Being a pet parent is a rewarding experience. Nonstop love and affection. A cuddle buddy. The best partner in crime that anyone could ask for. Dogs are so special and we are so lucky to have them. However, no one said that being responsible for your four-legged companion's complete and total wellbeing was going to be easy. Most pet parents realize that pet ownership isn't always rainbows and butterflies.
It is difficult to watch your once bumbling little pup get older and experience age-related pain. Moreover, most pet parents know that dogs are notorious for hiding their distress and pain. Therefore, if your dog is showing signs of pain, they’re likely suffering a lot. It's heart-wrenching to think about.
If you recognize that your beloved dog isn't doing well, the next step is to consider what you can do to fix it. The question, "what can I give my dog for pain" is one of the highest-searched queries on Google on pet care. We hope to answer that question (spoiler alert, it may not be what you think).
In this article, you’ll learn all about carprofen, a commonly prescribed pain medication for dogs. Although we understand that you'll do just about anything to lessen your dog's pain, pet parents must understand carprofen’s risks, which you shouldn't take lightly. Let's get to it.
What is Carprofen
Carprofen is a non-narcotic, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). As a veterinarian-prescribed medication, carprofen helps alleviate post-surgical and arthritic pain and inflammation.
Other Names for Carprofen
Carprofen for dogs also goes by many different brand names, listed below. Be aware that they are the same medication and therefore will have the same potential adverse effects.
The carprofen brand that your veterinarian prescribes will mostly depend on the country in which you live, although many countries have nearly all of the drugs available.
What Are NSAIDs for Dogs
Common NSAIDs for human consumption include aspirin and Advil. They provide short-term pain relief. For example, we’ll take them for the occasional headache or minor ache. Chronic use of NSAIDs in people (especially older people), though, can cause negative side effects like intestinal damage. Yet, some NSAIDs for dogs may be prescribed for long-term use to reduce arthritic pain, among other ailments. Doesn't make much sense... does it?
Some of the most commonly prescribed NSAID drugs for dogs include:
These medications have many potential adverse reactions that could make your head spin. This article will focus on carprofen.
How Does Carprofen Work
The precise chemical mechanism of carprofen is unknown. Many experts believe that carprofen inhibits the COX enzyme, keeping inflammation from developing and spreading. Thus, carprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug.
What is Carprofen Used For
Veterinarians typically prescribe carprofen to either:
- Treat osteoarthritis-related pain and discomfort
- Treat post-surgical pain and inflammation
Treating Osteoarthritis with Carprofen
Osteoarthritis (arthritis) is a common condition that can be managed, not cured, with carprofen. As a dog ages, wear and tear on the cartilage and joints leads to arthritis. Unfortunately, arthritis puts dogs in a lot of pain.
Carprofen reduces osteoarthritis symptoms. In some cases, orthopedic surgeries may be necessary for long-term pain management. Remember, though, that osteoarthritis itself is not curable, only manageable.
Carprofen for Hip Dysplasia
Veterinarians also prescribe carprofen to treat hip dysplasia, which occurs when the ball of the femur (thigh bone) doesn’t fit in the hip socket. Over time, hip dysplasia can cause painful arthritis. It occurs commonly in large breed dogs.
Finally, veterinarians prescribe carprofen to help manage pain and inflammation after surgical or dental procedures.
Is My Dog in Pain
We previously mentioned that dogs are notorious for hiding pain, something that all dog owners must know. Therefore, if your dog is showing any signs of distress, you must act right away because the pain has likely progressed.
Common symptoms of osteoarthritis pain include limping, lameness, and stiffness. Osteoarthritis pain can also cause a once-active dog to struggle to walk up and down the stairs or jump into the car.
Additionally, dogs in pain typically hide or retreat under the bed. Even the most social dogs will run and hide when company comes over for fear that any physical attention will cause them to experience more pain.
How is Carprofen Administered
Your veterinarian will consider your dog’s individual needs to decide the best way to administer carprofen to your dog. For example, if the drug is prescribed to treat post-operative pain, it will likely be administered approximately two hours before the surgery.
Carprofen comes in three forms:
- Chewable tablets ( 25 mg, 75 mg, and 100 mg)
- Caplets/capsules (25 mg, 75 mg, and 100 mg)
- Injection (administered only by a licensed veterinarian)
Even before you weigh the pros and cons of carprofen, realize that there are many dogs who shouldn't take carprofen due to preexisting conditions and other medication interactions.
Before prescribing carprofen, your veterinarian needs to know all about your dog's health, including allergies and currently prescribed medications. Carprofen should not be given to dogs with the following health conditions:
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Bleeding disorders
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Renal disease or reduced renal function
- Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, including preexisting gastric bleeding or ulcers
Additionally, the following medications may have a negative interaction with carprofen:
- Other NSAIDs
- Nephrotoxic medications
- Anticoagulant medications
- Corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone)
Carprofen Without Vet Prescription
Momentarily, we will cover all of carprofen’s potential adverse reactions. First, we want to discuss an important fact about today's internet.
The internet can be both a wonderful and very scary thing. With the creation of many dog medication websites, pet owners can purchase medication with the click of a button without seeing their veterinarian first. We cannot stress enough that this is extremely dangerous. Your vet must be involved with diagnosing your dog and prescribing an accurate dose of medication. Pet owners should never, ever guess what and how much of a drug their dog needs.
Even though purchasing carprofen (or any medication for that matter) online is likely cheaper and "easier," doing so can put place your dog’s health in peril. Please, don't do it.
Carprofen Side Effects
If your veterinarian has recently prescribed carprofen to ease your dog's pain and inflammation, take some time to understand its side effects.
Carprofen doesn’t work in all dogs. In some cases, it will effectively reduce pain and inflammation and help your dog get back on their feet. However, in other cases, carprofen may be ineffective or make dogs extremely ill.
Some dogs will experience adverse reactions, listed below, that affect their GI system, specifically the stomach and small intestine.
- Reduced appetite
- Vomiting, possibly bloody
- GI ulceration
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Black, tarry stools (resulting from GI bleeding)
Neurological effects of carprofen involve the nervous system (including the spine and brain) and include:
- Ataxia (incoordination)
- Partial or total paralysis
Urinary effects of carprofen in dogs include:
- Excessive drinking
- Excessive urination
- Urinary tract infection
- Hematuria (blood in the urine)
- Urinary incontinence
- Acute tubular necrosis
- Acute kidney failure
- Glucosuria (glucose in the urine)
Hematologic Effects (Blood)
Hematologic effects of carprofen include:
- Frequent nose bleeds
- Reduced red blood cell function
- Severe anemia caused by blood loss in diarrhea, vomit, or urine
- Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (low platelet count; clinically seen as bruising and bleeding)
Hepatic Effects (Liver)
Approximately 0.2% of dogs taking carprofen will experience hepatic effects. Before prescribing carprofen, your vet will make sure that your dog’s liver function has not been compromised by any other medication or preexisting health condition. Furthermore, you will need to schedule routine check-ups so your veterinarian can monitor your dog’s liver enzymes and determine whether those enzyme levels are elevated, indicating liver problems.
Liver problems will often have the following clinical signs and blood work results:
- Elevated liver enzymes
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Reduced appetite (often the first symptom)
Although pain itself can cause behavioral changes in pets, carprofen can also cause several behavioral changes in pets. Make sure that you know your dog's "normal" behavior to quickly recognize when something is off.
Examples of carprofen’s behavioral effects include:
- Aggressive actions
- Disinterest in activities once enjoyed
Immunological effects can occur if a dog is allergic to carprofen. Contact your vet straight away if you notice any of the signs listed below. Rarely, death has resulted from carprofen allergies.
- Facial swelling
- Red and irritated skin
Carprofen’s dermatological effects affect the skin, nails, and hair and include:
- Abdominal bruising
- Excessive shedding and subsequent hair loss
- Skin lesions that are often raw and extremely painful
- Cell death in inflamed fatty tissues and inflamed blood vessels
- Constant itching, irritation, scratching, biting, etc. caused by inflammation
Pet owners must keep carprofen out of reach of animals and children. The chewable form of the drug is liver-flavored, a taste that dogs love, making it easier for pet parents to administer the drug. However, this also means that overdoses are more likely to occur if the dog can access the medication, as they likely think of it more as a treat than medicine.
Clinical signs of overdose include:
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive vomiting
- Excessive diarrhea
- Increased urination
- Severe abdominal pain
- Blood in vomit or stools
If you recognize any of these symptoms, immediately get your dog emergency medical treatment. A carprofen overdose can cause severe gastric ulcers and kidney failure.
Carprofen Controversy... More Bad News
Unfortunately, carprofen is a controversial drug (Google "Rimadyl Controversy" to see for yourself). Here's what happened.
Carprofen was once thought to be almost magical. There were tons of commercials airing that showed dogs who were once “floor bound” from pain now leaping through grass and having the time of their lives. However, these commercials abruptly stopped airing as more stories emerged about carprofen (more specifically, Rimadyl) causing sudden, unexplained deaths.
From liver cancer to seizures to stomach ruptures leading to internal bleeding, pet owners were finding that their dogs' health decline all had one thing in common: carprofen.
Despite these tragic stories related to carprofen, the drug can still truly be a gamechanger for many dogs. Hence, veterinarians continue to prescribe carprofen, always keeping a vigilant eye on how dogs respond to the drug. We encourage our readers to always do their research before agreeing to a new medication and closely monitor their dog’s health on the new medication.
Additional NSAIDs for Dogs
Carprofen is only one of many NSAIDs that pet owners should be aware of. NSAIDs are commonly prescribed to treat pain and, at one point or another, you may leave your vet’s office with an NSAID prescription.
Rimadyl for Dogs
Throughout the article, you've heard us mention Rimadyl and carprofen interchangeably. This is because Rimadyl is one of the many brand names of carprofen.
Novox for Dogs
Norvox is another NSAID for dogs that treats pain and inflammation stemming from arthritis and other joint diseases.
Meloxicam for Dogs
Meloxicam for dogs is an NSAID that eases inflammation, stiffness, and pain stemming from musculoskeletal system disorders.
All of these NSAIDs alleviate pain and inflammation. However, like other conventional medications, they all have potential adverse reactions. Make sure you understand any and all associated risks prior to administering new medication.
All Natural Alternatives
With that being said, it's no wonder why so many pet owners are desperately trying to find alternative, all-natural ways to treat their pet's ailments. Luckily, we live in a time in which information about holistic medicine is on the rise, thus allowing us to have options in the ways we treat our beloved fur babies.
However, before we get to alternatives, we want to briefly reiterate one important fact. Carprofen is not a cure or long-term solution. Therefore, pet owners must ask themselves how they are going to find long-term relief for their dog.
When we trace the vast majority of ailments back to the root, we find that they all have one major thing in common: inflammation. An effective way to find long-term relief is to focus on treating the underlying cause. Although carprofen may provide temporary relief, it is up to you to work with your veterinarian to get to the root of the issue and treat it accordingly.
Carprofen: The Bottom Line
When all is said and done, we know that you only want the very best for your four-legged companion. Recognizing that your dog is in pain is heartbreaking and leaves pet parents wondering how to proceed. We want to stress that you know the associated risks of the conventional medication that your veterinarian prescribed for your dog.
A life full of pain is no way to live. We sincerely hope that your pup feels better soon.
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, she pursued a non-traditional career path as a veterinarian.
JoAnna completed a 2-year postdoctoral research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, then became a medical writer. As founder and owner of JPen Communications, a medical communications company, JoAnna is passionate about educating pet parents about pet care and responsible pet ownership.
Although she does not currently have any pets to call her own, she loves living vicariously through other pet parents and watching Nat Geo!