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What To Expect When Treating Dogs With Cancer With Prednisone


what to expect when treating dogs with cancer with prednisone
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Learning that your dog is down with lymphoma can make you feel quite dreary. You’ve probably also heard of prednisone for treating the cancer. Your being here tells us that much. If you’re wondering what to expect when treating dogs with cancer with prednisone, you’re right on time.

But first, what is lymphoma?

It is a blood-borne cancer specifically a cancer of the white blood cells. It occurs in different forms in dogs and closely resembles human non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in its presentation.

In most vet circles, prednisone is commonly prescribed in the treatment of canine lymphoma as well as other diseases. Oftentimes, it forms part of a treatment regimen rather than a standalone treatment. However, there are some vets who would prescribe the drug as a standalone treatment.

Like most medicines, prednisone has its advantages and disadvantages. A primary advantage being its relative affordability and a primary disadvantage being the length of time for which it can be effective.

Today, we educate you on what to expect when treating dogs with cancer with prednisone. Remember that your vet is still the most qualified person to recommend drugs for the treatment of your pet. This article is simply for educational purposes.

Before we get into the article, here is something to think about. In this video, Dr. Susan McMillian explains some facts about prednisone and dogs including dosage, how to administer the drug and some uses and side effects.


How Does Prednisone Work?

Prednisone belongs to a family of drugs called corticosteroids. This is the same family to which drugs such as cortisone, prednisolone, and hydrocortisone belong. 

In vet medicine, prednisone is used to treat a wide range of illnesses in dogs including inflammation, allergies, autoimmune diseases, as well as certain cancers.

Prednisone is not one of those steroid hormones that are naturally produced in a dog’s body, it is made in a lab which makes it a synthetic drug. However, it imitates the work of these natural corticosteroids which is how it performs its work in the body.

Usually, these natural corticosteroid hormones are manufactured in the adrenal cortex. You find the adrenal cortex in the adrenal glands which sit on the kidneys. The adrenal cortex produces cortisol as its main hormone. This hormone is also known as the stress hormone.

When dogs are stressed physically or emotionally, or feel threatened or under stress, cortisol triggers the response of fight or flight. This is why dogs get more aggressive when under stress. They receive a fresh burst of energy courtesy of cortisol.

Cortisol also plays a role in autoimmune reactions — reactions in which white blood cells begin to attack members of the body like these members were foreign bodies.

So, because corticosteroids like prednisone mimick the action of natural corticosteroids, they are great at suppressing autoimmune and inflammatory processes in dogs.

So, in summary, prednisone decreases symptoms of inflammation and suppresses an overactive autoimmune system.


How Prednisone Is Used In Treating Cancers In Dogs

1. As Palliative Care

When cancer gets to a certain stage, palliative care is usually administered to help the patient live a full life for as long as possible. 

Sometimes, when cancer gets to the advanced stage, palliative care might even be as good as aggressive treatment in helping the dog live through that critical stage of illness. 

In dog cancer, palliative care involves providing the patient with nutritional support so they don’t get malnourished. It also involves suppressing pain in order to improve overall physical and emotional wellbeing.

Seeing how prednisone works, we can easily deduce that prednisone plays a role in palliative care when supporting a dog with cancer.


2. To Increase Appetite

dog food bowl
Image by Francis Ray from Pixabay

When dogs come down with cancer, they often come down with something known as cancer cachexia. It’s a secondary condition that presents itself as inappetence, loss of weight, anemia, and muscle wasting.

This loss of appetite in dogs with cancer has been attributed to many factors including mechanical abnormalities and iatrogenic consequences.

What are mechanical abnormalities?

These are physical changes in the body as a result of the cancer such as in cases where the dog has a tumor in the mouth or throat, an enlarged spleen or a tumor of the digestive tract. Such abnormalities would, naturally, cause a loss of appetite as eating becomes painful or as in an enlarged spleen, the stomach gets tricked into feeling full too early.

Furthermore, advanced cancer is usually associated with a partial loss of appetite, and in many cases, even complete loss of appetite.

Iatrogenic consequences, on the other hand, are consequences the body faces from the treatment of the cancer. For instance, dogs on chemo or certain cancer drugs naturally lose appetite.

Now, one common side effect of prednisone is an increased appetite. Therefore, prednisone (together with Maropitant citrate which helps with nausea and vomiting) can be used to help boost the sick dog’s appetite.

By the way, if you’re thinking of foods to feed your dog at this time, a general rule of thumb is to go for foods with easy-to-digest fatty proteins. However, please avoid beef and grains. If the food must contain grain, then it must be as few grains as possible. But as usual, your vet is the best person to walk you through food choices for your pooch right now.


3. To Kill Cancer Cells

what to expect when teaching dogs with cancer with prednisone
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Prednisone does kill lymphoma cells which is why it is prescribed. In fact, it can work as a standalone treatment. So, in cases where the pet parent doesn’t want to go with chemo, experts usually prescribe prednisone.

Without chemo, dogs with lymphoma would have about 1 month to live at the most. However, if prednisone is administered, survival times can increase from one month to up to three months. It’s not much, but it’s the best that can be had without treatment.


What To Expect When Treating Dogs With Cancer With Prednisone — Prognosis

Well, prognosis is not great. 

Treating dogs with cancer with prednisone as a standalone treatment has been shown to have some benefits no doubt, with 50 to 70% of dogs responding to a recognizable degree. At the very least, a treatment of prednisone is shown to partially reduce lymph node size.

However, in comparison, when on the more encompassing Madison Wisconsin Protocol, 80 to 90% of dogs will typically go into full remission with no sign of cancer whatsoever anymore. These dogs will also go on to live for up to 12 to 18 months after complete remission.

On prednisone, on the other hand, even if complete remission is achieved, life expectancy afterward is quite poor at about 3 to 4 months at the most.

Moreover, if, by chance, a dog falls out of remission when on prednisone, things get even bleaker. Further extension of life is practically impossible as Prednisone has been shown to build drug resistance in dogs. Therefore, further treatment of the disease becomes impossible.


What To Expect When Treating Dogs With Cancer With Prednisone — Side Effects

When treating a dog with cancer with prednisone, you can expect to see your dog experience the following.

1. Insatiable Thirst And Frequent Urination

thirsty dog

Dogs on prednisone typically experience frequent thirsts as well as frequent urination. Therefore, since your dog will be drinking water and urinating more, then you might want to give your dog prednisone in the morning.

Make sure your dog gets access to as much water as he needs. However, you might have to redraw your schedule so the gets more time to go out for a pee.

Also, to avoid your dog peeing in his bed at night while sleeping, don’t allow your dog get more water few hours before bed.


2. Increased Appetite

Prednisone increases appetite in dogs. So, your dog might get hungrier than normal, and therefore, eat more often and in larger doses than normal. In this situation, weight gain is inevitable and you have to watch it.

One way to do this is to only feed healthy low-calorie treats in between meals. Great examples of healthy treats include celery and green beans. (Click here to read our article on dog treats to find out other healthy treat alternatives you can try).

Also, you want to baby-proof your house because your dog might get around to eating weird stuff around the house. Normally, he wouldn’t eat these things but with the increased appetite, dogs might end up displaying such worrying behavior.


3. Stomach Ulcers And Personality Changes

These are much rarer side effects but they are also more serious.

If your dog is on certain anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or Rimadyl, please do not put him on prednisone.

Also, when treating your dog with cancer with prednisone, you want to look out for your dog’s stool. If it’s black and tarry, especially if accompanied by vomiting, then your dog might be suffering from stomach ulceration. In such cases, please call your vet.

Another thing you must watch out for in your dog is extreme personality changes. Of course, a dog with cancer on treatment would have a few behavioral changes. However, if it gets so severe such that you almost no longer recognize your dog, kindly speak to your vet.

Generally, the goal should be to complete the prednisone treatment as soon as possible in order to avoid the side effects. However, come what may, do not stop or change the dose of prednisone without the consent of your vet.

If you do this, it’s possible for your dog’s immune system to go into shock.

In most cases, your vet would put your dog on a low-dose regimen long-term. So, be ready to monitor your dog regularly to ensure that he is responding well to the treatment.


When To Administer Prednisone To A Dog With Cancer

what to expect when treating dogs with cancer with prednisone
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In today’s world of veterinary medicine, prednisone has become largely overused due to its popularity for being a fast-fix. As a result of this overuse, cortisone drugs as a whole are currently getting a bad rap in the circles of veterinary medicines. 

When prednisone is administered willy-nilly, the dog to whom it is administered might suffer some serious side effects which could have been avoided.

Some of these side effects could range from thinning fur, to poor wound healing, to diabetes, or even Cushing’s Disease. 

Nonetheless, prednisone still has great benefits for dogs with cancer and should, therefore, not be totally done away with. Instead, it should be used with caution and always only with direct supervision from a veterinary oncologist.

Also, to reduce your dog’s chances of experiencing the side effects of prednisone, always ensure that you get a proper diagnosis first. 

Also, demand a time frame for the treatment from your vet. When you start and stop treatment with prednisone matters in whether or not your dog experiences any side effect.

Finally, always go for the least potent dose of prednisone when you have to select. This is equally important if you’re going to alleviate your dog’s symptoms.


What To Expect When Treating Dogs With Cancer With Prednisone Too Early

Most general practice vets prescribe prednisone the moment lymphoma is suspected even before an appointment with a veterinary oncologist. Understandably, this move is quite tempting as prednisone does kill off cancerous lymphocytes as we have said, or at least, a portion of it.

However, while this is definitely a good thing, there are major concerns about using this approach in treating canine lymphoma.

First, it interferes with diagnostics. Secondly, it interferes with chemotherapy treatments.


1. Prednisone Affects The Staging Of Lymphoma

A dog that is on prednisone before a spleen or liver ultrasound would end up producing ultrasound images that aren’t quite useful. The doctor wouldn’t be able to clearly tell if the cancer has invaded the organs under diagnosis or not. Like, was it there before the prednisone or was it not? It becomes difficult to tell.

But why is it important to know when the cancer got in?

It’s important because the spread of cancer tells you what stage of cancer you’re dealing with. This, in turn, determines the treatment recommended and how response is monitored. But also importantly, it helps to posit a more accurate prognosis.


2. Prednisone Affects Side Effects Of Canine Lymphoma

what to expect when treating a dog with cancer with prednisone
Image by Fran__ from Pixabay

Dogs on prednisone tend to experience only few side effects of the lymphoma. This is great because, of course, your dog feels more comfortable. However, if later, side effects or symptoms begin to pop when treatment begins, it becomes difficult to really determine where they are coming from. Are they coming from the chemo treatment or do they come from the cancer itself?

This is why you ought to see your vet the moment you find out your dog has lymphoma.


3. Prednisone Affects Subtype Diagnostics

The test for the lymphoma phenotype is known as the subtype and, yes, prednisone affects that too. 

The subtype test is of two types: the B-Cell and the T-Cell. If B-Cell, then the lymphoma is attacking the B cells, if T-Cell, then the lymphoma is attacking the T cells.

Again, it is important to find out what lymphoma exactly you’re dealing with – B-Cell or T-Cell. This is because B cells are better respondents to chemo than T cells. Therefore, dogs with B-Cell lymphoma tend to have a better prognosis and life expectancy than those with T-Cell lymphoma.

If your vet can’t tell which lymphoma subtype it is, they can’t give an accurate prognosis and will, therefore, find it difficult knowing where to begin with treatment.

Still, lymphoma subtype testing remains the best predictor there is for lymphoma right now. You really wouldn’t want to ruin your chances by interfering with subtype testing.


4. Prednisone Can Affect Lymph Node Aspirates

To confirm your general practice vet’s diagnosis of lymphoma, your vet oncologist would usually take an aspirate of a lymph node. Sometimes, prednisone can interfere with these aspirate results.

If it does, the results of the aspirate become inconclusive and then they have to re-aspirate which delays confirmation of the diagnosis which, in turn, delays the commencement of treatment. This is quite common with dogs who are already on prednisone before going to the oncologist.


5. Prednisone Makes It More Difficult To Confidently Choose A Chemotherapy Procedure

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An accurate diagnosis, especially with the subtype testing, is critical in choosing the appropriate protocol to use in the treatment of canine lymphoma.

For instance, some protocols work great for B-Cell lymphoma but not as good for T-Cell lymphoma.

However, if diagnostics are compromised, it becomes difficult to choose an appropriate treatment protocol.


6. Prednisone Can Trigger Multi-Drug Resistance (MDR)

Steroids such as prednisone have been known to interfere with chemotherapy, making it less effective.

For prednisone, the drug has been known to trigger multi-drug resistance (MDR). This, therefore, makes the cancer difficult to treat. So, no matter how much medication and chemo you throw at the cancerous cells, the cells just throw them back out at you.

While MDR can develop with regular chemotherapy, simply using prednisone is enough to trigger MDR. Of course, as a result, therefore, the prognosis of such dogs ends up much worse than in dogs who haven’t been administered prednisone prior to chemo.


What To Expect When Treating Dogs With Cancer With Prednisone — Financial Implications

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Treating with prednisone has quite a low financial limitation. In simple English, the cost of treating dogs with cancer with prednisone is very low when compared to other canine lymphoma treatments.

However, when you consider how short-lived the benefits of prednisone treatment is, you might want to reconsider. In the end, the value, it seems, pales in comparison to the cost incurred.


Advantages Of Treating Dogs With Cancer With Prednisone

  1. The primary advantage of treating with prednisone is its relative affordability.
  1. It’s also quite easy to use.
  1. Admittedly, a level of positive response, however short-lived, is experienced.


Disadvantages Of Treating Dogs With Cancer With Prednisone

  1. Benefits of prednisone treatment are only short-lived.
  1. Prednisone treatment only masks the symptoms rather than treat them.
  1. Multidrug resistance usually follows prednisone treatment which makes it more difficult to treat the cancer.











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