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.

15 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
  6. Nancy Lacy

    My 12 year old cat Louie is being treated for IBD. He takes 5mg tab prednisolone per day. Vet wants to wean him to a lower dose or stop the prednisolone. We began step down from 5mg/day to 2.5mg/day, but symptoms started back up after 5 days of the lower dose. Vet said to step him back up, so I did and symptoms resolved.

    Problem is, vet clinic suddenly closed down business, so I don’t know how to further manage the step down process. Example, how long to leave him steped back up to 5mg/day, then what should step down dose be (since 2.5mg brought back symptoms), then how long to leave at step down dose (assuming no new symptoms), then what should be next step down dose?

    Dr. Chris, do you make paid Tele Medicine appointments?

    Thanks.

    s,Can you please explain process for weaning cat off (or to lower dose) of prednisolone.

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

      Hi Nancy,

      I’m sorry to hear your vet suddenly closed. That’s very frustrating I’m sure. I hope you’ll be able to find another one in your area. If you check out the All About Cats forums, there is a thread about what to look for when looking for a new vet, you might find it helpful!

      For Louie, I can provide some limited guidance to help you along until you can get re-established with a new vet practice. IBD is an immune-mediated disease and most immune-mediated diseases cannot be cured, but can be managed. This is important because I would dispel the expectation that Louis may ever be able to be completely off a steroid. Generally, when we treat immune-mediated diseases, we try to first get the signs of disease under control, and then if we can, reduce the dosage to the lowest dosage and frequency that is still effective at managing the disease.

      Your vet was working on this by trying to get the dosage down as low as possible, which helps mitigate any long-term side effects from steroids while still managing the disease. It sounds like the two of you found the lowest dose that managed Louie’s signs. The best thing to do right now is to probably continue at the 5mg per day. It’s quite possible Louie will need to be on this dosage for life. When you’re able to establish with a new vet, you may find that he/she may want to just continue this dose, or based on how Louie’s doing, eventually try dropping the dosage again after a few weeks or months. But if the signs return again, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to get off of the prednisolone.

      Unfortunately, I can’t offer any telemedicine services. While they’ve been very popular especially this past year, there are many rules and laws that govern these types of services and they vary a lot depending on each state. State licensing laws also place restrictions on the type of advice we can give outside of an established relationship through our veterinary practices. Telemedicine also has a lot of limitations. Since our patients can’t tell us what’s wrong, physical exams are so important as a part of care. That’s why I would encourage you to have a look at our forum thread on the topic for some guidance on getting established with a new vet to help continue Louie’s care.

      I truly hope that guidance is helpful to you.

      Dr. Vanderhoof

      Reply
  7. Jane Atkinson

    My boy cat contracted FIV 8 years ago he is now 12. He has been very healthy and during a routine annual check we took some bloods to see how is was going. Only to find very low levels of platelets count. First test was done in May at 70 then due to COVID we had lockdowns and various issues the next test wasn’t done for a couple of months and when the second bloods were done the level dropped to 31. We immediately started 5mg of Prednisolone and tested in a week and his levels went to 244 in 7 days. Then we tested 3 weeks later and it went back down to 190 so we decided to not reduce the dosage and test again in 3 weeks which was yesterday unfortunately his levels went down to 150 although normal the results are on the downward slide with no explanation. My vet wants me to keep the cortisone going at 5mg until they discuss alternative options and work out alternative medicines, they may even increase the dose which I am not keen on.

    They cant explain why this has happened and why the levels dropped. He is putting on weight and is over eating and its been difficult as I have another FIV cat (she is fine at the moment) and they both normally graze eat. Now he is eating all the food and leaving nothing for the girl cat; she is not one to eat in one go and its hard to change her eating behaviour. The boy cat is stalking around constantly looking for food now its very distressing. My question is threefold why has the levels dropped considering he is on the same dose for over 7 weeks and did so well initially? What other medicines can we try that don’t have the side affects of cortisone (obesity) but will maintain the platelets? And thirdly any suggestions for feeding how to do change 12 years of grazing behaviour so she gets some food before he eats it all? Any advice would be great . Thanks

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

      Hi Jane,

      I’m so sorry to hear both of your kitty’s have Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). This is a virus that I have found, in my own experience, may cause no noticeable issues sometimes for years, and then suddenly we see some effect from it, whether a secondary infection, immune-mediated disease, or what have you. These effects, when they happen. can be frustrating and challenging, because the virus itself cannot be eliminated and our efforts are aimed at trying to manage the secondary condition.

      As a disclaimer, I cannot provide specific treatment recommendations, but hopefully I can provide some helpful insight.

      In answer to your 3 questions:

      1. Since there was an excellent response to the prednisolone initially, it’s not clear to me yet if we’re truly seeing a pathologic reduction in platelets again or not. When starting prednisolone, it is possible to see an initial thrombocytosis, or a real dumping of platelets into the bloodstream. It’s possible we’re seeing some effects of that calming down. 150K platelets with some presumed clumping on the side, is still very adequate for a cat. If we continued to see platelets reduce below 100K though, I would be worried that the pred is not helping as much as it was. As your vet may have discussed, this sounds like the FIV virus may be either directly affecting platelet production in the bone marrow, or the immune system is attacking platelets in response to the virus. We have to remember that both viruses and the immune system are constantly changing and adapting, so frustrating changes like this, where everything seems to be going well and then suddenly isn’t, can occur for no apparent reason. Some cats do need much higher doses of steroids to provide immunosuppression, which is why your vet has discussed possibly increasing the pred dose.
      2. It sounds like you’re already having some issues with side effects of the prednisolone with the increased appetite, however. When side effects like this become problematic, it is reasonable to look into other immunosuppressive medications, which it sounds like your vet is looking into. Cyclosporine, for example, is a common one that may be used. There is not one I could specifically recommend, as there is not one that is specifically proven over others to work better. It is common for this decision to be based on a doctor’s training and clinical experience. Sometimes, consulting with an internal medicine specialist may be helpful in these cases, which your vet may also be considering as well.
      3. The best way that I have found to control grazing behavior in a household with more than one cat is to do it in a controlled way using a microchip pet feeder, like the SureFeed microchip pet feeder. What you would do is ensure your girl cat (or generally the cat you’re not trying to control feeding for) has a microchip (which if she does not already, your vet can place one for you). The feeder can be set to only her microchip frequency, which will allow her to access her food whenever she wants, but your boy cat will not be able to access it, even if he’s sitting just behind her waiting. This allows you to control your boy cat’s eating much better and your poor girl kitty to not have her food stolen. It has an accordion-style door which is very safe. Sometimes it takes a little bit of training for a week or two to get a kitty used to the feeder, but I have found it is worth it.
      Make sure to continue communicating with your vet, as it sounded like they were looking into some options. But I hope this info has been helpful for you.

      Reply
      1. Jane Atkinson

        thanks for your response I did try the microchip feeder but my girl cat refused to use them I tried for 4 weeks in the end I had to return them and go back to graze feeding. I spoke with my vet and they dont think he has put that much weight and are not concerned about it. They have seen a case before that went backwards on the plalets count on 5mg and died; so they have increased the dose to 10mg which I started today they feel that is the only way to go otherwise they feel it will continue to decline. I will let you know how it goes when I go back in 3 weeks for next blood test. if it works its maybe likely that he will need to remain on it for a while. thanks again

        Reply

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