• Synthetic steroids are useful for treating many inflammatory conditions in cats including allergies, asthma, and immune-mediated disease.
  • Some cats develop adverse effects from taking steroids after a few days while others can take the medicine for years with few problems.
  • Cats taking steroids long-term require close monitoring from their owner and veterinarian.

Steroids are a class of drugs that are commonly used in veterinary medicine to treat a wide variety of conditions, ranging from allergies and asthma to inflammatory bowel disease. These drugs are known for their potent anti-inflammatory effects, which make them particularly useful in managing chronic inflammatory conditions in cats.

However, while steroids can be effective in managing inflammation, there are also concerns about their long-term use and potential side effects. This article answers the common question, “How long can a cat be on steroids?” I’ll also cover some alternatives to prednisolone to consider.


The word “steroid” is actually short for “corticosteroid,” a hormone made by a cat’s adrenal glands. 

These hormones are split into two types: mineralocorticoids, which help with water and electrolytes, and glucocorticoids, like cortisol, which affect the body’s metabolism. Cortisol is also important in handling stress and reducing inflammation. 

Steroid medications contain high levels of synthetic cortisol that produce a strong anti-inflammatory effect in cats. 

Steroid Uses

In cats, steroids are used to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain associated with disease and injury. Common conditions that may require steroid medication in cats include allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, immune-mediated disease and cancer.

Synthetic steroids work by mimicking the effects of hormones that are naturally produced by the body’s adrenal glands. When steroids are given to cats, they enter the cells and bind to receptors inside, altering the way certain genes are expressed. This leads to a decrease in the production of inflammatory substances and an increase in the production of anti-inflammatory substances. (3)

There are many different forms of steroids used to treat cats. The following table lists the more common medications prescribed by veterinarians.

BudesonideOral tablet, capsule and granules; nasal spray, inhalation powder, rectal enema
Betamethasone (-acetate, -sodium phosphate, -valerate)Topical ointment, drops for ear/eye/nose
Dexamethasone (-sodium phosphate)Oral tablet, capsule and liquid; injection, topical
Fludrocortisone acetateOral tablet
Fluticasone propionateNasal spray, inhalation powder or spray
Hydrocortisone (-acetate-sodium phosphate,-sodium succinate)Oral tablet and capsule; topical solution/ointment/cream; injection
Methylprednisolone (-acetate, -sodium))Oral tablet, topical ointment, injection
Mometasone furoateTopical ear ointment
Prednisone/Prednisolone (-acetate, -sodium succinate)Oral tablet, capsule and liquid; injection
Triamcinolone acetonideOral tablet and powder; topical spray, cream, solution, ointment; inhalation spray, injection

What is the difference between prednisone and prednisolone for cats?

Prednisone and prednisolone are closely related synthetic steroid hormone drugs. Prednisone is converted by the liver to the active form, prednisolone. There is some evidence that prednisolone is absorbed better by cats than prednisone so it may be more effective. (1)

How long can a cat be on steroids?

Each cat is unique and may respond differently to steroid drugs. Some cats may develop serious side effects after only a few days on steroids, while others may be able to tolerate long-term use for years without significant problems.

Factors such as dosage, frequency, duration of treatment, and underlying health conditions can all impact a cat’s reaction to the medication. In general, short-term use of steroids is less likely to cause long-term health problems. Lower doses and less frequent dosing tend to be safer. 

Ultimately, whether or not synthetic steroids can be used as a long-term solution for cats with chronic conditions depends on the specific situation. In some cases, steroids may be the best option for managing a cat’s symptoms and improving their quality of life. However, in other cases, alternative treatments may be more appropriate or necessary to prevent long-term health problems.

It’s important for cat owners to work closely with their veterinarian to determine the best course of treatment for their cat’s individual needs. Regular monitoring and adjustments to the treatment plan can help minimize the risk of side effects and ensure that the cat’s health and well-being are prioritized.

cat and white pills (how long can a cat take steroids?)

Side Effects

Steroids can have both beneficial and harmful effects on a cat’s body. Fortunately, cats are relatively resistant to the negative effects of steroids but there are a few common side effects seen in cats:

  • Increased thirst and urination: Steroids can make cats feel thirsty, which leads to more frequent urination. This is less common in cats than it is in dogs.
  • Increased appetite and weight gain: Steroids can increase a cat’s appetite, which can lead to overeating and weight gain. This is less common in cats than it is in dogs.
  • Weakened immune system: High doses of steroids can suppress the immune system, making cats more susceptible to viral, fungal, parasitic and bacterial infections.

Not all cats will experience side effects from corticosteroid treatment and the benefits of the medication may outweigh the risks in certain cases. However, it’s important to monitor your cat closely while on steroids and to report any concerning changes to your veterinarian.

Drug Interactions

Steroids can interact with other drugs that your cat may be taking. It is important to inform your veterinarian about any medications your cat takes, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements. Here are some common drug interactions to be aware of:

  1. NSAIDs: The combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids can increase the risk of gastrointestinal ulceration and bleeding. Therefore, it is generally not recommended to give both drugs at the same time unless directed by a veterinarian.
  2. Furosemide: Furosemide is a diuretic that is commonly used to treat heart and lung diseases in cats. When combined with steroids, furosemide can lead to low potassium levels, which can cause muscle weakness and heart rhythm abnormalities.
  3. Vaccines: Steroids can suppress the immune system, which can make it difficult for the cat to respond to the vaccine and develop immunity. If your cat needs to be vaccinated, talk to your veterinarian about timing and dosage adjustments.
  4. Insulin: Steroids can affect blood sugar levels, which can be a concern for cats with diabetes. Vets try to avoid giving steroids to cats with diabetes except when there are no alternatives. If your cat takes insulin, the dosage may need to be adjusted when starting or stopping steroid treatment..

Risk Factors

Cats are relatively resistant to the negative side effects of synthetic steroid medications but there are still serious risks involved. The biggest concerns for cats taking short- or long-term courses of steroids include

  • Increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus
  • Increased risk of congestive heart failure in cats with heart disease
  • Increased risk of gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Increased risk of birth defects or miscarriage
  • Dependency on steroids (cat may get sick if they suddenly stop taking the drug)(2)


Steroids can be harmful to cats, even in a short period of time. However, the longer they take steroid medication and the higher the dosage, the greater the risk of side effects. 

In many cases, vets prescribe a 7-14 day course of steroids for acute disease. After that other therapies are used in order to minimize health risks. If your cat needs to take steroids long-term, talk to your vet and find alternative treatments that might allow a lower dosage. 

Alternative Drugs

There are several alternatives to prednisolone for cats, depending on the condition being treated. Some of these options include:

  • Cyclosporine: This medication is often used as an alternative to steroids for cats with skin allergies or immune-mediated diseases. It works by suppressing the immune system and reducing inflammation.
  • Budesonide: This medication is a corticosteroid, like prednisolone, but it has fewer systemic effects. It is often used to treat inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Inhalable steroids: Inhaled steroids are delivered directly to the lungs and have fewer side effects than oral steroids. This can often be used to decrease or eliminate the need for oral or injected drugs.
  • Topical steroids: For cats with skin diseases like dermatitis or eosinophilic granuloma complex, topical steroids can be an effective alternative to oral steroids. These medications are applied directly to the affected area and can reduce itching and inflammation.
  • Immunotherapy: For cats with allergies, immunotherapy can be an alternative to long-term steroid use. Immunotherapy involves gradually exposing the cat to small amounts of the allergen, which can desensitize the immune system over time.
  • Nutraceuticals and NSAIDs: For cats with musculoskeletal diseases like arthritis, nutraceuticals (such as glucosamine and chondroitin) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be alternatives to long-term steroid use. These medications can reduce inflammation and pain.

What questions should I ask my cat’s veterinarian?

If your cat has been prescribed prednisolone or another corticosteroid drug make sure you understand the goal of treatment. Ask your vet how long your cat will need to take the medication and if there are any reasons to stop early. Discuss alternative treatments that could allow a lower dosage of steroids for your cat.

The content provided on is for general information only. It is not meant to replace individualized medical advice from your own veterinarian. Read more on the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use page.

Related Posts


  1. Graham‐Mize, C. A., & Rosser, E. J. (2004). Bioavailability and activity of prednisone and prednisolone in the feline patient. Veterinary Dermatology, 15, 7-10.
  2. Middleton, D. J., Watson, A. D., Howe, C. J., & Caterson, I. D. (1987). Suppression of cortisol responses to exogenous adrenocorticotrophic hormone, and the occurrence of side effects attributable to glucocorticoid excess, in cats during therapy with megestrol acetate and prednisolone. Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, 51(1), 60-65.
  3. Puckett, Y. (2022, May 8). Prednisone. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf.