How Long Do Steroid Shots Last in Cats? A Guide for Pet Owners
Inflammation causes a variety of health problems in cats. Corticosteroid medications (a.k.a. steroids) are useful due to their strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Steroids are a type of drug that can reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain. They’re often used to treat conditions such as allergies, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease in cats.
The effects of a steroid shot given to a cat can last from a few days to a few months. It’s important for you to understand how long steroid shots last in cats to ensure that your four-legged buddy receives the appropriate treatment.
In this article, we will discuss the different types of steroid shots veterinarians give cats, the duration of their effects, potential risks and side effects, as well as situations where cats may require steroid shots.
What are steroid shots for cats?
When we say “steroid” shot, we’re really talking about synthetic corticosteroid injections. Corticosteroids are a group of naturally occurring hormones produced by a cat’s adrenal glands.
There are two main classes of corticosteroid hormones. Mineralocorticoids help control water and electrolytes in the body. Glucocorticoids, mostly in the form of cortisol, have important effects on blood sugar, protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. The glucocorticoid called cortisol also plays an important role in the body’s stress response.
Natural cortisol hormone helps control inflammatory processes in the body. Steroid injections use high levels of synthetic cortisol to produce a strong anti-inflammatory effect. When used correctly, these injections can block early inflammation as well as clear out existing inflammation , relieve pain and allow healing to start.
Which cats benefit from steroid shots?
Veterinarians may recommend your cat receive a steroid shot for conditions caused by allergy or inflammation. Some of the common conditions treated with steroid injections include
- Eosinophilic granuloma complex (EGC)
- Miliary dermatitis from allergies
- Feline asthma
- Certain inflammatory conditions of joints
- Excessive inflammation from infection
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Auto-immune conditions
- Some cancers
Steroid medications are available in many forms including liquid, capsule, tablet, inhaled mist and injection. Vets often use the injectable for cats with a shorter-term condition like dermatitis because it’s a lot easier to give a cat a one-time shot than asking their owner to give pills several times a day.
RISKS & SIDE EFFECTS
What are the side effects of steroid shots in cats?
Low levels of the natural hormone, cortisol, perform many complex functions in a cat’s body. It helps the liver create energy from amino acids and helps regulate blood sugar. Cortisol affects cellular protein and fat metabolism.
When a cat gets a steroid shot, it contains much higher levels of synthetic cortisol than what is normally produced in their body. That’s good because it quells inflammation. At the same time, high levels of synthetic cortisol decrease the cat’s own production of the hormone. Plus, the synthetic hormone can have an extreme effect on many body processes.
- Hair loss on both sides of the trunk
- Slow bone and wound healing
- Cushing’s disease with chronic use
- Elevated blood sugar and diabetes mellitus
- Muscle weakness
- Gastrointestinal ulceration
- Changes in blood cell levels
- Increased thirst and appetite
- Weight gain
- Enlarged liver and increased liver enzymes
- High blood pressure
- Urinary tract infection
Which steroid shots are more likely to cause problems for cats?
Any steroid injection can cause adverse effects for cats. However, long-acting steroid injections have more of an effect on their metabolism. Most veterinarians are wary about giving cats injections of Depo-Medrol since it can cause side effects for months.
There are some situations in which the benefits of using long-acting steroid shots outweigh the risks. For example, your vet might recommend Depo-Medrol to treat asthma in an otherwise healthy cat who becomes extremely fractious at the vet clinic and needs sedation before they can be handled.
TYPES & DURATION OF STEROID SHOTS
What are the different types of steroid shots given to cats?
There are several formulations of injectable steroids for cats with varying strengths and duration of action. Your vet will choose the one that has the right profile for your cat’s situation.
Some of the most common products used for cats are dexamethasone sodium phosphate, prednisolone acetate (Meticortelone Acetate®), triamcinolone (Vetalog®), and methylprednisolone acetate (Dep-Medrol®). Each one has a different duration of action.
How long do steroid shots last in cats?
Depending on how they’re made, steroid shots can have continuing effects on cats for days to weeks. Some of the effects are desirable, i.e. controlling inflammation while other effects, such as altering glucose metabolism, can cause problems.
The following table shows the approximate duration of the effect of several popular injectable steroid medications used to treat cats.
|Medication||How Long It Lasts|
|Dep-Medrol® (methylprednisolone acetate)||30-90 days|
|Vetalog® (triamcinolone acetate)||7-14 days|
|Meticortelone Acetate® (prednisolone acetate)||5-7 days|
|Dexium SP™ (dexamethasone sodium phosphate)||3-5 days|
|Solu-Delta-Cortef® (prednisolone sodium succinate)||1-2 days|
What if my cat’s symptoms come back before the shot wears off?
The effects of a steroid shot can be so miraculous for cats, some owners wish to have the shot repeated before it’s had time to fully clear the cat’s system. Repeating a steroid shot too often will significantly increase your cat’s risk of developing side effects (including diabetes).
If you notice a return of symptoms before it’s safe to give your cat another steroid shot, your vet may recommend another treatment.
What are some alternatives to steroid shots for cats?
Some cats can take oral cyclosporine to control allergic and respiratory conditions. With this non-steroid drug, symptoms are controlled without the risks of overmedicating with steroids. Inhalation steroids and/or bronchodilators are good alternatives for cats with asthma.
If you’re able to give your kitty oral medication in the form of a pill or liquid you can control the dosing of steroids better than with an injection. Instead of your cat needing one strong, long-acting injection every few months, you might be able to give oral medication every few days in maintenance mode and a bit more during a flare.
Discuss all your options with your veterinarian. Many cat owners struggle with medicating their pets and we have many nifty ways to make it easier these days.
- Steroid shots are synthetic corticosteroid injections that can reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain.
- They are often used to treat conditions such as allergies, asthma and immune-mediated disease in cats.
- Steroid shots have potential risks and side effects, including hair loss, slow bone and wound healing, diabetes, muscle weakness, diarrhea, gastrointestinal ulceration, and changes in blood cell levels.
- There are different types of steroid injections with varying strengths and duration of action. Their effects can last from 1 to 90 days depending on the medication used.
- Long-acting drugs such as Depo-Medrol can cause side effects for months. They should be used cautiously and discontinued when necessary.
- Hall, J. E., PhD. (2015). Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology. Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Nerhagen, S., Moberg, H. L., Boge, G. S., & Glanemann, B. (2021). Prednisolone-induced diabetes mellitus in the cat: a historical cohort. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 23(2), 175-180.
- Ployngam, T., Tobias, A. H., Smith, S. A., Torres, S. M., & Ross, S. J. (2006). Hemodynamic effects of methylprednisolone acetate administration in cats. American journal of veterinary research, 67(4), 583-587.