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The most common types of steroids for animals prescribed by veterinarians come under the general term of corticosteroids, which are used to treat allergies, inflammation, and pain. They include prednisone and prednisolone to treat arthritis, itching, and swelling in animals. When raised for human consumption, animals might be implanted with other types of steroids, including natural or synthetic hormones called anabolic steroids.
Cortisone might be used to relieve intense itching and hair loss in domestic pets with allergies. Most veterinarians prescribe these steroids for animals over short periods of time because of potential side effects from long-term use. These drugs might cause damage to internal organs and weaken an animal’s immune system. Pets might also suffer pancreatic disorders or intestinal problems, including the formation of ulcers.
Although rare, androgens might be recommended for domestic animals suffering from illness causing extreme weakness. Two common testosterone-based drugs include stanozolol and nandrolone, which might be effective to treat anemia by building red blood cells. They also increase muscle mass in animals weakened by serious illnesses.
Beef cattle and sheep routinely receive hormonal implants to increase growth rates. Natural anabolic steroids include estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone. Estradiol is similar to the female hormone estrogen, while the other two stem from the male hormone testosterone. Synthetic versions of these steroids for animals might be used in place of natural compounds.
Synthetic zeranol, acetate, and trenbolone are approved in some regions as safe for human consumption in meat products. They are not typically allowed in dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry. Consumer protection agencies report these steroids for animals pose no risk of harm to humans because levels permitted are low compared to levels occurring naturally in the body. Some countries have banned the use of steroids for animals eaten by humans.
Controversy exists over the use of steroids in the food industry. Some reports claim extra hormones ingested by humans disrupt the normal hormonal balance in the body, especially in children. Opponents say children enter puberty earlier when exposed to food implanted with steroids. One study in Italy linked enlarged breasts in boys to hormones in meat.
Steroids marketed for animal use might also be abused by body builders who want to quickly increase muscle mass. These drugs are not sold over the counter in most areas, but might be available through illegal avenues. Health risks of abusing these drugs might be significant with long-term use or high doses.