Carprofen for dogs is one of the most common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) veterinarians prescribe for dogs. So there is a good chance your dog will take it at some point in his or her life. To help you understand a bit more about this helpful pain medication, integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby explains the uses, dosage, side effects, and contraindications of carprofen for dogs.
I’m a veterinarian who loves senior dogs and spends a lot of time helping dog parents navigate their dogs’ golden years. So it is only natural that I see and hear about a lot of dogs who have arthritis or other orthopedic diseases that make them stiff and painful.
I know it is heartbreaking for dog parents to see their best friend suddenly limping or showing signs of pain in dogs. And it’s hard for me to watch too. This is why, as a veterinarian, one of my favorite things to discuss with senior dog parents (or the parents of any dog in pain) is pain management.
Thankfully, there are many great options for natural pain relief for dogs— from dog chiropractors to laser therapy for dogs—and more. And there are also a wide variety of pain medications for dogs, including one of my favorites—carprofen for dogs.
What is carprofen for dogs?
Carprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is commonly prescribed for dogs to reduce pain and inflammation. Carprofen is the generic name. But is also available under several different brand names like Rimadyl®, Novox®, Vetprofen®, Rimifin®, Carpox®, Norocarp®, and Levafen®. All of these products are available by prescription only.
In veterinary medicine, carprofen is FDA approved to treat pain and inflammation in dogs. But vets sometimes use it off-label (or extra label) for other animals like small mammals and reptiles. However, in general it should not be used for cats.
How does carprofen work?
As mentioned, carprofen for dogs is an NSAID. This is the same class of drug as some of the pain-relievers you might take (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.). But you should not give your dog Advil or any other human NSAIDs as these medications are not safe for dogs. Instead, your dog should take NSAIDs, such as carprofen, which were designed and studied for dogs specifically.
Typically, veterinarians use carprofen to reduce inflammation and pain in dogs. It does this by inhibiting cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes.
COX enzymes are responsible for stimulating the release of different inflammatory mediators that cause inflammation and pain in dogs. But since carprofen blocks the action of these enzymes, it prevents them from starting the inflammatory cascade. As a result, carprofen can reduce inflammation and the dog’s pain at the same time. This makes it different than other pain relievers like tramadol, gabapentin, and amantadine, which only target pain, not inflammation.
What is carprofen used for in dogs?
Another great thing about carprofen is that it works for both acute (i.e. sudden) and chronic (i.e. long-standing) pain and inflammation. Some of the many uses for carprofen include:
- Control of post-op pain and inflammation after soft tissue surgeries (e.g. spay, neuter, tumor removal, or gastropexy in dogs), dental work, or orthopedic surgeries (e.g. dog hip replacement)
- Reduction of pain and inflammation from conditions such as UTI in dogs or ear infections (i.e. otitis in dogs)
- Management of pain and inflammation due to orthopedic conditions such as elbow or hip dysplasia in dogs, IVDD in dogs, torn ACL in dogs, luxating patella in dogs, osteoarthritis in dogs, fractures, soft tissue injuries, etc.
- Reduction of cancer-related pain (e.g. osteosarcoma in dogs or prostate cancer in dogs)
- Control of fever or other painful or inflammatory conditions
What is the carprofen dosage for dogs?
As you can see, carprofen has many uses in veterinary medicine. Conveniently, it is available as both an injection and an oral tablet.
Typically, veterinarians use the injectable form in the hospital setting. For example, they may administer a carprofen injection before or after surgery. Or they may give injectable carprofen to a hospitalized dog.
Then, for at-home use, the vet will prescribe carprofen chewable tablets or caplets. These pills come in 25 mg, 75 mg, and 100 mg sizes that you can split in half. This makes it easy to find the right dose for a variety of sizes of dogs.
The carprofen dosage for dogs is based on a dog’s weight. Depending on how your veterinarian prefers to dose carprofen, you may be instructed to give your dog the tablet or caplet once a day or twice a day by mouth. Also, the vet will typically recommend giving carprofen with food to avoid stomach upset.
It is also possible to get carprofen compounded into a liquid if your dog won’t take pills. However, if you think you need to crush the carprofen for your dog, please consult your veterinarian. Depending on the brand and form, it may or may not be ok to crush carprofen.
How long does it take carprofen to work?
The good news is that carprofen is rapidly absorbed and usually begins working in one to two hours. After this time, your dog’s symptoms should begin to improve as the pain decreases. Then, by following your veterinarian’s dosing instructions carefully, the carprofen will hopefully keep your dog’s pain under control.
However, if your dog’s pain does not seem to be responding, please contact your veterinarian for advice. Do not modify your dog’s carprofen dose or frequency on your own. The dosage for once-a-day administration is double that for twice-a-day administration, so it is important that you follow the label directions. Otherwise, you run the risk of over dosing your dog, which can be dangerous and lead to an increased risk of side effects.
What are the side effects of carprofen?
Thankfully, when used appropriately and as directed by a vet, carprofen is a safe medication for most dogs. But, even at the labeled dose and frequency, some dogs may experience mild side effects. The most common side effects in dogs are:
- Stomach upset (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation)
- Decreased appetite
- Being a lethargic dog
- Decreased water intake
- Stomach pain
However, occasionally dogs might experience more serious side effects. These effects include:
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea (may be black or bloody in appearance)
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Increased thirst in dogs and increased urination
- Yellow tinted skin or eyes (i.e. jaundice)
- Severe lethargy or incoordination
- Seizures in dogs
- Allergic reactions
What should I do if my dog develops side effects from the carprofen?
If you notice any side effects (whether mild or severe), call your vet right away, and don’t give your dog any more carprofen until you speak to your vet. This is especially important if your dog is having a severe reaction to the carprofen.
Depending on your dog and the symptoms, your veterinarian will make a decision on how to proceed. Sometimes he or she may simply switch to a different pain medication. Other times, the vet may recommend you bring your dog to the office for an exam.
Your vet may want to run blood work such as a complete blood count to check for low red blood cell count (i.e. anemia in dogs) which may indicate GI bleeding. Or the vet may recommend a chemistry panel to evaluate your dog’s kidney and liver values.
While it isn’t common, some dogs, especially older Labrador Retrievers, have an idiosyncratic reaction (i.e. unexpected individual reaction that could not be predicted) to the carprofen which leads to elevated liver enzymes. Thankfully, the carprofen-associated hepatocellular toxicity in these dogs generally resolves after stopping the carprofen.
Which dogs should not take carprofen?
While I know that these side effects (especially liver toxicity) can sound scary, the good news is that carprofen doesn’t cause any issues for many dogs. However, there are some situations where carprofen is contraindicated. If that is the case, your veterinarian will help you find safer alternatives for treating your dog’s pain.
Let’s take a look at some conditions where carprofen may not be the best choice—starting with kidney failure in dogs or liver disease in dogs. Since the liver and kidneys help break down and excrete carprofen, it is typically contraindicated in dogs with either condition.
Therefore, your veterinarian may recommend bloodwork to screen your dog for pre-existing kidney and liver disease before starting carprofen (and periodically while on carprofen). This screening is especially important for dogs who may be on carprofen long-term (rather than for an acute problem) or those with risk factors that may predispose them to adverse effects.
Additionally, other contraindications for carprofen include:
- Bleeding disorders like Von Willebrand disease
- Low platelets in dogs, such as from immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP in dogs)
- Severe dehydration
- Heart disease in dogs
- Chronic gastrointestinal disease such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD in dogs) or GI ulceration
- Pregnant or nursing dogs
- Puppies who are less than six weeks old
- History of allergic reactions to carprofen or other NSAIDs
Since there are a wide range of conditions that may make carprofen more risky, your vet will perform a thorough physical exam and possibly bloodwork before starting the carprofen. Plus, he or she will review all of your dog’s current medications and supplements.
Which medications don’t mix with carprofen?
Especially if you end up making an emergency vet visit, it is always a good idea to have a list of your dog’s current medications and supplements with you at your vet appointment. That way the vet can ensure that your dog isn’t taking something that might interact poorly with carprofen.
Some common medications that should not be used at the same time as carprofen (or used with extreme caution) include:
- Steroids (e.g. prednisone for dogs and dexamethasone)
- Anticoagulants (i.e. blood thinners)
- ACE inhibitors like enalapril for dogs
- Diuretics including furosemide
- Other NSAIDS like meloxicam or Deramaxx®
- Aspirin or clopidogrel
- Tri-cyclic antidepressants (i.e. clomipramine)
Which medications can be used with carprofen?
Despite the list above, there are plenty of medications that do “play nicely” with carprofen. Let’s take a look at a few common medications that your dog might take at the same time as carprofen.
- Gabapentin—Your vet might recommend giving carprofen and gabapentin together to increase your dog’s pain relief. This is a helpful combination because carprofen and gabapentin work differently in your dog’s system and have an additive effect to decrease pain.
- Tramadol—In the same way, your vet may recommend using tramadol for dogs and carprofen together to provide additional pain management.
- Benadryl—If your dog has a painful condition and is itchy from allergies, it is generally fine to combine carprofen and Benadryl for dogs (or carprofen and most, but not all, other allergy medicines for dogs).
- Amantadine—To manage severe or chronic pain, the vet may recommend using carprofen and amantadine for dogs.
- Trazodone—If your dog recently had surgery and needs to remain calm, or if your dog is becoming anxious, the vet might suggest carprofen and trazodone for dogs.
Please remember—it isn’t possible to list every possible drug interaction or safe combination here. So if your dog is taking any medications or supplements, it is important that you share the names with your veterinarian. Even if you believe the medication is safe to use with carprofen, please verify that with your veterinarian before giving it.
What else do I need to know about giving my dog carprofen?
While we have covered most of the information I like dog parents to have about carprofen, I do have a five final considerations and tips:
- Dogs who are taking carprofen long-term should have regular monitoring and blood work performed by a veterinarian. The rechecks may need to be scheduled every two weeks initially. But eventually, the vet might only need to see your dog every three to six months. Your vet will let you know what sort of monitoring schedule is right for your dog.
- If you skip or miss a dose of carprofen, you can give it if it’s only a few hours late. But if the next dose is due within eight hours or less, consult your veterinarian before giving the missed dose, or wait until the next scheduled dose.
- Keep carprofen out of reach of children and other pets at all times. The chewable tablets are apparently very tasty, so if given the chance, a dog may decide to eat the whole bottle. This could be life-threatening.
- Dogs who are taking carprofen should be properly hydrated and have access to clean, fresh water at all times.
- If you believe your dog received an overdose of carprofen, please consult your veterinarian immediately or take your dog to the nearest vet clinic.
Carprofen is a great choice for many dogs
I know that we have talked about a lot of side effects, contra-indications, drug interactions, and other somewhat worrisome things. But I want you to know that overall, carprofen is a great choice for many dogs. It is highly effective at relieving pain and inflammation and typically safe when used and monitored correctly.
I’ve prescribed carprofen to hundreds of patients so far in my career and given it to my own dogs too. There have been some dogs who didn’t tolerate it well. But for the most part, my patients (and my own dogs) have greatly benefited from carprofen’s pain and inflammation-reducing properties.
So if your vet recommends carprofen, don’t be afraid to say “yes.” I think you will find that it helps your dog become less painful and more comfortable quickly. And that’s always a good thing!