There are dozens of members of the steroid group of which cortisone is one. Steroids are powerful agents which reduce inflammation but also reduce the immune mechanism of dogs. They do not cure inflammatory disease conditions but in a myriad of problems remove the signs of the problem. If your dog has an itching sensation that makes it bite and scratch, an injection or a few tablets and the itch is gone. If the inflammation is in an arthritic joint, the pain leaves as the inflammation disappears.
However, it should be obvious that an inflamed condition may ha veto be abided by because maintaining a healthy immune system may mean life rather than death. Steroids are used in patients, usually humans, with transplants to prevent the immune system’s rejection of the strange new tissue.
So steroids at best are a mixed blessing. When used to control the itching which accompanies skin irritations, there is no way to evaluate the effectiveness of a medication. If the medication is not helping the itching returns as the effects of the steroids wear off. If steroids are administered to a patient with an infection, it is necessary to give the correct medication, antibiotic, or other, to control the infection or the body’s defenses will be reduced, permitting and perhaps stimulating the infection to flourish.
Many experts suggest that long-acting steroids not be given by injection since unfavorable results cannot be stopped as they might be by withdrawing the oral medication.
Some steroids have inconvenient side effects. The desire for food and water is exaggerated, resulting in a dog’s inability to go through the night without having to urinate. In many cases, however, this inconvenience is a small price to pay if in the long run the dog benefits. In cases of autoimmune disease in which the dog rejects part of its anatomy – red blood cells or the lining of the intestine, for example – lowering the immune response over weeks may reverse the condition.
Another example of the remarkable effectiveness of steroids is in old dogs with severe arthritis. We have had many elderly dogs brought in for euthanasia whose arthritis was so advanced they could no longer walk. One example was a male Standard Poodle that was twelve years old and had to be carried into the examining room. They were delighted to postpone the act and even more delighted to see the such improvement that in five days the dog climbed stairs he hadn’t climbed in five years.
That Poodle lived for two years until at age fourteen he developed inoperable cancer and euthanasia was performed. Steroids reduced the immune system, permitting cancer to proliferate, but he had two beautiful years he would not otherwise have enjoyed. there is no doubt that in many dogs excess steroids cause a hormone imbalance that results in the loss of hair and other side effects, which are examples of how steroids are indeed a mixed blessing.
DMSO was discovered. This compound, able to penetrate unbroken skin, holds promise as a vehicle to carry other chemicals through the skin. At present, it is used in riding horses to transport steroids to inflamed tendons, which in many cases removes the cause of the lameness.
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