Anabolic steroids – do they have a place in the treatment of rats?
What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids are a group of natural and synthetic hormones that are closely related to the male hormone, testosterone. They promote the growth and division of cells and the formation of new proteins. This results in the growth of several types of tissue including muscle, blood cells and bone. These are the steroids that are sometimes abused by athletes and body-builders.
What are the benefits of taking anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids can produce many positive effects in the body including increasing protein manufacture, building muscle mass, increasing appetite and promoting red and white blood cell production.
Are they used in human and veterinary medicine?
Yes! They are (or have been) used widely for many conditions such as the treatment of anaemia, growth stimulation, stimulation of appetite, to counteract many ‘wasting’ diseases and improvement of age related problems.
Do they have unwanted side effects?
From their use in cats and dogs it is known that they can disrupt normal reproductive behaviour (cessation of heat cycles, and very little sperm production), increase the incidence of cancerous tumours, fluid retention and high calcium levels in the blood. However, these possible side effects are often considered insignificant as the animals needing anabolic steroids are often in ‘life or death’ situations.
There are many anabolic steroids – which ones are most commonly used by vets?
Two of the most commonly used in canine/feline medicine are stanozolol and nandrolone.
What sort of conditions are they used for in other animals?
Anabolic steroids are used in situations where there is general decline, muscle wasting, loss of appetite, some types of anaemia, chronic kidney failure and hormone replacement therapy.
So what about rats?
Two case studies for the use of anabolic steroids in rats:
Meli was a blue agouti Berkshire who developed spotting of blood from her vagina. She started on Baytril and seemed to be responding well when she had a major vaginal bleed that left her collapsed, pale, and in hypovolaemic shock (lack of circulating blood volume). Up until this bleed she was fit and well and would have been able to undergo surgery to spay her, and solve the underlying problem. Following the bleed however, she was too weak and sick to consider surgery. She was treated with injected antibiotics and anabolic steroids, with the aim of increasing her appetite, and counteracting her anaemia prior to surgery, which was tentatively planned for a week later.
Over the following week, Meli ate for Britain, and was given lots of nutritious fresh foods including liver and dark green leafy vegetables to boost her intake of iron, and help to overcome her anaemia. She also continued on antibiotics. By the end of the week she was the picture of health and was spayed as planned, without event, to remove a distended, blood-filled uterus. She made a quick and full recovery with another week of antibiotics.
Lyle is currently being ‘fostered’ here while his proper mummy gets well. Lyle was showing symptoms of weight loss, loss of appetite, muscle weakness and sluggish movements. Our vet thought that these were most likely symptoms of kidney failure and as he was already on a kidney friendly diet suggested anabolic steroids, vitamin supplements and cephalexin (in case of any background infection affecting the urinary system - kidneys seemed tender on palpation). Within a day or two of the first steroid injection Lyle was visibly brighter, moving normally (though weak due to lack of muscle tone) and eating again. Supplements given include, Vitamin B complex, Echinachea and Golden Seal, H&B Super antioxidant formula, Dr Squiggles Daily Essential multivitamin and mineral mix. Lyle quickly re-gained his appetite, which has enabled us to get him to take the supplements and extra nutrition. Sadly Lyle declined quickly and died about a week after this treatment. However, the anabolic steroids did give him a new surge of energy and 'lease of life', enabling him to enjoy his final week.
The steroids are given by injection and the dose can be repeated once every 2-3 weeks if necessary.
I have never heard of anyone else’s vet suggesting treatment with anabolic steroids, though I have recommended them to a few people, as something to discuss with their vet in certain situations. I am very interested in the possible uses of this medication in the treatment of rat illness. From what I have personally experienced there does seem to be a place for them, but I would love to expand what is known about their use with rats. If anyone has any experience and would be willing to share it I would be pleased to hear from you.
As a final note, to avoid any confusion, anabolic steroids do not cause suppression of the immune system in the way that other types of steroids do. Antibiotics do not have to be given concurrently unless the symptoms require them.
Author: Alison Campbell
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