Natural remedies for feline asthma are great, but sometimes we need what the doctor ordered. Prednisolone for cats is prescribed to help with a number of illnesses including asthma, but it does not come without warnings. There are concerns with long-term use and side effects that range from ‘meh’ to really freaking nasty. Arming yourself with information is, as always, the best way to use this drug safely and manage the fall-out that comes along with it.
Sparrow and I have an on again/off again, love/hate relationship with this stuff. While it does a great job of controlling his asthma flare-ups, I’d prefer not to be throwing synthetic drugs down his throat unless I really have to, especially when there are so many other ways to keep the kitty wheeze-free. If Sparrow could speak English, I’m sure he’d say the same.
Prednisone or Prednisolone – What’s The Difference?
No, it’s not a spelling mistake. Prednisolone and prednisone are two slightly different things. Many asthma cat parents talk about using prednisone to treat their feline but it’s more likely that prednisolone has been prescribed. Basically, prednisone is broken down by enzymes in the liver and turned into prednisolone, so it’s much safer for cats to be prescribed the end result in the first place, especially if there are other liver function factors involved.
It doesn’t make much difference what you call it, so if you want to save yourself a couple of syllables, referring to it as prednisone is cool, as long as you remember what it actually is. For the sake of this piece I’m going to refer to prednisolone because that’s what Sparrow has been prescribed, but what I’m going to say can probably be applied to both.
What is Prednisolone?
Prednisolone is a corticosteroid that prevents the release of substances that cause inflammation in the body. In higher doses, it is used to suppress the immune system. It isprescribed to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and asthma, as well as for certain autoimmune diseases.
Prednisolone is a synthetic version of cortisol, a hormone produced naturally by your cat’s adrenal glands. Cortisol has a number of functions in the body such as breaking down glucose for energy and helping the immune system deal with inflammation and swelling.
These synthetic versions of cortisol are much more potent and longer lasting than their naturally occurring forms, so caution must be exercised to avoid nasty side effects and withdrawals. Your vet will likely prescribe a high initial dose, with instructions to taper off the dose until the symptoms are gone. Here’s some great technical information on prednisolone if you’re interested.
Is Prednisolone Safe For Cats?
Sure. It’s not ideal to be loading your cat’s system with synthetic drugs, but as a short-term fix for the occasional flare-up, prednisolone is fine when used correctly. Obviously, it’s preferable to be doing other things to keep the wheeze at bay, such as feeding your kitty the best diet and eliminating environmental triggers – but sometimes even these things aren’t enough. That’s when we call upon medical science.
This is a potent medication that messes with several of your kitty’s major organs, a fact that should not be taken lightly. It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions regarding the dosage, timing and tapering off of this medication.
Many of the side effects of prednisolone are mild and expected, but some are more serious and if they come up, you’ll have to get to the vet and get it sorted. If you’re giving any kind of medication to your feline friend it’s important to keep a close eye on the patient, know the potential side effects and do what you can to ease any distress these side effects may cause.
Nasty Side Effects
By definition, side effects are undesirable and usually pretty ugly. Some of the side effects of short-term prednisolone use are relatively minor and may include:
- Increased appetite
- Increased thirst
- Behaviour changes
- Urinary tract infection
The side effects of long-term prednisolone use are much more serious and could include:
- Cushings Disease
- Inhibited growth in young pets
- Ulceration of the digestive tract
- Delayed healing.
Because prednisolone suppresses the immune system, it should not be given to your cat if she has any kind of infection as this could delay the healing process. Likewise, it’s not to be given to pregnant or lactating cats or young kittens. Your vet will know all of this anyway and you’ll ask good questions that relate to your cat’s special little situation because you’re a smart and caring pet owner…right?
Steroid treatment can save your cat’s life in a nasty flare-up, but over time it will take a toll on the delicate feline system. Rather than just automatically reaching for your stash or running to your vet for a prescription, please address these flare-ups. Do your detective work – find out why they’re happening and take steps to eliminate the trigger.
Don’t go Cold Turkey!
The real danger of using prednisolone for any length of time is the withdrawal. It’s not a rehab type situation, but stopping suddenly can make for a scary time which could include extreme fatigue, trembling, the development of Addison’s disease or even death.
When you give prednisolone to your cat, the adrenal glands slow down the production of cortisol quite significantly. If you stop suddenly the adrenal glands won’t be able to catch up and produce cortisol quickly enough, which leads to the aforementioned scary times.
Weaning kitty off his pred habit is pretty simple – your vet will be able to give you instructions on the schedule. As an example, the last time Sparrow was on prednisolone we did twice a day for the first 7 days, once a day for the next 7 days, once every other day for the next 7 days and on like to the point of stopping. Please don’t use this as a set of instructions though, speak to your vet to make sure you’re using the right method for your cat.
Prednisolone and other corticosteroids can be lifesavers if used correctly, but caution needs to be taken to avoid long term problems. You have a much better chance of giving your kitty a long and healthy life if you find what’s causing the problem and fix that, rather than just masking it with drugs.
What are your thoughts on steroid treatments? If you’ve given your cat prednisolone (or prednisone) how did it go? Head to the comments and share your thoughts.