Mar Vista Animal Medical Center

3850 Grand View Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066



(for veterinary information only)




Available in



Corticosteroids are the steroid hormones produced by the adrenal gland cortex. Two types of corticosteroids are produced. There are "mineralocorticoids" to control electrolyte balance and "glucocorticoids" to control sugar/Calorie-burning metabolism. Because glucocorticoids have anti-inflammatory properties in higher doses, they are widely used against many inflammatory conditions. Synthetic glucocorticoids, such as prednisone, are readily available and inexpensive but, unfortunately, there are side effects to be concerned about with long term use. There is always interest in alternatives to corticosteroids.

Some inflammatory conditions involve inflammation at the site of an interface with the environment. Such interfaces include: the skin, the GI tract, and the respiratory tract. How nice it would be to have a corticosteroid that could be applied to the site of the inflammation but not be absorbed into the body systemically! This is the idea behind budesonide. In the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, for example, the idea is that budesonide is taken orally and moved along the intestinal tract with the rest of the intestinal contents, bathing the inflamed intestinal lining with corticosteroid treatment (similar to topically rubbing a cortisone cream on irritated skin). The budesonide is absorbed from the intestine but removed virtually immediately by the liver via what is called "the first-pass effect." The body essentially sees only minimal steroid activity (the small amount that escapes the liver's detoxification mechanisms).

The problem with this seemingly ideal treatment plan is that budesonide is a very strong corticosteroid (about fifteen times stronger than prednisone). This means that even the minimal amount that does get absorbed can be significant and it appears that the more inflamed the bowel lining is, the more budesonide is absorbed into the body. Appropriate dosing is very important with this medication and one should note that experience with this drug in small animals is still limited.

Inhalant formulations of budesonide have been developed to treat asthma in humans but most veterinary interest has regarded intestinal applications.



Budesonide is typically given once daily for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.



Corticosteroid side effects include excessive thirst, appetite and urination. Excessive effects include the signs of Cushing's Disease: hair loss on the trunk, pot-bellied appearance, and thin skin in more advanced stages. In cats particularly, steroid exposure can induce diabetes mellitus.  For a more complete description see the section on Long-term Steroid Side Effects. Theoretically, the whole reason for using budesonide over a conventional corticosteroid is to avoid the above issues but if enough steroid is absorbed into the body, then these are the problems to watch for.



Drugs that interfere with the liver's ability to remove budesonide will lead to increased corticosteroid activity in the body. Drugs that have this effect include: erythromycin (an antibiotic), cimetidine (an antacid), ketoconazole, fluconazole, and itraconazole (anti-fungals), and diltiazem (a heart medication).

If budesonide capsules are being used, their exterior covering relies on the acid of the stomach for dissolution. If the patient is also taking antacids, they should be separated from the budesonide by a couple of hours if possible. It is important not to open the budesonide capsule prior to administration.



Budesonide should be stored at room temperature.

Small animals require small doses of budesonide. A compounding pharmacy is frequently necessary to prepare an appropriately sized capsule.

Budesonide would seem to be ideal for a patient that is intolerant of corticosteroid side effects (such as a patient with diabetes mellitus, an active infection, or any other condition that might be exacerbated by corticosteroids) but one must be aware that budesonide is not fully without corticosteroid activity.

Budesonide should not be used in pregnancy.

Liver disease may increase the potential for corticosteroid side effects seen with budesonide.

For budesonide to work properly, the capsules should not be opened or crushed.

 Page last updated: 11/12/2016