Can Steroids in Cats Be Discontinued Abruptly?

Always ask your vet before starting or stopping any medication.

Always ask your vet before starting or stopping any medication.

If you've been giving your kitty prescription medication and he appears to be "all better," don't simply stop giving the cat the medicine without speaking to your vet first. Abruptly stopping any type of steroid-based medicine can result in dangerous side effects, including collapse and even death.

Stopping Steroids Abruptly

Steroids, also called corticosteroids, are synthetic versions of hormones normally produced by your kitty's adrenal glands, which help to reduce inflammation in the body. After your kitty starts taking steroids, his body needs to adjust for the increased levels of corticosteroid hormones the medications are providing for him. Because the hormones are coming from an outside source, namely the steroid-based medications you're giving him, his adrenal glands stop producing these hormones on their own. They go into a resting state and, in cases whereby steroids are given for a longer-period of time, they may even atrophy. This is what causes an issue for your kitty if you abruptly stop this medication; the adrenal glands won't simply start making these hormones immediately. Without these hormones in his system or a way to make them, he can go into shock or die without emergency medical attention.

Addison's Disease

When steroid medications are stopped abruptly and your kitty's body can't produce these hormones naturally, he goes into what is called "Addisonian crisis." Corticosteroid hormones regulate your kitty's levels of glucose, potassium, sodium and chloride. Without a proper balance of these chemicals in his body, your furry friend may experience severe dehydration and problems with his vital organs. This may lead to a condition called Addison's disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, in which the adrenal glands don't function properly. This condition sometimes requires hospitalization to stabilize your kitty and supplement him with adrenal hormones to prevent collapse and death. If your furry friend appears weak, vomits or collapses, get him to the vet immediately. Tell the vet that you have recently stopped his steroid medication.

Why Stop Them?

Varied reasons exist why your vet might recommend taking your kitty off steroids. For example, he may no longer need them for an inflammatory condition, they might not be helping his condition, or they might be affecting his behavior adversely. You might also see that the steroids have given your kitty such relief from his allergies or pain that you consider stopping them because it seems like he's "cured." But steroids are not a cure at all; they merely provide a temporary anti-inflammatory effect or temporarily suppress an overactive immune system. Do not stop meds or start them without your vet's input.

How to Stop Them?

To prevent issues that could occur if you try to cut your feline friend's steroids out cold turkey, consult with your vet regarding whether or not you can wean him off of the steroid medication and, if so, at what rate to decrease his dosage. The vet will likely recommend you give your kitty a reduced dosage every other day or every third day to prompt his adrenal glands to kick into action and begin producing corticosteroids properly on the "off days." Your vet needs to monitor your kitty carefully during this process; she'll perform blood or urine tests on him during regular visits. If your kitty's adrenal glands have permanently atrophied and don't begin working again, he may need supplementation with corticosteroids for the rest of his life.

Alternatives

Steroid-based medications are powerful enough to have some detrimental side effects, even when used correctly. That's why most vets won't keep your kitty on them indefinitely in most cases. Ask your vet about possible alternatives like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help with pain. NSAIDS work differently than steroids and don't suppress the immune system, according to the "Irish Veterinary Journal." This means they are not an appropriate substitute for them in some cases. Even with an appropriate substitute, you must still wean your kitty off steroids before starting a new drug -- always following your vet's instructions.

 

About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

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