The Importance of Gradually Weaning Dogs off Prednisone
About Tapering Dogs off Prednisone
Why is it important to wean dogs off prednisone gradually? When I worked for the vet, I remember that sometimes extra long labels would come out of our printing machine. Some labels were so long that a part of it would print off in another sheet of adhesive paper and I had to work hard to make the two labels meet nicely on the bottle. The only medication this used to happen with was some sort of corticosteroid drug, like prednisone. Why? Because prednisone is a particular drug that has very long instructions.
This is because prednisone is mostly given in a "blast" initially and then is tapered off gradually over several days. An example of prednisone instructions would be something like this: give 1/2 tablet twice a day for 5 days, then give 1/2 tablet once a day for 5 days, then give 1/2 tablet every other day until gone."
But what exactly is prednisone, and most of all, why does it have such odd instructions? Prednisone is a synthetic corticosteroid drug that is often used to suppress the immune system for the purpose of reducing inflammation, pain, swelling, and itching. It's often prescribed for allergies, inflammation, adrenal gland disorders such as Addison's disease, cancer and several autoimmune diseases.
In many ways, prednisone is similar to the corticosteroid hormones cortisol and aldosterone produced by the adrenal glands located along each kidney. Because of this, when taking prednisone, the adrenal glands start decreasing their production of cortisol, explains Dr. April Chang-Miller.
It would be too shocking for the adrenal glands to find themselves out of the blue in need of producing cortisol in large amounts again, so by tapering the prednisone gradually, the glands are given some time to resume their normal functionality.
Most of all, tapering off will help prevent prednisone withdrawal symptoms, which can be at times scary and even life-threatening. In the next paragraph, we will see some potential problems associated with tapering off your dog's prednisone too quickly.
Veterinary Information About Prednisone
Side Effects of Abruptly Stopping Prednisone in Dogs
Sometimes, dog owners may feel tempted to stop their dog from taking prednisone either because their dog is feeling better or because of some annoying prednisone side effects. Never do that! Call the vet in this case and ask for directions.
This article is to emphasize the importance of acknowledging the risks associated with stopping prednisone abruptly especially when the dog has been on it for quite some time.
What are the risks? The main risk is what is called an "Addisonian crisis" or "iatrogenic hypoadrenocorticism" which can be life threatening and can cause the dog to go into shock. The word hypoadrenocorticism can be broken down as such: "hypo" meaning low and "adreno" referring to the adrenal gland and "cortico" relating to cortisol.
Addison's disease gets its name from Thomas Addison, who discovered Addison disease in humans. It takes place when the dog's adrenal glands fail to produce enough hormones for normal function. This can happen when the prednisone is stopped out of the blue and the adrenal glands are dormant because they weren't given a chance to gradually become active again.
When this happens, the dog's potassium and sodium levels get unbalanced. The sodium levels start to fall, while the potassium levels start to rise. High potassium levels can have a detrimental effect on the heart and can lead to circulatory collapse. Affected dogs may appear weak, lethargic, they may vomit, have a low, irregular heart rate and may go into shock and even collapse.
Affected dogs need to seek immediate emergency treatment to correct the electrolyte imbalances and possible low glucose levels through supportive care consisting of fluid therapy and careful monitoring. Rapidly-acting corticosteroid medications such as prednisolone sodium succinate or dexamethasone sodium phosphate may be needed according to the Merk Veterinary Manual.
This whole ordeal can be easily prevented by gradually tapering the dog off the steroids. Dogs on prednisone for quite some time, need to be tapered even more gradually. The vet will tell owners how.
Prednisone is generally tapered off anywhere between two and five weeks but how it's tapered off varies depending on how long the dog has been on the drug, the condition being treated and how the dog reacts to a lowered dosage, according to Vet Info.
When the dog is tapered off, it's important to watch for clinical signs of trouble and report them to the vet immediately. The best way to ultimately prevent prednisone withdrawal symptoms in dogs is to therefore strictly adhere to the label's instructions and ensure that the tapering off instructions are followed exactly to the letter.
Disclaimer: this article contains the results of my research and should not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is on steroids, follow your vet's advice on proper tapering off. If you suspect signs of prednisone withdrawal, see your vet immediately as this can be a life-threatening emergency. If you have any doubts, consult with your vet.
© 2013 Adrienne Janet Farricelli