Hydrocortisone (Cortisol) for Dogs and Cats

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Overview of Hydrocortisone for Dogs and Cats

  •  Hydrocortisone, also known as Cortef®, Solu-Cortef®, and Hydrocortone®, is primarily used to reduce inflammation in dogs and cats.
  • Hydrocortisone belongs to a class of drugs known as glucocorticoid steroids, meaning they are steroid hormones with a glucose (sugar) molecule attached. Such hormones are produced naturally by the adrenal glands.
  • Hydrocortisone is also known as cortisol. It is available in oral, injectable and topical formulations. 
  • Similar to other glucocorticoids, hydrocortisone has wide-ranging effects on cells of most body systems. The primary drug effects of hydrocortisone are reduction of inflammation and suppression of the immune system.
  • Hydrocortisone is less effective in reducing nervous system inflammation than other glucocorticoids.
  • Hydrocortisone is a prescription drug and can only be obtained from a veterinarian or by prescription from a veterinarian.
  • This drug is not approved for use in animals by the Food and Drug Administration but it is prescribed legally by veterinarians as an extra-label drug.
  • Some forms of hydrocortisone are available without a prescription but should not be administered unless under the supervision and guidance of a veterinarian.
  • Brand Names or Other Names of Hydrocortisone

  • This drug is registered for use in humans only.
  • Human formulations: Cortef® (Upjohn), Hydrocortone® (MSD), Hydrocortisone® (Major), Solu-Cortef® (Upjohn), A-hydroCort® (Abbott), and various generics
  • Veterinary formulations: None
  • Uses of Hydrocortisone for Dogs and Cats

  • Hydrocortisone is primarily used to reduce inflammation.
  • Hydrocortisone is also used to treat adrenal-gland dysfunction (Addison's disease).
  • Precautions and Side Effects

  • While generally safe and effective when prescribed by a veterinarian, hydrocortisone can cause side effects in some animals.
  • Hydrocortisone should not be used in animals with known hypersensitivity or allergy to the drug.
  • Hydrocortisone may interact with other medications. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if other drugs your pet is receiving could interact with hydrocortisone. Drugs may include aspirin, cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, insulin, phenobarbital, rifampin, vaccines, erythromycin, ephedrine, estrogens, mitotane, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and certain diuretics. 
  • Due to effects on the stomach lining, hydrocortisone can result in stomach ulcers. Never use this drug with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • As with other glucocorticoids, hydrocortisone should be avoided in animals with fungus infections, liver or kidney impairment or stomach ulcers.
  • Other adverse effects are increased appetite, increased thirst, weight gain and dull hair coat.
  • Muscle weakness, liver damage and behavioral changes can also occur.
  • If hydrocortisone is administered for an extended period of time, the pet should not be abruptly taken off the medication. Weaning over several weeks to months is crucial to avoid severe adverse effects, such as vomiting or profound weakness or insufficiency of the adrenal glands.
  • How Hydrocortisone Is Supplied

  • Hydrocortisone is available in 5 mg, 10 mg and 20 mg tablets.
  • It is also available in 2 mg/ml suspension and 25 mg/ml and 50 mg/ml injectable concentrations.
  • Dosing Information of Hydrocortisone for Dogs and Cats

  • Medication should never be administered without first consulting your veterinarian.
  • In dogs and cats the dose given will vary with the required use.
  • Hydrocortisone is dosed at 1 to 2.5 mg per pound (2.5 to 5 mg/kg) twice daily for anti-inflammatory effects.
  • For Addison's disease, hydrocortisone is dosed at 0.1 to 0.3 mg per pound (0.2 to 0.5 mg/kg) once daily.
  • The duration of administration depends on the condition being treated, response to the medication and the development of any adverse effects. Be certain to complete the prescription unless specifically directed by your veterinarian. Even if your pet feels better, the entire treatment plan should be completed to prevent relapse or prevent the development of resistance.
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