Can Corticosteroids Cause Behavioral Changes in Cats?

Your cat may become irritable while being treated with corticosteroids.
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So the vet put your kitty on medication for his arthritis and now the cat just isn't himself. Don't be surprised if your loving, cuddly kitty experiences a change in behavior while being treated with corticosteroids. It's one of the side effects of the medication.

Uses for Corticosteroids

There are many medical uses for corticosteroids, including those for humans and domesticated animals. Cats typically experience fewer side effects from them than humans or dogs do. If your cat has allergies or arthritis or swelling due to any condition such as spinal inflammation, tendinitis or respiratory inflammation, your vet will probably prescribe a corticosteroid as treatment -- sometimes as an injection but usually in pill form. The VetInfo website reports that these drugs relieve symptoms soon after treatment begins.

Effects on Behavior

Although cats are thought to experience few if any side effects from corticosteroids, behavioral changes can result from how the drugs make your cat feel physically, causing him to become irritable or aggressive. In her book on feline medicine, Jane Fishman Leon lists behavioral and personality changes among other side effects and suggests vets should prescribe the lowest therapeutic dose possible for the shortest amount of time.

Other Side Effects

In addition to showing signs of a short temper and aggressiveness, corticosteroids can affect your cat physically. The most common side effect is weight gain due to an increased appetite and fluid retention. Increased thirst and frequent urination are other side effects you might see in your cat. More serious conditions can include difficulty breathing and liver or kidney disease.

Short-Term Use

Reading a list of possible side effects of corticosteroids can be discouraging, but be comforted. Short-term use of these drugs rarely results in severe side effects. The behavioral issues as well as fluid retention and weight gain will reverse once your cat has stopped taking the medication. However, Vet Info cautions against discontinuing corticosteroids suddenly: Because corticosteroids are synthetic hormones, doing so can cause adverse reactions. Your vet will recommend gradually weaning your cat off of the medication, progressively reducing the dosage until he is off it entirely.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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