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Steroids for Dogs

Steroids for Dogs: How They Work & Side Effects

3 min read

Knowing that your dog is unwell or in some kind of pain or discomfort can be an upsetting and uneasy situation. That is why it is incredibly important to seek advice from a vet to determine what the cause of your dog’s pain is and to do so as quickly as possible, so that they can assess and treat as needed to make sure your dog gets back to their normal selves in no time.

It is natural to want to go above and beyond for our pets, especially when they aren’t feeling well, but there are some substances they can’t have. In this article we will be exploring whether steroids for dogs are safe or not. 

What are steroids for dogs? 

Steroids for dogs, can be given in the form of medication prescribed by a vet, or they can be naturally occurring steroids produced by the body. Naturally occurring steroid hormones are produced in the adrenal glands, which are situated in the abdomen. They are vital in helping maintain healthy function of the body. They have many functions including supporting the stress responses, as well as helping to control inflammation, and regulating blood electrolyte levels and nutrient metabolism.

There are two different types of steroid hormone that the adrenal glands produce:


Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It plays an important role in the metabolism of carbohydrate, fat and proteins and the immune response. It helps reduce inflammation throughout the body and is vital in helping the body respond to stress.


Aldosterone is a mineralocorticoid produced by the adrenal glands. It has various functions but one of the most important is to help regulate electrolyte levels in the blood.

What are steroids used for in dogs?

Even though steroids are produced naturally in the body, dogs sometimes need a little extra to help them on their road to recovery.

Because of their great anti-inflammatory properties, vets may prescribe steroids to treat conditions such as allergies and itchy skin in dogs. Rarely they may use them to help manage kennel cough and joint pain although these days there are much more suitable medications available. Steroids may also be used for treating conditions such as lupus, Addison’s disease in dogs, and autoimmune haemolytic anaemia.


How are steroids administered to dogs?

Vets can prescribe systemic steroids to your dog in the form of tablets or injections. Or they may prescribe inhaled or topical steroids.

Systemic Steroids.

This category of steroids for dogs is the type that are administered to your dog as oral, or injection medications. Your vet may decide that systemic steroids are the best treatment for your dog. One disadvantage of giving steroids systemically is that the medication reaches all parts of the body, not just the target area. This increases the risk of unwanted side effects.  Your vet will take this into account and prescribe the most appropriate medication for your pet.

Inhaled Steroids.

This category of steroids for dogs is prescribed for respiratory conditions. They are administered through the use of a nebulizer or an inhaler and this allows the steroids to head straight to the target area, reducing the risk of side effects.

Are steroids safe for dogs?

Steroids are prescription medications and should only be given under the direction of a vet. While they can have side effects, they are very effective at treating a range of medical conditions and in some cases, steroids for dogs can even be lifesaving.

Don’t ever give your dog any type of medication without the vet’s recommendation.

Side effects of steroids for dogs

As with all medication there are potential side effects. Sometimes a dose adjustment by your vet may help, or if the medication doesn’t agree with your dog, your vet may suggest a different treatment. Even though steroids are extremely effective at treating inflammation and other immune diseases, they can cause a few bothersome side-effects, these include:

Despite the side-effects that may be caused by steroid use, your vet will try to ensure that these won’t occur by using the lowest dose that is effective for treating your pet’s condition. However, if you do notice any of the symptoms outlined above or notice a difference in your dog’s behaviour because of the administration of steroids, then make sure to note them down and let your vet know as soon as possible.

Steroids for dogs are extremely useful drugs, which allow vets to treat serious medical conditions. By making sure to stick to the prescribed dose and keeping a close eye on your pet’s behaviour, this will enable the steroids to be most effective in helping your dog get back to their normal self. In most cases, your vet will recommend weaning your dog’s steroids down to the lowest dose that effectively manages your dog’s condition, and in many cases stopping them altogether.

Now that you know all about steroids for dogs, want to know more about the dos and don’ts of dog medicine? Read our article, pain relief for dogs next for more information.