Side Effects of Steroids on Dogs


Mar 13, 2014
New Hampshire
here are many well-known side effects of steroids. In the short term, dogs will drink and urinate excessively. A previously house-trained dog may start having accidents in the house. Dogs also will eat more. Often, heavy panting occurs. Restlessness and pacing are also side effects.

Occasionally, dogs will behave in an agitated or aggressive way (the well-known “‘roid rage” syndrome noted in humans). If steroids are used long term, symptoms become more pronounced, and your dog may develop iatrogenic (caused by medication) Cushing’s disease.

dog with iatrogenic Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease occurs naturally when the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol (it is the opposite of Addison’s disease), the body’s natural steroid. This can occur due to either a brain tumor called a pituitary adenoma or an adrenal tumor.

The symptoms of Cushing’s are weight gain, hair loss, panting, restlessness, frequent skin and urinary tract infections, and dramatic increases in urination and drinking. If oral or injectable steroids are administered frequently over extended periods of time, this syndrome can occur. Discontinuation of the steroids will reverse this.

Steroids should never be stopped abruptly. When steroids are taken orally or by injection, the body’s natural steroid levels drop. If the exogenous (originating from outside the body) source is stopped, the body needs time to recover and resume making its own (endogenous) cortisol. In this gap, patients can develop a steroid insufficiency and exhibit signs of Addison’s disease: vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and anorexia. Because of this, steroids should always be tapered slowly. Most courses will go from twice a day, to once a day, to every other day.

Bottom Line
Steroids are very useful and important medications. But, as with any medication, using them correctly is critical to success. They have many side effects. Make sure to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure that steroids are the best option, as many medications are now available to take their place.

1. If your veterinarian recommends or prescribes a corticosteroid, make sure you have informed her about every drug and supplement you give your dog, to ensure there are no adverse drug reactions caused by incompatible medications.

2. Be sure you understand the dosing amounts and schedule, particularly when it comes to “weaning” your dog off of the medication.

3. Don’t ask or allow your veterinarian to prescribe steroids for the long-term management of allergies; this use in particular can cause the development of other, even more serious health problems. Allergies are better addressed by applying oneself to discovering the offending allergen(s) and managing your dog’s exposure, and using steroids only to control an acute flare-up of a “hot spot,” for example, and just on a short-term basis.

whole dog journal

Aug 9, 2019
Edmonton, AB
Great info! Corticosteroids like Prednisone are often prescribed because they have a tendency to work quickly. Most pet owners are happy with the results, so they don't think about the long term repercussions of suppressing their pet's immune system. Don't be afraid to ask your vet about alternatives, and make sure that you have all the tools and information to safely treat your pet.

When dealing with allergies, I recommend finding more natural ways to improve their immune systems, like local bee pollen or Quercetin. They both help regulate histamine production instead of suppressing it. This can reduce the frequency of steroid use for allergies and skin conditions.