Prednisolone For Cats: Dosage, Safety & Side Effects

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Prednisolone for cats feature

Prednisolone is a synthetic glucocorticoid steroid commonly used in cats as an anti-inflammatory or as a treatment for immune-mediated conditions.

Prednisolone For Cats Overview

Medication Type:
Steroid
Form:
Liquid, Injection
Prescription Required?:
Yes
FDA Approved?:
No
Common Names:
Prednisone, Prednisolone

In this article you’ll learn what prednisolone is, some conditions it may be used for in cats, and side effects to look out for.

What Is A Steroid?

A steroid is an organic compound, with hundreds of steroid compounds found throughout nature. Steroids make up the structure of cells. Cholesterol, for example, is a steroid that composes the structure of cell walls.

Steroids can also act as hormones that act as signal messengers in the body. Most folks are familiar with steroid hormones like estrogens and testosterone.

Anabolic steroids are ones that act in the body to increase muscle and bone growth. These are the ones we often associate with professional body-builders.

A third class of steroids are corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are involved in a variety of functions within the body, including stress response, immune response, regulation of inflammation, and others.

There are natural corticosteroids produced by the body, like cortisol, and then there are synthetic man-made ones, like prednisolone.

What Does Prednisolone Do For Cats?

What does prednisolone do for cats?

Prednisolone can be used as an anti-inflammatory at lower doses and as an immune suppressant at higher doses.

At lower doses, prednisolone may be used as an anti-inflammatory. A cat with a red, itchy skin infection for example, may benefit from an anti-inflammatory course of prednisolone to reduce inflammation and itching while antibiotics address the infection.

At higher doses, prednisolone can be used to treat conditions caused by an overactive immune system by suppressing its effects. This can include conditions like feline asthma, caused by the immune system’s response to airborne allergens, and inflammatory bowel disease, caused by the immune system’s response to food allergens.

PredisONE vs. PrednisOLONE

You might wonder why you’re reading about prednisolone, when prednisone is more common. You might also wonder if the two are basically the same thing. The simple answer is they are…and they aren’t.

Prednisone and prednisolone have the same effects on the body. This is because in most species, prednisone is very quickly converted to prednisolone by the liver. But a couple of animal species, including horses and cats, cannot efficiently absorb or convert prednisone to prednisolone.

So this is why, while we often use prednisONE with dogs, we should only use prednisOLONE in cats.

Side Effects Of Prednisolone In Cats

Side Effects of Prednisolone for Cats

The side effects of prednisolone for cats include increased water intake, increased appetite, and occasionally, digestive upset.

Cats tend to tolerate steroids better compared to dogs and we see fewer adverse effects in kitties. However, there are some important things to look out for, especially for kitties on higher doses of prednisolone.

Increased Thirst

Occasionally, a pet parent may observe their cat on prednisolone to have an increased water intake and subsequent need to urinate more. You might find yourself refilling the water bowl more often, and cleaning up larger urine clumps in the litter box.

Increased Appetite

Steroids can also cause an increase in appetite, which can lead to weight gain. For some conditions that cause weight loss, like inflammatory bowel disease, weight gain is desirable, but this is not always the case, so weight should be closely monitored.

Digestive Upset

Steroids may cause digestive upset in some cats, usually some soft stool or diarrhea if it happens.

Separate, long-term effects of prednisolone therapy can also be seen.

Steroids can contribute to increases in blood sugar in most animals, but in cats, this effect seems to be more prominent. For this reason, steroids should be used cautiously in overweight cats at risk for diabetes mellitus, and should not be used in diabetic cats, as steroid use will interfere with blood sugar regulation.

Long-term use of high doses of steroids can also lead to more serious side effects like a thinning haircoat, and ironically secondary skin problems. This, in combination with other effects like excessive drinking, urination, and appetite can be lumped into a condition known as iatrogenic hyperadrenocorticism, or synthetic steroid-induced Cushing’s disease. Fortunately, the effects are reversible if steroids are stopped.

And lastly, although the specifics are still debated, there is a perceived risk for cats at risk of heart disease developing heart failure on steroids.

This seems to occur uncommonly in cats with no signs or symptoms of heart disease. Steroids should be used with extreme caution in any cat with known existing heart disease.

As with any medication, using prednisolone must have benefits that outweigh potential risks, especially when used long-term.

Prednisolone For Cats: Dosage

Steroids like prednisolone have a very wide dosage range depending on the condition being treated. Lower doses are used to address inflammation while higher doses will suppress the immune system. Compared to dogs on prednisone, cats generally require higher doses of prednisolone.

Because of the high degree of variability in dosing, your veterinarian should decide what dosage of prednisolone will be best for your kitty.

Conclusion

Steroids like prednisolone are extremely useful medications because they have a broad range of dosage and effects. They are necessary to get some inflammatory and immune-mediated conditions we see in cats under control.

Cats are more resistant to steroid side effects than dogs. Steroids are also attractive options as anti-inflammatories especially given that our ability to use non-steroidal anti-inflammatories in cats is very limited.

All the same, steroids must be used judiciously and cautiously under the direction of a veterinarian. Also, remember that only prednisOLONE and not prednisONE should be administered to cats. So if you have a dog at home, don’t share any steroids prescribed for your pup (or for yourself) with your kitty.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does Prednisolone Take to Work in Cats?

Generally, cats with inflammatory conditions will see improvement within just a day or two of prednisolone therapy. With more complicated conditions or immune-mediated conditions, noticeable improvement may take longer, but still generally within several days.

What Does Prednisolone Do for Cats?

Prednisolone is commonly used in cats as either an anti-inflammatory or as an immunosuppressive medication. 

Inflammatory conditions may include any number of skin conditions, inflammation from an injury, or inflammation caused by arthritis. 

Immune-mediated conditions where the immune system actually causes damage to the body in response to an initiating cause like allergens, may include feline asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune diseases like immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, autoimmune skin diseases, and many others. 

Prednisolone may also be used to treat and manage certain types of cancers, especially lymphoma. 

What Are the Side Effects of Prednisolone for Cats?

The most common short-term effects in cats may include increased drinking, urinating, and appetite. Some cats may also develop mild signs of digestive upset, like diarrhea. 

Over a longer time period, and especially at higher doses, we can see these short-term effects in combination with long-term effects like weight gain, thinning hair coat, and lethargy. 

Steroids should be used very cautiously in overweight cats, as they can contribute to further weight gain. They may also increase blood sugar in cats more compared to other animal species, which may put an overweight cat already at risk for diabetes at an even higher risk.

Prednisolone should also be used cautiously in cats at risk for heart disease. Since many cats at risk for heart disease show no outwardly abnormal signs, your veterinarian may recommend a screening test, especially if long-term use of prednisolone is being considered.

Alternative treatment options to prednisolone therapy should be considered for cats diagnosed with diabetes or known to have existing heart disease.

How Much Prednisolone Can You Give a Cat?

Prednisolone, like all steroids, has a very wide dosage range, depending on its intended use. This is why your veterinarian should determine what dosage and protocol is best for your cat, depending on the condition being treated.

About Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH

Dr. Chris Vanderhoof is a 2013 graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM) at Virginia Tech, where he also earned a Masters in Public Health. He completed a rotating internship with Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey and now works as a general practitioner in the Washington D.C. area. Dr. Vanderhoof is also a copywriter specializing in the animal health field and founder of Paramount Animal Health Writing Solutions, which can be found at www.animalhealthcopywriter.com. Dr. Vanderhoof lives in the Northern Virginia area with his family, including 3 cats.

9 thoughts on “Prednisolone For Cats: Dosage, Safety & Side Effects

  1. BioSquint

    Just to be clear, cholesterol is found in animal cells MEMBRANES since animal cells do not have cell walls. Plants do not have cholesterol but use similar type sterols in their membranes and the cell walls are made of carbohydrates.
    Now a question. Can prednisolone be used to treat stomatitis in cats, at least short term?
    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH Post author

      Thanks for your very astute clarification. In answer to your question, prednisolone can be used to address some cases of stomatitis, which for our other readers out there is a generalized painful inflammation of the mouth and gums. Prednisolone can help reduce the inflammation and relieve some of the pain. However, you are correct that this is often just a short-term therapy, as we always need to try to find out what the underlying cause of the stomatitis is, to address it more specfiically.

      Reply
  2. Kayla

    Hi,

    My cat has been overgrooming on her abdomen for about 2 weeks – showing no signs or irritation, rash, bites or, broken skin or marks of any kind.

    No changes at home and no exposure to outdoors – but my vet prescribed her prednisolone (one 5mg tablet, twice a day for 14 days, then one tablet once a day for 14 days) and gabapentin (1 capsule twice daily for 30 days).

    Is this necessary? It was quite a pricey bill and a lot of medication for just some overgrooming… but I’m no vet.

    Reply
  3. Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH Post author

    Hi Kayla,

    While I can’t comment specifically on what’s causing the overgrooming in your kitty, since your vet has the benefit of a full physical exam, I can perhaps provide a little insight on the rationale behind the medications prescribed.

    Overgrooming behavior can be complex and sometimes it’s difficult to lock down an underlying cause. Because cats can’t tell us how they’re feeling and because testing available to us for some situations may not always provide a clear answer, it is common in veterinary medicine to prescribe a treatment course and see how a patient responds. If successful, this has the potential to provide resolution of the problem and relief for the kitty, as well as narrowing down an underlying cause.

    Prednisolone can assist with possible itching or an irritation sensation leading to excessive grooming. Allergens and sources of itchy skin are not exclusive to the outdoors and exclusively indoor kitties can have these issues as well.

    Gabapentin is widely known to provide a calming effect for cats and since overgrooming can also be part of stress-related behavior, gabapentin will sometimes be prescribed to see if a stress-realated behavior may improve or resolve.

    Your vet has a treatment plan in mind, whether this medication trial is successful or not. As Mallory said, if you do have questions about why a particular medication was prescribed or what the overall plan of approach is, make sure to bring this up with your vet.

    Additionally, I get the impression a little that the overgrooming behavior does not bother you terribly. Although it can be a symptom of a skin or behavioral issue, if you feel the overgrooming is mild and not significantly impacting your kitty’s life or relationship with you, make sure to let your vet know that.

    If you don’t have a recheck exam scheduled for your kitty yet, make sure to call in to your vet when the prednisolone course and gabapentin are finished to let them know how things are going. I can tell you firsthand that I always appreciate updates if something is working well, and even when it isn’t.

    Reply
  4. Pam

    I think I read that Prednisolone chewy tablets will dry out if not kept refrigerated, but this will not affect the efficacy of the med. Is this true? If I dry the tablets, they will be easier to add to food.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH Post author

      Hi Pam,
      If the prednisolone tablets you have are chewables, I’m assuming you’re getting them through a compounding pharmacy. Because formulations can differ between pharmacies with compounded drugs, it’s always best to contact the pharmacy itself and speak to a pharmacist or pharmacy tech about questions of shelf-life, storage, etc. What you say would seem to make sense to me, where the tablets might dry out a bit but their drug potency would not be diminished, but that’s a question even I would call the pharmacy itself to verify.

      Reply
  5. Bruce

    Hi,
    My cat suddenly developed non-regenerative anemia. He was originally thought to have a parasitic infection and theraphy was initiated on that premise using antibiotics and steroids. The PCV was so low (12) and his fever so high (105.5) that a transfusion was performed. Simultaneously PCR tests were run to identify the most common specific parasites, but all returned negative.
    The antibiotic was discontinued and an auto immune theraphy was begun with a steroid and cyclosporine. That protocol of transfusion and auto immune treatment lasted approximately 7 days before his condition relapsed to near original conditions.
    A second transfusion lasted approximately the same length of 7 days with a move to a teaching hospital where multiple additional tests were performed along with additional PCR tests, X-rays, ultrasound and a biopsy of the spleen which appeared thickened. No definitive identification of a cause for his condition has been made. A third transfusion has now lasted 14 days but PCV readings today are down to 14 but only slightly elevated fever of 102.4. He is still on the cyclosporine and steroid treatment. He is eating and drinking water but becoming more reclusive. Any comments on this condition that may be out of the ordinary cause?

    Reply
    1. Dr. Chris Vanderhoof, DVM, MPH Post author

      Hi Bruce,
      I’m very sorry to hear that your kitty is having such a hard time, with what sounds like a very serious and uncommon disease process. Sudden anemias like this can be very difficult to manage, especially if they don’t fit into the category of ones that respond quickly to prednisolone and antibiotics. If an infectious cause has not been found, an immune-mediated cause is typically to blame, but under that umbrella of immune-mediated disease, the list of sub-causes, if you will, can be fairly exhaustive. It sounds like a lot of testing has been done already. I assume a bone marrow sample has been done or at least discussed, because that would be an important thing to be considered with other testing coming back as it has. Sometimes, unfortunately, a specific cause is not found, and therapy has to be catered or altered to see what response is seen. All the testing can at least rule out many things and narrow the treatment focus. Prednisolone typically remains a hallmark drug for these conditions until a successful long-term medical therapy plan can be developed with a long-term drug like cyclosporine or a similar immunosuppressive drug, at which point the pred can be slowly tapered. Not being a part of the case, that’s probably the best I can comment on your kitty’s situation, but university teaching hospitals have the best and latest on treating these uncommon and more severe cases of anemia. I truly wish for the best outcome for him.

      Reply

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