Steroids for Treating Cats

Is it time for my pill?
i Michael Blann/Lifesize/Getty Images

Your cat's adrenal glands produce natural steroids in his body. If he requires medication to reduce inflammation, your vet will likely give him synthetic versions. She might prescribe pills or a topical cream, or give Fluffy an injection. The type of steroid depends on what's ailing your cat.


Your vet might prescribe steroids to treat a range of feline health issues. These include allergic reactions, shock, chronic arthritis and joint inflammation, gum disease, severe itching, cancer and spinal or brain inflammation. Steroids are among the most potent weapon's in your vet's pharmaceutical arsenal. Since steroids suppress the immune system, they might be prescribed if your cat's immune system is out of whack and goes into overdrive.

Glucocorticoid Steroids

Some of the most common steroids prescribed for cats include prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, triamcinolone, budesonide and methylprednisolone. These synthetic steroids are much stronger than those occurring naturally in your cat. They are glucocorticoid steroids, unlike anabolic steroids use to increase muscle mass. Generally, your vet prescribes a high loading, or starting dose, which is then tapered down. Unless Fluffy faces a life-threatening illness, he won't take steroids on a daily basis for a long time. For example, if your cat suffers from an allergy that causes itching, your vet might prescribe a steroid given every other day. If that's not doing the trick, she might recommend an additional medication rather than increasing his steroid dosage.

Anabolic Steroids

While anabolic steroids aren't used in cats nearly as much as glucocorticoids, that doesn't mean they don't have a role in feline veterinary medicine. If your cat is diagnosed with chronic renal, or kidney, failure, he's losing nutrient and vitamins because of his poor kidney function. Anabolic steroids can help. They're also prescribed for cats with anemia. In a situation where a cat develops muscle atrophy, anabolic steroids can help him get back on his feet. That could be the case for a cat kept long-term in a cage with little opportunity to exercise.

Side Effects

As with any medication, steroids also cause side effects. The most common include lethargy, skin issues and increased hunger and thirst, resulting in frequent drinking and flooding the litter box. It's possible that your vet might prescribe a particular steroid because your cat needs an appetite stimulant, so the drug does double duty. Serious side effects include immune system suppression, which increases the risk of Fluffy being unable to fight off a disease or infection. In rare cases, steroids cause ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract. Long-term use can cause urinary tract or upper respiratory infections, as well as diabetes. Make sure your vet informs you of any possible side effects when she prescribes a steroid for your cat.

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.

the nest