Steroid Treatment for Cats

Steroid treatment for cats may be needed for various conditions including allergies, arthritis or immune diseases. Steroids are frequently used in cats, as they have fewer side effects than in humans or dogs. Typically, the therapy with steroids should be administered for a short term, as steroids are hormones that can cause complications in felines.

Types of Steroids

Steroids are a class of drugs that come in two main types:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication, used to reduce swelling and irritation
  • Anabolic steroids, employed to develop muscles and strength

Anti-inflammatory steroids are more commonly used in cats.

Uses of Steroids in Cats

Anti-inflammatory steroids can be administered to cats in order to reduce inflammations, rashes or other conditions such as:

  • Allergies
  • Brain swelling
  • Immune system diseases
  • Arthritis, to reduce the swelling of joints
  • Tendinitis, to reduce the swelling of tendons
  • Stomach or intestinal inflammation
  • Spinal inflammation
  • Lungs, sinuses and bronchi inflammations

Anabolic steroids are used for:

  • Treating anemia or low red blood cell count
  • Strengthening muscles for cats with atrophied muscles (cats that have been sick or inactive for a long time), and to help cats walk or stand up
  • Bone marrow stimulation
  • Increasing testosterone levels

Anti-inflammatory steroids commonly used in cats include Prednisone or Prednisolone, Medrol, Dexamethasone or Triamcinolone. Anabolic steroids include Stanozolol and Nandrolone. These drugs are synthetic hormones that are similar to the adrenaline produced in the body.

Steroid drugs relieve the symptoms shortly after the beginning of the treatment. However, the drugs shouldn’t be abruptly discontinued, to prevent adverse reactions such as an adrenaline deficit.

When the vet decides the inflammation is gone, the drugs should be administrated every second day, the dosage should be gradually decreased and then the treatment can be discontinued.

Side Effects of Steroid Treatment

Steroids solve a lot of problems, but can create new ones. The side effects in cats are not numerous, but pets can still experience some changes. Side effects in cats include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst and frequent urination
  • Weight gain
  • Sodium retention, resulting in fluid retention
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Aggressiveness
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease

Side effects can be controlled by decreasing the dosage. If the side effects are severe, steroids should be discontinued and the vet should look for a different type of medication.

If steroids are administered over a long period of time (several months), the cat’s body may produce cortisol in excess, which can lead to Cushing's disease, which is a severe medical condition. Cortisol in excess can also lead to skin lesions, hair loss, irritability or aggressiveness.

Steroids are available as tablets, in liquid form or as injections. Steroids can also be administered as topical ointments or as inhalants for lungs, sinus and bronchi inflammations. Your vet will recommend the most suitable types of steroids, according to your cat’s condition.