One method of treating an out of balance immune system is to give low-dose steroids. Steroids at the lowest dose to maintain clinical signs is the definition of low dose. Sometimes, this means every other day. Sometimes this means fraction of a tablet. But is this safe?

Regardless of how it is dosed, repeated use of steroids suppresses the immune system. Properly termed, steroids are called steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Meaning steroids take down inflammation. But the steroids don’t take care of why the inflammation is there in the first place. And secondly, steroids have some pretty impressive side effects, made worse with repeated use.

The immune system’s main function is to fight invasion from bacteria, viruses, and other“foreign” substances like allergens. When the immune system is out of balance different things can happen. These things range from allergies, hayfever, inflammatory bowel disease, rodent ulcers in cats, hotspots and autoimmune diseases like lupus, and pemphigus.

If we suppress the immune system so that the signs of inflammatory bowel disease or rodent ulcers are suppressed, we are also suppressing the rest of the immune system, the helpful part. The helpful part that prevents infections! The helpful part that regulates normal cell life-cycle.

What does that mean in lay terms? The repercussions of long-term use of steroids can include creation of those diseases we are trying to prevent. Other potential side effects include diabetes, pancreatic disorders and cancer.

By treating symptoms with low-dose steroids, that’s all you’re doing – treating symptoms. This is the mainstay of conventional medicine – treating symptoms. On the other hand, an integrative veterinarian works to get to the bottom line. The integrative veterinarian works to figure out what is the cause of the disease in the first place so as to prevent it from coming back, rather than suppress the disease with harmful medications. See for a list of integrative veterinarians.

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