First used medically in the 1940’s, steroids are very potent anti-inflammatory medications that have many uses in human and equine veterinary medicine. They are based on and modeled after the body’s own corticosteroid hormone cortisol, which has many vital effects in the body, including a strong anti-inflammatory effect.
Steroids work by blocking the body’s main inflammatory cascade (arachidonic acid cascade) at a high level, reducing the production of many inflammatory mediators and reducing the action of inflammatory cells. This reduces the body’s response to an insult, and reduces body-wide inflammation, as well as local effects of swelling, redness, itchiness and irritation and pain.
Many different synthetic steroid types have been derived from the basic molecular model of cortisone. The most common injectable steroids used in equine veterinary practice are dexamethasone, methylprednisolone acetate (Depomedrol), triamcinolone acetate (Vetalog, Kenalog), and betamethasone. Each of these has different effects, potency and duration of action.
In equine veterinary medicine steroids are commonly used for a multitude of conditions including allergic skin conditions, airway disease, anaphylaxis, brain and spinal cord injury, autoimmune diseases and shock. Oral medications are often given when long-term treatment is needed.
YOUR VET’S ROLE
Your vet chooses steroids when the powerful anti-inflammatory benefits for a particular condition offset the risk of side effects. Courses of steroids are usually tapered off to avoid the undesirable effects of discontinuation.
Whenever a horse is on long-term steroids, it is important to ensure that it receives the proper dose. You need to monitor the horse for the desired effect and for any of the mentioned side effects.
This Treatment Might be used for a horse exhibiting these signsRelated Observations
Related DiagnosesThis Treatment Might Be Used for these Diagnoses
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Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications
In horses, our greatest fear with the use of systemic (bodywide treatment) steroids is the development of laminitis.
Steroids dampen a normal immune response, possibly making the patient more susceptible to infection.
Steroids injected around injured ligaments and tendons may prolong healing.
Steroids at high doses over long time periods can cause Cushing's Disease signs.
Repeated doses of certain types of steroids injected into joints may ultimately be damaging to the articular cartilage and worsen joint disease.
Liver damage can be caused by prolonged use.
Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment
Steroids are not used at all or used with great caution in horses with laminitis or in danger of developing laminitis. Less dangerous steroids include methyprednisolone acetate, predisolone. More dangerous steroids include triamcinolone, a potent steroid commonly used in joints.
Steroids are also used cautiously in horses with known or presumed infection, and in pregnant mares.
Ideally, steroids should not be given near the time of vaccination, because they will dampen the desired immune reaction and formation of antibodies.
Skills I might need
Is It working? Timeframe for effect
The apparent effect of steroids depend on the condition being treated.
In allergic reactions such as hives and RAO, horses given injectable steroids can show improvement within minutes to hours.
Questions To Ask My Vet
- Do steroids pose any risk to my horse?
- Is my horse at risk for laminitis after steroid treatment?
- Do steroids damage joints into which they have been injected?
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