This pain reliever can give your dog a new lease on life, but it needs to be used carefully.
man taking a selfie outdoors with his dog
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If your dog is experiencing pain and inflammation, your veterinarian may prescribe carprofen. This common dog medication works in a similar way to human medications like ibuprofen, but is safe for dogs (unlike ibuprofen and many other human drugs).

I've seen carprofen used in many dogs with great success throughout my career as a veterinary technician. I've also seen some dogs experience undesirable side effects. Now, my own senior dog is taking it to manage her arthritis. It has reminded me that, while carprofen is often safe and effective, it's important to monitor dogs closely while they are on this drug.

What Is Carprofen Used for in Dogs?

Carprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to treat pain and inflammation in dogs. This drug is most commonly used to ease the pain and inflammation associated with conditions like arthritis, elbow dysplasia, and hip dysplasia. It may also be prescribed after a surgery, injury, or infection to reduce pain, inflammation, and fever.

Pain from inflammation is facilitated by an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). There are two forms of this enzyme: COX-1 and COX-2. Both facilitate pain and inflammation, but COX-2 is mainly found at sites with swelling. Carprofen is categorized as a selective COX-2 inhibitor, preserving COX-1 in a dog's body which is primarily known to maintain and protect the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Some NSAIDs inhibit all COX, which is likely to cause stomach upset, ulcers, and bleeding. By inhibiting COX-2 but not COX-1, carprofen can relieve pain and inflammation with milder GI side effects, which is why carprofen and other COX-2 inhibiting NSAIDs are prescribed over other types of NSAIDs for certain dogs

What Are Potential Carprofen Side Effects in Dogs?

Side effects can occur with any drug, and carprofen is no exception. Like most NSAIDs, gastrointestinal upset is one of the most common side effects. Carprofen is generally tolerated well by dogs when given with food at the appropriate dosage. However, some dogs may still experience some of the following:

Before starting carprofen, your veterinarian may recommend blood tests to assess your dog's health, particularly liver and kidney function. This is because carprofen, like most NSAIDs, can have a negative impact on the liver and kidneys. Follow-up blood tests will be needed after your dog has been on this medication to make sure there are no changes to the liver and kidney values.

My own dog has not had any visible side effects like vomiting or diarrhea, but one of her liver enzymes was slightly elevated on her follow-up blood work. My vet has recommended that we recheck her blood work in a few weeks and also do some X-rays so she can see how her liver looks. If anything is abnormal, she may need an ultrasound. We may even need to stop the medication if they determine that the carprofen is affecting her liver. This scenario is not uncommon for dogs on this drug, so be sure to follow your vet's recommendations about monitoring.

Carprofen Dosage for Dogs

Carprofen is a veterinary drug that is given orally as a pill once or twice a day. Chewable tablets are available, which makes dosing convenient for pet parents. Carprofen should be given with food to decrease the chance of stomach upset.

Carprofen is typically administered to dogs at a dosage of approximately two milligrams per pound of body weight per day. This is often divided into two daily doses spaced about 12 hours apart. Carprofen tablets are available in three sizes: 25, 75, and 100 milligrams. My 45-pound mixed-breed dog is taking one-half of a 100 milligram chewable tablet with each meal (morning and night) and she eats them like treats right out of her food bowl. If my vet is out of the chews, I use pill pockets to make the tablets more enticing for my pup.

Carprofen goes by many brand names, including Rimadyl, Vetprofen, and Novox. Several generic forms are also available. Or, an injectable form can be administered in your vet's office.

Carprofen should not be given in conjunction with other NSAIDs or corticosteroids. This will increase the likelihood of dangerous side effects like GI bleeding and ulceration, liver damage, and kidney damage. Other drugs can interact with carprofen as well, so tell your vet about all medications and supplements that you give your dog.

Can Dogs Overdose on Carprofen?

It's certainly possible for dogs to overdose on carprofen, and the outcome can be serious. Doses of 10 milligrams per pound or more tend to first cause severe vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Left untreated, carprofen toxicity can lead to weakness, tremors, seizures, GI perforation, and kidney failure.

The most common type of overdose happens when a dog gets into a bottle of chewable carprofen and eats the whole thing. This kind of extreme overdose calls for an immediate vet visit or head to an animal emergency center if your vet is closed. Be sure to bring what is left of the pill bottle and any other information available about the drug strength and quantity.

If your dog accidentally gets a small overdose (like one or two extra tablets) contact your vet or an animal poison control service like ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661. You may be advised to induce vomiting if the overdose happened recently. Some dogs will still need follow-up treatment at a veterinary hospital.

To prevent accidental overdose, be sure to keep carprofen and all other medications out of your dog's reach. Make sure all members of your home understand the dosing instructions and schedule if they will be involved in feeding/medication times.