated but can be managed well for years with the use of certain medications. Another drug is given to address the mineralocorticoid deficiency, but prednisone is used to fill the cortisol gap.
During times of stress (such as if an Addisonian dog is ill or needs to board for a little while), prednisone can be lifesaving.
Prednisone for Coughing and Asthma in Dogs
Prednisone can be very helpful for certain types of coughs, especially genetic conditions like a collapsing trachea (a windpipe that narrows too much) and chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
It’s also used for some patients with asthma, a condition more common in cats than in dogs.
Prednisone for Dogs With Arthritis and Pain
While it doesn’t help with pain directly, prednisone does decrease inflammation. In that manner, it can slow down the progress and painful inflammation of some conditions.
Prednisone is a poor choice for pain control by itself–but may be used in combination with other medications, to address pain due to inflammation.
By itself, prednisone is a poor choice for pain control. Instead, it may be used in combination with other medications.
For the most up-to-date pain recommendations from Dr. Dressler, please see this article.
Topical Prednisone Treatments for Dogs
The above uses primarily refer to the drug being given by mouth. However, sometimes prednisone and other glucocorticoids are used locally on the surface of the body.
A good example would be certain ointments or creams, which may be used for skin or ear infections.
Another example is eye drops, which help with redness and irritation from seasonal allergies.
In general, topical forms of prednisone mean less side effects than giving the drug systemically (into the whole body via ingestion or injection). So, these are a good option for many dogs with localized or temporary lesions, such as allergic rashes.
How Long Does It Take For Prednisone To Work For Dogs?
It’s possible to see some effects in your furry pal from the very first dose, within hours. But, all dogs are individuals, and it may take longer to see positive effects for some—especially for more serious or chronic conditions.
Since it works quickly and provides relief quickly for so many pups, it’s sometimes thought of as a “miracle” pill. And truly, prednisone does greatly improve the quality of life for many dogs.
That being said, no medication is perfect. And prednisone is no exception, as side effects (some very common, some less common) are possible…
What Are the Side Effects of Prednisone in Dogs?
When it comes to side effects, there’s good news and bad news…
The good news is, in the short term, prednisone has a low risk of serious side effects.
The drug has a wide safety margin, so it’s unlikely your dog could overdose or ingest a toxic dose of the medication (although if your buddy’s gotten into the bottle and eaten a lot of tablets all at once, it’s still a good idea to be safe and call your vet or the ASPCA Poison Control line).
The bad news is, long-term use has concerning side effects that concern us—and serious problems are possible with extended use.
The longer your dog uses prednisone, the higher their risk of serious side effects—so, it’s best to use only as much as needed and no more.
The most common side effects you’ll see with prednisone, even with short-term use, include…
- Increased urination.
- Increased thirst.
- Increased appetite.
- Upset stomach: nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Decreased energy.
- Behavior changes such as restlessness, nervousness, depression, aggression, increased barking, or other changes (of the side effects listed here, this is the least common).
FYI: Those Common Side Effects Come On FAST!
The increases in appetite, thirst, and urination can be VERY pronounced! And just like the positive effects of pred are seen quickly, so are these common side effects. They can start within hours to days following the very first dose!
So don’t be too surprised if you see your dog panting, thirsty, and ravenous within a day or starting pred. Yes, it can happen THAT quickly.
Helping Your Dog to Cope with Pred Side Effects
Try these tips to help you and your canine pal better cope with these side effects…
- Offer your pup as much water as they need. Since prednisone stimulates increased urination, your dog needs to drink more water to avoid dehydration.
- Take your furkid outside to use the bathroom more often. Increased urine production is unavoidable, so if they try to ‘hold it in’ too long, urinary tract infections can develop.
- Remember, even well-trained dogs can have urinary accidents in the home because of the need to go more often, so please be patient with your pup if that happens.
- Give prednisone with a bit of food. Avoid giving it on an empty stomach, and you’ll decrease the chances of an upset tummy.
If Your Dog on Pred Is Always Hungry
Your dog is likely going to be pretty hungry — even ravenous — on pred. But you don’t want to overfeed your pal, or they could gain weight. So, what should you do?
That way, they can avoid the discomfort of hunger, while also avoiding health problems that come from increased weight gain. Watch/listen now:
If Your Dog on Pred Is Nauseous
To learn more about recognizing subtle symptoms of nausea in dogs—with some advice on how to treat nausea—you may also want to watch the following video from Dr. Dressler and veterinary oncologist (and co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide), Dr. Sue Ettinger.
The video focuses on dogs with cancer, but the information is relevant for any cause of nausea…
As I mentioned, the above are the most common side effects you’ll see with pred. But…
Long-Term Side Effects with Prednisone for Dogs
More serious prednisone side effects can occur, especially with long-term use. These include…
- Stomach ulcers.
- Weight gain.
- Muscle loss.
- Delayed wound healing.
- Hair loss or skin problems.
- Yeast or bacterial infections (especially at high doses, your dog’s immune system can be impacted).
- Liver problems.
- Diabetes mellitus.
- Decreased production of thyroid hormone.
Also: Prednisone-Induced Addison’s Disease
Prednisone-induced Addison’s disease, a potentially fatal condition where the body doesn’t produce enough cortisol or other hormones from the adrenal glands.
This happens when prednisone is used so often that the body adapts—it doesn’t produce cortisone the way it used to because it’s so accustomed to receiving an external supply.
And: Prednisone-Induced Cushing’s Disease
This is the opposite of Addison’s disease—in Cushing’s, there is too much cortisol in the body. It’s not as dangerous as Addison’s in the short-term, but can lead to a variety of health problems (weight gain with a ‘pot-belly’ appearance, muscle loss, decreased immune function, UTIs, skin problems) over the long-term.
Despite the possible side effects, many dogs do well overall with prednisone. We don’t call it a “miracle” for nothing. The key is to use the drug responsibly—to find the right dose that maximizes positive benefits, while reducing negative side effects.
Also note: Your dog is unlikely to experience ALL of these side effects, or even most of them.
Bottom Line: The Most Common Side Effects Most Dogs See
Increased hunger, thirst, and urination are the most common—and for many dogs, that’s all they’ll ever experience, especially if using prednisone short-term or on an every-other-day dosing schedule in the long-term.
While serious side effects are possible, they won’t happen to all dogs.
So, don’t let the possible side effects scare you too much, especially if your dog really needs prednisone to manage illness and you work with your vet to find the ‘lowest effective dose’…
An Important Goal: Using the Lowest Effective Dose of Prednisone for Your Dog
Because of its effectiveness for so many conditions, there was a time when prednisone was overused.
And, when your dog experiences relief from a medical condition, it’s tempting to just continue the medication rather than looking into alternatives.
However, because of the potential side effects, especially those associated with long-term use we discussed above, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of prednisone therapy.
As a general rule of thumb, if your dog needs long-term prednisone, your veterinarian will try to use the lowest effective dose of the medication.
If your dog needs prednisone long-term, your vet will help you find the lowest effective dose.
How to Know the Lowest Effective Dose for Your Dog’s Case
The lowest effective dose is ONLY as much as your buddy needs—but no more than that. How do you know what that dose is? You ask your veterinarian.
With serious side effects for long-term use AND a terrible risk for stopping/slowing dosing the wrong away … don’t try to adjust the dose on your own!
Never stop prednisone without talking to your vet first. See below for The Right Way to STOP Giving Prednisone, and learn why it can be dangerous to stop pred suddenly.
Be Patient with the Process
As you can imagine, this may take some trial and error. Your veterinarian might start at a low dose and slowly add more pred over time.
Or, your veterinarian might start at a dose they think will be low enough, and then have to lower the dose later because it turns out your dog has less tolerance than other dogs.
Your job is to administer the right dose at the right time and take careful note of any side effects that happen. And then tell your veterinarian if you see something serious or unexpected, so they can adjust doses if necessary.
With time and some effort, some dogs with chronic conditions can do well and live a good quality of life on an appropriate prednisone dose.
Other dogs may use it short-term, as needed for flare-ups of a medical condition.
There’s no one-size-fits-all, so be sure to check with your vet about the options available to your furkid.
Monitoring for Dogs Taking Prednisone Long-Term
If your dog needs to take prednisone over the long-term, periodic bloodwork or other testing is necessary.
These diagnostic tests help to detect serious side effects before they become a big problem. In that way, they can allow your dog to use prednisone safely.
And if the tests all come back normal, that’s great news! It means your furry pal is probably tolerating the drug well.
Routine bloodwork is necessary for long-term prednisone use. Without it, your vet can’t be sure you are maximizing the positive effects of pred while minimizing the risk of negative side effects.
Monitoring for dogs on prednisone may include:
- Bloodwork (this monitors many things, including liver and kidney function and blood sugar levels).
- Urine analysis (this aids in interpretation of bloodwork values, and helps to monitor for UTIs secondary to immune suppression).
- Adrenal function testing (this is not typically done as often as the other tests, but may be needed at some point).
Ideally, it’s best to perform “baseline” bloodwork BEFORE your dog starts using prednisone.
That way, any changes to blood values will be easier to interpret.
Prednisone Itself Can Change Liver Values
Note that prednisone itself can cause some increases in liver function values. We have found that these changes are usually NOT indicative of a problem in the actual functioning of the liver.
But these changes in liver values CAN make some tests confusing to interpret. Your veterinarian will use their clinical experience to decide which changes are potentially problematic.
If they decide there may be a problem, they will recommend further testing for your buddy, such as an abdominal x-ray or ultrasound.
Staying on a schedule for bloodwork—and following up with your vet’s recommendations in a timely manner—can help to catch any changes early on, and potentially prevent adverse side effects of the drug.
Contraindications: Which Dogs Should NOT Use Prednisone?
As with all drugs, there are some dogs who should avoid prednisone.
There may be some exceptions, where the benefits outweigh the risks. But in general, you’ll want to proceed with caution if your dog…
- Has liver or kidney disease.
- Is pregnant, lactating, or is a puppy (prednisone may affect growing fetuses and pups).
- Has a heart condition.
- Has diabetes.
- Has a bleeding condition or takes blood thinners for any reason.
- Currently has an infection or wound, unless pred is being prescribed FOR the infection or wound. Sometimes lower doses are used to help break the itch and inflammation cycle, which is common and appropriate. To reduce the risk of further infection during pred use, be sure to give the full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if your buddy is already feeling better.
Prednisone and Drug Interactions
Prednisone combines well with many other drugs, but always check with your veterinarian to make sure they know ALL meds your dog is on.
Drugs that don’t mix well with pred include…
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, pet-safe versions of Ibuprofen and similar drugs). Using pred and an NSAID together can increase the risk of severe stomach ulcers.
- Other immunosuppressive drugs.
- Other hormone-based drugs, such as estrogen.
- Certain diuretics (also known as water pills).
- Blood thinners.
Prednisone can also affect the metabolism and effectiveness of certain other drugs, including chemotherapy (see the Prednisone for Dogs With Lymphoma section for more information).
It’s important to talk to your veterinarian about all medications your dog is taking, including supplements, so they can check for potential interactions.
To prevent drug interactions, talk to your vet about ALL medications your dog is taking, including supplements.
Prednisone and Supplements
Some supplements can also have mild anti-inflammatory benefits, including supplements often used in dogs with cancer. For example, Apocaps contains several dietary apoptogens that also have anti-inflammatory benefits. So if you’re using this formula (or any other supplement with anti-inflammatory benefits), you may need to change the dosage to reduce the risk of an upset stomach.
Your vet might not worry about supplements and pred, but many recommend using half or a quarter of the usual dose.
In some cases, your veterinarian may lower your dog’s dose of prednisone and use a full dose of Apocaps or other supplement. However, this decision must be made by your veterinarian, as they know your dog best.
Never, ever change the dose of prednisone without checking with your vet first, because your dog can suffer a really terrible fate if they suddenly don’t get enough corticosteroids.
HOW to Give Prednisone to Your Dog
Prednisone is a prescription drug, so you must get it from a prescribing veterinarian.
Either it will be filled in your veterinarian’s office, or you’ll take a prescription to a pharmacy to get the medication filled (most human pharmacies can fill canine prescriptions, especially for common drugs like prednisone).
The most common form of prednisone you’ll receive is a pill—a white tablet. This form of the drug is widely available with a prescription, comes in several sizes, and is very affordable.
Hide Pred In a Treat 🙂
Giving prednisone with food—rather than on an empty stomach—decreases the risk of an upset tummy from the medication. That’s why your vet will probably to tell you to give it with meals or with a snack.
Giving with food is a good way to make the pill-giving easier while also decreasing the risk of an unpleasant side effect.
To coax your dog into taking the pill, try hiding it in a type of food they love—something that’s a special treat.
Consider foods that will make it unlikely your dog would remove the pill—sticky peanut butter or Cheez Whiz, or a piece of hot dog that your pup will swallow whole rather than chewing and discovering the pill. Or, take some of their favorite canned food and roll it into a ‘meatball’.
Of course, keep in mind your buddy’s tolerance for these foods. Only give them as much as needed for them too take their medicine—too many treats could cause a stomachache or lead to weight gain or other health problems.
Liquid formulations are also an option. If your dog doesn’t do well with pills, ask your vet about alternatives.
WHEN to Give Prednisone to Your Dog
Since prednisone is a prescription drug, your veterinarian will give you written instructions for how many times per day to give the medication.
Most commonly, it’s given once to twice daily—and usually on a tapering dose so by the end of the schedule it’s only given every other day.
If it’s twice per day, give the medication morning and evening, as close to 12 hours apart as possible based on your work schedule and other obligations.
What if it’s only once a day? Should you give your dog prednisone in the morning or at night?
For dogs on once-daily dosing, giving it in the morning is best as that will most closely mimic their natural hormone cycle.
If you need to change the time to afternoon or evening due to your schedule or the timing of side effects (such as needing to be home to walk your pup more often due to the increased urination), that is acceptable.
Whatever time you choose, be sure you give the medication at the same time each day—with each dose as close to 24 hours apart as possible.
If you miss a dose, give it as soon as you remember. Or, if it’s close to the next scheduled dose, give the next dose as planned — just don’t double up.
Critical! The Right Way to STOP Giving Your Dog Prednisone
Unless your dog is taking prednisone long-term or on a specific chemotherapy protocol, you may have noticed your veterinarian gave you a tapering dose of the medication.
As an example, the dose may go something like this: Give 1 tablet twice per day for 1 day, then ½ a tablet twice per day for 4 days, then ½ a tablet once per day for 4 days, then ½ a tablet every other day until gone.
Your veterinarian isn’t doing this to make your life difficult… in fact, there’s a very good reason for it.
As mentioned above, one of the potential side effects of prednisone is the development of Addison’s disease, a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough cortisol.
This condition is a much higher risk when prednisone is stopped suddenly. That’s because your dog’s body may decrease its own natural cortisone production when it gets used to receiving an external supply from pharmaceuticals—stopping the medication suddenly doesn’t give your dog’s body a chance to replenish its body’s own, natural supply.
So, if your dog has been using prednisone for a while, it’s CRITICAL to taper them off gradually rather than going cold turkey.
If not done properly, prednisone withdrawal can wreak havoc on the body’s balance, resulting in dangerous electrolyte imbalances, shock, and even death!
Improper prednisone withdrawal can result in dangerous electrolyte imbalances, shock, and even death!
The longer your dog’s been on prednisone, the longer and more gradual the tapering off period should be.
Any time your dog is on a tapering dose of prednisone—whether short-term like the example I gave above, or weaning off of long-term prednisone use—you can make it easier to remember the schedule by putting it into a calendar, or putting reminders on your phone.
That way, you don’t have to remember anything or calculate which day you’re on before you’ve had your morning coffee—you can just look at your calendar or reminders and give the next dose accordingly.
What Dosage of Prednisone is Used for Dogs?
Since prednisone is a prescription drug and is not available over the counter, always check with your veterinarian prior to giving the medication. The following information is for general information only, and every dog’s case will be specific to that dog and their illness.
Even if you have leftover tablets from another pet or human in the home, your dog’s dosage and underlying medical condition may be very different. Therefore, giving your dog the medication without checking with your vet could delay appropriate treatment, make an underlying medical condition worse, or result in harmful side effects.
Giving prednisone without checking with your vet first could delay appropriate treatment, make an underlying medical condition worse, or result in harmful side effects.
With that in mind, please note the following dosages only as a general reference for informational purposes, rather than a guide to what to give your individual dog.
Prednisone Tablets and Injectables
Prednisone is available in several different tablet sizes, including 1mg, 2.5mg, 5mg, 10mg, and 20mg tablets.
Injectable glucocorticoids are also available and are administered at a veterinarian’s office.
The drug is a unique in that it has two entirely different dose ranges …
- Anti-inflammatory dose: 0.25-0.5 milligrams per pound of body weight.
- Immunosuppressive dose: 1-2 milligrams per pound of body weight.
- Other dosages may be used for specific medical conditions such as Addison’s disease or lymphoma.
Another interesting thing to note about prednisone doses…
The dose of prednisone for dogs can be VERY different than for humans.
Proportionally, the dose of prednisone a dog (who weighs less than a human) receives may seem high when compared to doses used for humans for certain medical conditions.
Some of my clients who took prednisone themselves were shocked to see their dog’s dose almost as high as theirs!
So, always ask your vet if you’re concerned—it never hurts to double-check.
But at the same time, don’t be surprised if this happens. It has to do with the different ways their body metabolizes the drug.
Actually, that’s true for a lot of drugs in veterinary medicine…
In the case of other medications, your dog might need a much lower dose than you do. Certain human medications can even be toxic to dogs.
That’s why to keep your furkid safe, always check with your vet first prior to giving them any human medications.
Prednisone for Dogs With Cancer
Prednisone is very important in the world of canine cancer and can help a lot of patients live a very good quality of life.
In cancer therapy, prednisone offers some serious benefits compared to other cancer drugs, such as…
- Unlike many chemotherapy agents, prednisone tablets don’t present much of a risk to you as a pet parent. They don’t require special handling to maintain safety. The drug can be handled with bare hands, and won’t result in toxic residue in your pet’s urine or feces.
- Side effects, while they can be serious, tend to be much milder and more manageable than with other chemotherapy drugs.
- Prednisone is very inexpensive.
However, despite these benefits, prednisone alone doesn’t offer nearly the same benefits of a full chemotherapy protocol—so, it’s best to look at your dog’s individual needs.
Every dog is unique, so be sure to talk to your veterinarian or oncologist about all your options—they’ll help you decide on the best course for your furry pal.
For more information about dog cancer and the treatment options you have, I recommend reading The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. You’ll learn all about lymphoma in Chapter 29, and mast cell tumors in Chapter 30. And in addition to standard therapies, you’ll learn about supplements, diets, and emotional management to help improve your dog’s outcome and quality of life.
Here are some of the most common types of dog cancer for which prednisone is prescribed…
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects lymphocytes, blood cells that are part of your dog’s immune system.
Unfortunately, since lymphocytes circulate around the whole body via the blood, that means the cancer can’t be removed surgically. For that reason, chemotherapy is often used to treat lymphoma.
For dogs with lymphoma, prednisone can be used in various treatment protocols: it can help treat the cancer directly (yes, it does have some anticancer properties!), shrink swollen lymph nodes, reduce inflammation, and greatly improve quality of life.
However, it’s important to decide which lymphoma treatment to pursue BEFORE starting prednisone.
Dr. Ettinger has a great article explaining why… but in a nutshell, the important thing to know is that starting prednisone too soon can make other lymphoma treatments less effective.
Prednisone can interfere with the effect of other chemotherapy agents–so don’t start prednisone until you’re completely sure you won’t be pursuing chemotherapy for your dog.
That’s because prednisone can contribute to multi-drug resistance (MDR). It can also make the diagnosis of lymphoma (and thus the planning for treatment) more difficult.
With that rule in mind, here are the most common ways prednisone is used to treat lymphoma…
- As part of the UW CHOP protocol, a common chemotherapy protocol used for lymphoma. Prednisone is one of four drugs given in this protocol (it’s the ‘P’ in CHOP), and the timing of prednisone is very important. CHOP can extend the life of a dog by an average of 13-14 months.
- As a solo treatment. This only extends a dog’s life for an average of 2-3 months, but for some dogs it’s a good choice. During this time, the medication can make an ill dog with lymphoma feel much better, so they really enjoy the time they have left.
The protocol you choose depends on many factors, such as your dog’s specific type and stage of lymphoma, any other health problems, and many other factors including your finances and your own personal beliefs or preferences. There’s no right or wrong answer since each dog is an individual.
Of note, prednisone can also help as part of the therapy for other blood-based cancers, such as certain types of leukemia.
Mast Cell Tumors
While rare in humans, mast cell tumors are very common in dogs.
Mast cell tumors are the great ‘pretenders’, meaning they can look like a lot of different things and show up on a dog’s body in different ways. But commonly, they’re seen as masses or ulcerations on the skin.
Mast cells are inflammatory cells—which means they can produce a large amount of inflammation, similar to an allergic reaction.
As such, prednisone can be helpful due to its powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
However, there are many other options available, and surgery is often preferable to medical management. So, treatment will depend on your dog’s specific needs.
Cancers of the nervous system—particularly those inside the brain—can be dangerous for many reasons…
One of the reasons is that, inside the skull, there’s not any room for a tumor to grow. Within that confined space, growing cancers have no room to expand, and thus can compress the brain or spinal cord.
For that reason, it’s very important to limit swelling and inflammation, especially if surgery isn’t an option. Prednisone is one of the therapies that can be used for this purpose.
Inflamed Masses and Cancer Lesions
Along those same lines, prednisone may be included in the treatment for masses that are large or fast growing, or where inflammation creates pain or complications.
As noted in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide…
“As cancer creates inflammation in and around the tumor, reducing it often makes your dog more comfortable.”
Again, each dog is different, and pred isn’t right for every dog with cancer—but overall, this is a common scenario where the drug may be used.
Decreasing Excessive Blood Calcium Levels
Certain cancers—especially lymphoma and anal sac tumors—can result in dangerously high levels of calcium in your dog’s blood.
If that happens, prednisone is one of the drugs used to mitigate this problem.
If your dog has a type of cancer not listed here—prednisone may still be a part of their treatment recommendations. It’s really used so commonly!
Are There Alternatives to Prednisone For Dogs?
Depending on what you’re using prednisone for, there may be alternatives available.
To find the best alternative to prednisone, think about what purpose prednisone is being used for, whether that’s allergies, inflammation, or something else.
For example, if using prednisone for allergies or allergic reactions, an antihistamine (such as Benadryl) may be a good alternative. Allergy testing, desensitization therapy, and special diets are also available. And, there are other prescription drugs out there, such as Apoquel.
For your pup’s safety, just remember to check with your vet before giving any new medication (even over the counter medications like Benadryl). You’ll want to be sure it’s right for your pup … that you have a safe formulation … that it won’t interact with any other medications your dog takes … and that you’re using the correct dose.
When using prednisone for inflammation, certain natural supplements may be of benefit to your pooch. Examples include special diets, supplements, acupuncture, and even finding ways to minimize stress.
For pain, there are many alternatives medications and therapies—and most are much better than prednisone for relieving pain directly (remember, prednisone is an anti-inflammatory but doesn’t offer any direct pain relief).
For any of these categories, prednisone may be prescribed in combination with another drug for your dog’s benefit.
So if for some reason your dog can’t use prednisone, don’t worry… there are plenty of options out there for them, too.
Please see the Further Reading section below for more resources and recommendations. These alternative and beneficial therapies are also discussed at length in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.
Every dog is an individual, and your veterinarian knows your dog best.
So, I recommend working with your veterinarian (and a specialist such as an oncologist as needed) to figure out the best treatment plan for your furry friend.
With the right information and tools, you can give your dog a great quality of life—and make the most of the special time you have together!
Best wishes to you and your furkid,
References and Further Reading:
The Dog Cancer Survival Guide
Dressler, Demian and Ettinger, Susan. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity, Second Edition. Kihei, Hawaii, Maui Media, LLC, 2011.
Glucocorticoids/Prednisone for Dogs
Brooks, Wendy. “Prednisolone/Prednisone.” Veterinarypartner.vin.com. VIN. 4 Apr. 2019. Web. 24 Apr. 2020.
Forney, Barbara. “Prednisolone and Prednisone for Dogs and Cats.” Wedgewoodpharmacy.com. Wedgewood Pharmacy. Web. 24 Apr. 2020.
Hunter, Tammy and Ward, Ernest. “Steroid Treatment – Effects in Dogs.” Vcahospitals.com. LifeLearn, Inc. 2018. Web. 24 Apr. 2020.
Lymphoma in Dogs
Ettinger, Sue. “Prednisone for Dogs: When to Start With Lymphoma.” Dogcancerblog.com. Maui Media, LLC. 18 Nov. 2019. Web. 24 Apr. 2020.
Ettinger, Sue. “What I Would Do for My Dog With Lymphoma.” Dogcancerblog.com. Maui Media, LLC. 17 May. 2019. Web. 24 Apr. 2020.
Pain Management and Inflammation Relief for Dogs
Dressler, Demian. “Pain Management Update PLUS: Natural Pain Relief for Dogs.” Dogcancerblog.com. Maui Media, LLC. 2 Apr. 2020. Web. 24 Apr. 2020.
Dressler, Demian. “The Inflammatory Diet and Cancer.” Dogcancerblog.com. Maui Media, LLC. 9 Oct. 2018. Web. 24 Apr. 2020.
Veterinary Drug Handbooks
Plumb, Donald C. Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook, Fifth Edition. Ames, Iowa, Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Papich, Mark G. Saunders Handbook of Veterinary Drugs, Second Edition. St. Louis, Missouri, Saunders Elsevier, 2007.