Cat Steroids: Side Effects

By Jane Meggitt

Your veterinarian might prescribe steroids for a number of conditions affecting your cat. These include skin issues, joint problems, Addison's disease and certain eye diseases. If Kitty is suffering from shock or trauma, he'll probably receive steroids to boost circulation and reduce inflammation. Some cats receive steroids in conjunction with chemotherapy treatment for cancer. While effective, steroid use involves potential short- and long-term side effects. It's important for you and your vet to monitor your cat while he receives steroid therapy.

Common Feline Steroids

No group of drugs other than antibiotics has saved more lives, according to California's Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. Common steroids used for cats include prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, marketed under the brand name Azium, methylprednisolone, marketed as Medrol, and triamcinolone, marketed as Vetalog. This class of steroids, known as glucocorticoids, are synthetic versions of the natural hormone cortisol. Your vet initially might administer the steroid in the form of a shot, then prescribe pills or tablets for your cat. Follow your vet's dosing directions carefully.

Short-Term Effects

Common short-term steroid side effects include an increase in hunger and drinking, the latter resulting in more frequent urination. Your cat might appear lethargic. If your cat was harboring a latent infection, steroid use can cause the infection to manifest itself. Less common side effects include nausea and vomiting. Your vet might adjust Kitty's medication to relieve the side effects, rather than take your cat off the drugs.

Long-Term Effects

Long-term steroid use causes additional side effects. If your cat is prescribed steroids for more than three months, he could develop skin problems, including feline acne and a thinning coat. His wound-healing ability may deteriorate, and he may be more susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections. Hard calcium deposits known as calcinosis cutis might appear on his skin. Some cats develop diabetes resulting from long-term steroid use. Nearly one-third of cats receiving long-term steroids experience urinary tract infections, although they might seem asymptomatic since the medication suppresses pain and inflammation. Your vet likely will perform a urinalysis regularly on your pet to detect potential infection.

Steroid Contraindications

Cats suffering from diabetes mellitus usually should not receive steroids, unless the animal faces a life-threatening condition and no other suitable treatment is available. Pregnant cats shouldn't receive steroids, as the drug likely will cause the cat to abort. If your cat receives a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, she shouldn't be given steroids, as a combination of the two drugs can lead to stomach irritation and ulceration.