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What is Prednisone for Cats? And What About Prednisolone?

What is prednisone and why would someone use prednisone for cats? And what’s the difference between prednisone and prednisolone for cats?

Melvin Pena  |  Aug 4th 2017


Prednisone for cats is a steroid typically used to reduce inflammation and swelling; it has potentially dangerous side effects. Let’s review some other important facts:

A brown tabby cat itching.

Photography by Anna Dudko/Thinkstock.

What is prednisone?

Nestled closely by the kidneys, a cat’s adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol serves a number of functions, not only breaking down glucose for use as energy, but also aiding with the immune system’s response to swelling and inflammation. Prednisone for cats and its metabolized form, prednisolone, are steroids, powerful synthetic versions of cortisol. Because of their potentially dangerous side effects, neither prednisone nor prednisolone should be prescribed for use in kittens or pregnant cats.

Why are there two versions of this catabolic steroid? First of all, if the thought of steroids and cats causes you to picture your cat gaining muscle mass and getting ripped, those performance-enhancing drugs are anabolic steroids, which build up. Catabolic steroids do the opposite; they break down. A cat’s liver processes prednisone, turning it into prednisolone. Prednisolone, then, is prescribed for cats with weak or compromised livers.

Why would someone use prednisone for cats?

Prednisone and prednisolone for cats tend to be prescribed as short-term anti-inflammatory medications. Because it reduces inflammation, prednisone can be usefully deployed in cats who suffer from swelling caused by allergies. These include relieving skin irritation from flea bites as well as anaphylatic shock responses to bee stings. Prednisone for cats is also used to treat all kinds of internal swelling, whether the source of the problem is an upper respiratory infection, pancreatitis, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Though its most common uses are to reduce or inhibit swelling in cats, prednisone and prednisolone are also used occasionally as a long-term steroid therapy for cats who suffer from more extreme health conditions. As a long-term treatment option, prednisone is prescribed as an immune system suppressant to cats being treated for cancers such as lymphoma, giving other treatment methods a chance to work. Prednisone is also given to cats with brain swelling brought on by head trauma, or long-term joint pain and mobility issues associated with osteoarthritis.

Is there a standard prednisone dosage for cats?

Prednisone for cats, along with prednisolone, is most frequently used to provide short-term relief. The standard dosages, at least for humans, are 5mg, 10mg, and 20mg. Cats are different and much smaller creatures, though. With great medicinal power comes great risk of side effects and withdrawal, so veterinarians might begin a short-term course of prednisone for cats at a high dosage initially, which is then rapidly tapered off until treatment is complete and symptoms or swelling have subsided.

Is prednisone safe for cats? Not especially, which is why it should be administered only under veterinary supervision while following all dosage instructions. A veterinarian will take all of a cat’s health information into account to determine proper dosage. Aside from the state of a cat’s kidneys, which guides the choice of prednisolone over prednisone, these major factors for dosage include:

  • Weight
  • Age
  • Overall health and fitness

How is prednisone for cats administered?

Prednisone can be administered in a variety of formats, including tablets, oral liquid, syrup, eye drops, or by direct injection. The format and dosage all depend on context, and veterinarians determine treatment cat by cat. Because prednisone and prednisolone can damage the digestive tract, as we’ll see below, your veterinarian might recommend that the medication be given along with the cat’s food at mealtime.

Side effects of prednisone in cats

Prednisone and prednisolone are extremely powerful steroids that are best and most effectively prescribed to cats as part of a short-term treatment plan. Unlike the commercials you see for any number of medications on television or while streaming online content, the side effects are generally not mild. Even a short-term treatment handled poorly can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, and that’s just the start. The longer a cat takes prednisone or prednisolone, the more severe the side effects become.

In adult cats, side effects of prednisone can be dangerous:

  • Mood/behavioral changes: including depression and lethargy as well as anxiety and aggression
  • Trouble breathing: increased panting, rapid fatigue
  • Impaired healing: minor injuries take longer to resolve
  • Susceptibility to infection: a cat may be more apt to develop bacterial and viral infections
  • Hair loss
  • Skin irritation

The side effects of prednisone on a cat’s digestive and filtration systems alone deserve their own list:

  • Increased appetite: can lead to obesity
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Urinary tract infection: from increased thirst and increased urination
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Ulcers in the digestive tract

The point is that like other powerful synthetic steroids, a prescription of prednisone or prednisolone for cats should not be undertaken lightly or used on a whim.

Alternatives to prednisone for cats

That all sounds very dire, but it is meant to urge caution. Under veterinary supervision, short- and longer-term prednisone treatments can be managed effectively. Following the prescription and dosage recommendations will help mitigate any extreme side effects, be they internal, external, or behavioral. Are there generic versions of prednisone and prednisolone? Certainly, and each with a longer and less pronounceable name than the last. Your cat’s veterinarian will help you determine the most appropriate and hopefully cost-effective treatment option available.

Is there an over-the-counter version of prednisone? No; after all, prednisone and prednisolone are more powerful than the cortisol produced naturally in the adrenal cortex. These synthesized catabolic steroids have the potential, given a high enough concentration and sufficient time, to disrupt a range of crucial bodily functions. Those interested in homeopathic treatments might wonder: Is there a kind of natural prednisone?

There are thought to be some fruits, vegetables and oils that also mimic the recuperative functions of cortisol to a very limited degree; however, tampering with a cat’s normal diet carries risks all its own. Consult with your cat’s veterinarian before making any drastic changes to a cat’s diet. Cats, after all, are obligate carnivores, and they lack the digestive apparatus necessary for processing fruits and vegetables.

Has your cat ever undergone treatment involving prednisone or prednisolone? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Thumbnail: Photography by Anna Dudko/Thinkstock.

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