Prednisone, Prednisolone

By Dr. Karen Burgess


  • Generic, human medication
  • Tablets

What is prednisone used for?
Prednisone decreases inflammation and at high doses acts as an immunosuppressive drug. Allergic and autoimmune diseases, swelling in the nervous system, shock and cancer therapies all commonly utilize prednisone in their treatment.

What is prednisone?
Prednisone is a classified as a glucocorticoid hormone or steroid and is known for its broad anti-inflammatory effects. Steroid hormone is naturally produced in the body by the adrenal gland and is necessary in very small quantities for survival. Anabolic steroids, commonly referenced in sports, are used to build up tissue (muscle) while catabolic steroids such as prednisone break down stored resources to create energy. Prednisone is changed into prednisolone in the liver making the two drugs interchangeable.

How is prednisone given and what if a dose is missed?
Prednisone is typically given in a tapering dose schedule to prevent potentially life threatening side effects. When a pet is given prednisone as a medication it suppresses the adrenal gland’s natural production. For this reason it can be very dangerous to suddenly stop prednisone treatment without giving the body ample time to restart its own steroid production. If a dose is missed and it is less than 12 hours late, go ahead and give missed dose. If it is within 12 hours of the next dose, skip a dose and resume regular schedule with next dose. Give prednisone with food to help prevent stomach upset.

What side effects can be expected and what pets should not receive prednisone therapy?
Steroids as a class stimulate the desire to drink and production of urine. It is not uncommon for pets on prednisone to have urinary accidents in particular at the beginning of therapy and plans should be made for extra trips to the bathroom or cleaning of the litterbox. Increase in appetite, panting, and behavior changes (including aggression) are also common side effects. Suppression of the immune system by steroids can put a pet at increased risk for infection. With long term prednisone therapy changes in skin, haircoat, and body musculature (potbellied appearance) are often noted. Pets with heart disease may get worse on steroids. Diabetes may develop with steroid treatment and diabetic pets in general should not receive steroids. Pregnant pets should not take steroids.

What drugs should not be given with prednisone?
NSAIDs as a class should never be given at the same time as steroids. This can be life threatening. There should be a “washout” period when changing from an NSAID to a steroid. Discuss how long to wait between NSAID and steroid use with your veterinarian.

Are there any other concerns with prednisone?
Steroids can alter several commonly run blood laboratory tests. Make sure your veterinarian is aware of steroid therapy when interpreting labwork.