Steroids can make your cat feel much better when he's suffering from pain and irritation caused by inflammation, but these powerful drugs are a double-edged sword. Cats may have immediate and long-term negative reactions to corticosteroid treatment, so talk to your vet about the medication's benefits and risks for your cat. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
How Steroids Work
Prednisone, dexamethasone and triamcinolone are among the most common corticosteroids prescribed by veterinarians. Corticosteroids are based around the production of a natural hormone, called cortisone, which is manufactured by your kitty's adrenal glands, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Artificial steroids suppress kitty's immune system, which reduces the severity of inflammation that develops in response to allergies, injuries and infections. Steroids are used only as a temporary fix in many cases, but some cats require regular doses for months or even years.
Immediate Side Effects
Cats are a bit more resilient than dogs when it comes to steroid side effects, but your kitty probably will have at least a few difficulties adjusting to the medication. He'll likely start drinking more water, so you may notice him making more trips to the litter box to relieve himself. Increased appetite, weight gain, and lethargic or aggressive behavior are other common side effects, according to DrBarchas.com. Cats rarely experience serious digestive difficulties from taking steroids, but it's possible for the drug to induce vomiting and diarrhea.
Long-Term Side Effects
The real danger of steroids comes from long-term use. The drugs suppress your cat's immune system, leaving him vulnerable to viruses, bacteria and other infectious pathogens. Corticosteroids also can make your kitty's skin more sensitive, which encourages hair loss. About 30 percent of cats on long-term steroid treatment suffer a urinary tract infection (UTI), according to VCA Animal Hospitals. While a healthy cat only needs to go in for a checkup twice a year, cats taking steroids should be seen more often. Bring your pet in as often as your vet asks you so he can conduct urine and blood tests to make sure your kitty is handling the medication well.
The best way to prevent damage from steroids is to use them as little as possible. Some corticosteroids, like prednisone, are particularly dangerous for frequent use, so your vet may change the steroid prescription to a drug that's a bit easier on your pet's body. Daily treatments often are reduced to one dose every few days for cats that need to take them for a long time. Pursue a permanent solution to your cat's health issue if possible. The faster your pet is treated, the less steroids he'll have to take.
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.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.