Does Your Vet Routinely Prescribe Steroids for Your Dog?
– Unfortunately this practise is becoming more and more commonplace. And it’s a growing trend which has a dark side. Yes, steroids produce a fast and seemingly impressive cure in many instances. But at what price?
Your dog’s health is the price …
Steroids The Sleaziest of Drugs
Like antibiotics, steroids are one of the most abused class of drugs in the orthodox veterinarian field of medicine. At one time, they were reserved for the extreme emergency cases. Today, they are being used on the most trivial of conditions. Why? They give the appearance of an instant miracle cure which matches the >expectation= level of the client. So, many vets turn to steroids as the first, rather than the last, line of attack for their anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.
Steroids mimic the action of the adrenal glands, the body’s most powerful regulator of general metabolism. Far from being a wonder drug Acure all steroids cannot cure one single condition. All they do is suppress the body’s ability to express a normal response. Occasionally this type of suppression will give the body a chance to heal itself. But more often, the effect is immediate, devastating and can cause permanent damage.
The medical community seems to have a particular blind spot about these drugs, refusing to believe that steroids can cause the terrible carnage that the manufacturers have long admitted to. For over 30 years we’ve known that steroids can routinely cause over-activity of adrenal hormones, which produces Cushing’s disease. They can also cause muscle wasting, hyperglycemia, water retention, bruising, insomnia, serious mood changes, menstrual problems, impotence, loss of libido, or even allergic shock and diabetes. (Source: Physicians Desk Reference).
Far from being a wonder drug ‘cure all’, steroids cannot cure one single condition. All they do is suppress your body’s ability to express a normal response. In a few instances, this type of suppression will give the body a chance to heal itself. But more often, the effect is immediate, devastating and permanent damage. And we are only now realizing just how quickly damage can occur. Despite what doctors say, that steroids only have side effects after many years of use, there is no such thing as a safe dose.
Studies show that steroids cause permanent, debilitating effects after a single dosage. With long term use, some of the more common side effects of steroids include changes in appearance, such as acne, development of a round or moon-shaped face and an increased appetite leading to eight gain. Steroids may also cause a redistribution of fat, leading to a swollen face and abdomen, but thin arms and legs. In some cases, the skin becomes more fragile, which leads to easy bruising. These take weeks to begin appearing.
Psychological side effects of steroids include irritability, agitation, euphoria or depression. Insomnia can also be a side effect. These changes in appearance and mood are often more apparent with high doses of steroids, and may begin within days. Injected Triamcinalone (see above), or oral dexamethasone seem to cause these changes less, but as they stay in the body an undesirably long time, rendering them second choices.
An increase in susceptibility to infections may occur with very high doses of steroids. Prednisone may also aggravate diabetes, glaucoma, and high blood pressure, and often increases cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. In children, steroids can suppress growth. These effects are reversed once the steroids are stopped.
Long-term damage: quick and dirty
Steroids don’t take years to damage your system, as doctors maintain. Permanent, crippling damage can occur weeks after you’ve begun treatment.
- Osteoporosis can occur within a matter of months. Steroids cause 8 per cent reduction in bone mass after four months (Ann Int Med, November 15, 1993), the equivalent of the effect on your bones of having your ovaries removed. Even low doses of inhaled steroids (400 micrograms per day) reduce bone formation (The Lancet, July 6, 1991).
- Low doses (10-15 mg prednisone) for a year can cause cataracts (Surv Ophthalmol, 1986; 31: 260-2).
- Topical steroids may begin to cause eye damage or raise pressure after two weeks. Extensive visual loss can be caused by a 1 per cent hydrocortisone ointment, which is available OTC (BMJ, August 20-27, 1994).
- Rub-on steroids have caused Cushing’s syndrome in children as soon as a month after treatment has begun (Arch Dis Child, 1982; 57: 204-7).
- Inhaled steroids slowth growth in children after six weeks (Acta Ped, 1993; 82: 636-40. See also, The Lancet, December 14, 1991).
- Bilateral cataracts and glaucoma induced by long term use of steroid eye drops
Side effects that may be caused by the long-term use of steroids include cataracts, muscle weakness, avascular necrosis of bone and osteoporosis. These usually do not occur with less than four weeks of treatment.
Avascular necrosis of bone, usually associated with high doses of prednisone over long periods of time, produces hip pain and an abnormal MRI scan. It occurs most often in the hip, but it can also affect the shoulders, knees and other joints. Caught early, the joint can be saved by “decompression” by an orthopedic surgeon. Once full developed, Avascular necrosis is painful and often requires surgical joint replacement for pain relief.
Steroids reduce calcium absorption through the gastrointestinal tract which may result in osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones. Osteoporosis can lead to bone fractures, especially compression fractures of the vertebrae, causing severe back pain. Calcium, at least 1500 mg of the calcium carbonate form or equivalent, should be taken. There are new medications (Fosamax in particular) that also may help to prevent osteoporosis.
There is also a relationship between steroids and premature arteriosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the blood vessels by fat (cholesterol) deposits. In general, there is a close relationship between the side effects of steroids and the dose and duration of their use. Thus, a high dose of steroids given over a long period of time is more likely to cause side effects than a lower dosage given over a shorter period of time.