The Importance of Gradually Weaning Dogs off Prednisone

Updated on November 23, 2013
See your vet immediately if you failed to taper your dog off steroids and he seems lethargic.
See your vet immediately if you failed to taper your dog off steroids and he seems lethargic.

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 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 coricosteroid 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, cancer and several auto-immune 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 function.

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 effect. 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 =low adreno = adrenal gland cortico = cortisol

Addison 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 predisone withdrawal symptoms in dogs is to 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.

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    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 10 months ago from USA

      Kathleen, so sorry you are going through this, perhaps it may help consulting with an internal medicine specialist? This sounds complicated.

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      Kathleen 10 months ago

      My 1 year old Boxer is currently on Prenisone, due to Immune system from Lyme Disease , we have tried tapering her off it down to a Quarter piece an then down to a quarter piece every other Day , once she gets down to the quarter piece , to skip a few days so she can get Spayed , she get sick, its like we can't get ear off it without her getting really sick, I am unable to get. Her Spayed no way , what Ian th eproblem here , how can I get her Spayed if we can't get her off the Prednisone .??? Please I need some really good Advice .!!! Now , they also put her on Atopica to help taper her off the prednisone so she could have the spay , but as soon as we tried getting her down from th eprednisone she gets ill .?? Pulling my hairs out , Vet won't spay her unless she has been off the prednisone but if I can't get her off it , then what do I do, There has got to be a way ..!!!!!!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks Eiddwen and Tillsontitan, yes, it looks like the longer the dog has been on it, the more carefully it should be tapered off, thanks for the votes up!

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      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Certainly a useful warning. My dog was on prednisone for a year so tapering off was very important. I didn't know about Addison's Disease as a result so I am very glad I followed instructions. I know others will find this useful.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting and useful for sure alexadry.


    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Epbooks, thanks for stopping by. Following label instructions is very important and it's unfortunate some owners fail to follow them. I remember one day at the vet a lady called and asked if she could use the dog's left over antibiotics from last time the dog was sick for a possible UTI, which was an alarming statement, because it meant last time she didn't give all the antibiotics till gone!

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Wonderful and informative hub. My dogs have all been on prednisone for one reason or another at separate times and though I never knew the side effects, I've always adhered to the advice and I saw the importance of it when my vet told me never to just take them off of it on a whim. Educational. Thanks for sharing!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      It's amazing the number of dog owners who give it without tapering off, I was inspired to write this because I just saw a post on a website by an owner that gave it and then stopped and was asking why his dog was not feeling well. A simple search revealed many others dog owners doing the same.

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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an important hub, alexadry. I have had two dogs that have been prescribed prednisone, so this article is very useful and interesting for me. In each case the prednisone helped my pet, but your warning about withdrawing the prednisone treatment gradually is vital .