Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
What Is Rimadyl and How Does It Work?
If you're wondering if Rimadyl is safe for dogs, most likely your veterinarian prescribed it to your dog for a medical reason. But what is exactly Rimadyl and how does it work? Is it safe for dogs?
When you receive your prescription for Rimadyl, you may think it's just a medication like any other and may not give it any thought. Your vet may give you a handout to read about it before using it or may warn you about its side effects. It's very important to learn as much as you can about this medication so you can make an informed decision and recognize the signs of trouble immediately.
The Basics of Rimadyl
Rimadyl, generic name Caprofen, is a popular drug produced by Pfizer, the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company. It was was first introduced in 1997. It's a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, often abbreviated by the acronym NSAID. The purpose of NSAIDs is to reduce pain and inflammation. Inflammation is known for causing redness, warmth, swelling and pain. The main function of NSAIDs is to block the production of prostaglandins, chemicals responsible for causing inflammation.
What It's Prescribed For
If your vet prescribed this drug, most likely your dog has some sort of pain associated with osteoarthritis or has had a recent soft tissue or orthopedic surgery.
Rimadyl is dispensed in caplets or tasty chewables your dog will likely eagerly gulp down. Keep the bottle safely stored away so your dog cannot get to them. It's available in three different strengths: 25 mg, 75 mg, and 100 mg. The dosage and frequency of administration depends on a dog's weight and diagnosed medical condition. Usually, the effect is observed within 1 to 3 hours.
Follow your vet's advice carefully and read all the accompanying information provided with the medication. This medication should always come with a Client Information Sheet provided by your vet.
Know the Risks
As good as this drug may sound in alleviating pain and inflammation, there are several things you need to know. The next paragraphs will go over a few risks and issues this drug can pose.
Reports of Adverse Effects and Death From Rimadyl in Dogs
It's estimated that about 15 million dogs suffering from pain, degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis have taken such a prescription. However, although NSAID medications are helpful in reducing pain and inflammation, about 3,200 dogs have died after taking these drugs and almost 19,000 dogs have had bad reactions to them.
In particular, through November 2004, the FDA received about 13,000 adverse effects reports about Rimadyl, much more than any other dog pain reliever. After several reports of dogs dying, the FDA requested Pfizer to mention “death” on the company's television ads and other media, and Pfizer decided to stop airing these ads altogether, according to Cactus Canyon.
Why It Causes Problems
So what's the problem with this drug? As mentioned, Rimadyl and other NSAIDs work by inhibiting the production of "prostaglandins" which are known for causing inflammation in injured/ aging joints. The problem with this is that prostaglandins are necessary for several other bodily functions, and when the production is halted, the digestive system, liver and kidneys are disturbed, according to the Senior Dog Project.
How to Lower the Chance of a Reaction to Rimadyl
- Don't ever give an NSAID with corticosteroids or aspirin. This could cause serious adverse reactions, explains Novartis' David Stansfield.
- Have your dog undergo a thorough physical exam prior to starting NSAIDs.
- Ask your vet to run bloodwork to check your dog's liver and kidneys before, during (if given for quite some time) and after using NSAIDs. This will help catch a reaction before irreversible damage is done. The faster problems are caught, the better the chances for recovery.
- Labrador retrievers taking carprofen for longer than three weeks seem to be more vulnerable for liver problems; however, consider that Labradors are prone to joint problems and that any dog breed can be affected, whether a Labrador or not.
- Consider that about 70% of possible adverse drug event reports received by Pfizer have been in older dogs. However, keep in mind that adverse effects have been also seen in dogs as young as 15 months!
- Consult with your vet if you are also giving other medications or homeopathic remedies, such as turmeric, as they may interfere with NSAIDs.
- In some cases, veterinarians prescribe the pain reliever Tramadol along with Rimadyl, so not as much Rimadyl is given. Nutraceuticals may be an alternate choice that can be taken along to lower the dosage of Rimadyl.
- Report any bleeding problems to your vet, as Rimadyl interferes with proper blood clotting. For this reason, Rimadyl must be stopped a few days prior to surgery.
- According to Atlantic Animal Hospital, "The University of California at Davis recommends a two week 'rest' period when changing from any NSAID to carprofen or from carprofen to another NSAID."
- Report promptly any of the side effects or unusual changes in your dog. Some of the most common are listed below.
- Watch your dog for signs of gastro-intestinal upset, such as loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea. Giving Rimadyl with food may lower the chances of digestive upset, but some dogs develop these issues regardless.
- Rimadyl can thin the stomach's mucous lining, causing ulcers. Signs of ulcers may be seen as blood in stool (often in the form of black, tarry feces) or flecks of blood in vomit. When ulcers bleed profusely, serious internal bleeding and shock may occur. White, pale gums may be a sign of life-threatening trouble.
- Changes in drinking or urination habits may signal kidney problems.
- Yellowing of gums, skin or whites of the eyes is known as jaundice and may indicate liver problems. NSAIDs have the potential for reducing blood flow to the liver, which decreases this organ's ability to remove toxins from the body. If the medication is not stopped within a specific time frame, irreversible liver damage may have already started.
- Report behavior changes such as decreased or increased activity level, uncoordinated gait, seizures or aggression.
- Skin problems, such as itching, scabs, facial swelling, hives and redness, suggest an allergy to the product.
- It hasn't been established yet if Rimadyl is safe for pregnant/lactating dogs.
- To read more about side effects, read the Rimadyl summary carefully. Your vet should have given you this. If your dog develops any adverse effects, stop the medication immediately and contact your vet, suggests the Food and Drug Administration.
- Also, report adverse effects to Pfizer Animal Health at 1-800-366-5288.
Alternatives to Rimadyl
Dog owners can't be blamed for getting cold feet when Rimadyl or other NSAIDs are prescribed to their beloved dogs. There are other NSAIDs such as Deramaxx, Metacam and Etodolac, but they also have the potential for side effects.
So, are there any natural alternatives? Well, there are, but they may not work as quickly and efficiently as a prescription anti-inflammatory drug, which is one reason why there're not that popular. Also, they are likely not to work too well for acute injuries, such as a torn cruciate ligament. Rather, they seem to work better for chronic arthritis.
The first three items that follow are some dog Rimadyl alternatives suggested by veterinarian and Just Answer expert, Dr. Fiona.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Supplement
This is a very safe supplement. Basically, glucosamine derives from the shell of crustaceans, whereas chondroitin may come from cow cartilage or shark and whale cartilage. This supplement is meant to reduce pain and help the cartilage heal. Luckily, the chances for side effects are very low. According to Drs. Foster and Smith, who have sold tens of thousands of doses of this supplement, the chances for severe side effects are extremely low and they have yet to see one. Occasionally, some dogs may develop vomiting and diarrhea, but that's likely about it and such symptoms often disappear when the supplement is given with food.
This medication, once started, should be given for life and luckily, thanks to its safety, it is suited for long-term use. Studies show that when supplementation is stopped, cartilage degeneration restarts within 4 to 6 months. Best of all, glucosamine and chondroitin can be easily purchased in health food stores, at veterinary clinics and online. Because it's a supplement, it doesn't require a prescription even though it's important to always consult a vet before adding any new supplements.
Human grade glucosamine often offers the advantage of being high quality and is often offered in a purer form. However, glucosamine and chondroitin specifically designed for dogs has the added bonus of containing ascorbic acid or manganese to aid in glucosamine uptake. They may also be flavored to aid palatability and can be also fortified with other minerals. Some popular vet products include Cosequin, Dasaquin and Glycoflex.
As mentioned, NSAID alternatives may take several weeks to start working. In the case of glucosamine expect to see improvement in 6 to 8 weeks. According to PetMD, a study demonstrated that some dogs can achieve similar levels of pain control using the glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate alone.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids
As in the case of glucosamine, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids take their time to work. Expect to see improvements within 8 weeks. What this supplement does is decrease inflammation, and therefore, pain and stiffness. Some owners have obtained good effects with these alone. The only drawback is the time it takes to take effect.
This is a spice often found in grocery stores in a powdery form. Humans often use it for arthritis. To make it easier to administer, empty capsules may be purchased and filled with the spice. Alternatively, it can be sprinkled over food or mixed with it. Because turmeric is not easily absorbed, it is often combined with bromelein. A popular product containing turmeric, bromelein, boswellia and other many helpful herbs, is Only Natural's "Get up and Go". To learn more about turmeric benefits and risks read: Turmeric for Dogs
Some vets suggest tramadol for dogs with painful chronic joint conditions such as arthritis to help relieve pain. Because it's a prescription drug it's important to visit your vet before giving it to your dog, and it's also a good idea to try more natural remedies such as turmeric before resorting to the use of medication. You can find more about tramadol for dogs by reading this article.
So, Is Rimadyl Safe for Dogs?
It appears that Rimadyl remains and will remain a drug of controversy. Some compare it to the human medication Vioxx, only that Rimadyl is still on the market and is aggressively marketed and remains one of the most popular dog medications prescribed. While many dogs show dramatic improvements when on this drug (such as those who cannot walk or sleep without it), it looks like some eventually get side effects, and in some cases, a few may eventually die.
Yet, Rimadyl is not the only drug known for creating problems. Previcox, Derammax, Zubrin and Metacam have also horror stories, just perhaps not as widespread as with Rimadyl because they're not as often prescribed.
Be Aware of the Risks and Make an Informed Decision
The bottom line is that, yes, Rimadyl comes with risks. Veterinarians should make owners aware of them and always provide an accompanying Client Information Sheet. Awareness of these risks is very important if your vet determines that the drug’s benefits outnumber its potential risks. Knowledge is ultimately power when it comes to your pet's health so you can make the best, informed decisions.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: If I take my dog off Rimadyl how soon can I start him on Turmeric?
Answer: I would check with your vet on this to play it safe as there are variables such as your dog's overall health and how effective his liver is in clearing the drug from his system. What information you need here is what's the half-life of this drug, which is.the time it takes for the concentration of the drug in the body to be reduced by 50 percent. So for example if a drug has a half-life of about 8-12 hours, this means 1/2 of it is out of a dog's body by that time frame, then 8-12 hours later another 1/2 is gone so that only a total of a 1/4 remains. Every 8-12 hours that amount halves once again. Therefore it may take about 2-3 days in this example, but things aren't always cut and dry. Check with your vet please as there are variables based on drug, the health of the dog, his blood work, whether the drug was stopped due to side effects, etc.
Question: How long before I notice improvement in mobility when giving a dog Rimadyl?
Answer: This varies depending on what a dog is suffering from. For instance, in dogs with back pain due to disc disease, since the disc is squeezing on the spinal cord, it's not unusual for the pain to last for quite some time before seeing significant improvement. These dogs need lots of rest and pain meds, possibly also muscle relaxers along with an NSAID. In a sort of way, Rimadyl should act like aspirin (never give aspirin to a dog without vet's permission and never when a dog is on an NSAID like Rimadyl) and should help with inflammation in a similar timeframe as aspirin does with us. Discuss with your vet if your dog doesn't seem to feel better. Your vet may wish to try a different type of non-steroidal such as Metacam, Previcoxx or Deramaxx (after a pause in between the two different meds, follow your vet's directions!) as some dogs do better on one type of medication over the other. Or perhaps, your vet may just suggest adding Tramadol which is very good for pain relief as well.
Question: What is the ingredient in Rimadyl that makes so tasty to dogs?
Answer: It looks like chewable Rimadyl is flavored with pork liver. In a study, Rimadyl was found to be readily accepted by more than 93 percent of dogs.
Ashley R on June 30, 2020:
My 6 year old corgi just died and I believe it was because of this drug! I brought him to my vet for a limp and they gave him this. He took two rounds of this and after 2 weeks wouldn't eat, was throwing up and had diarrhea. I fought for a month to find out what wrong with him and no one had answers. He had black tarry stool before he died. Collapsed in my home right in front of my husband and died.
We are completely mortified! Will NEVER give this drug to another animal of mine...if i even get the nerve to get another as I cant trust ant vet anymore.
Bonnie A on December 11, 2018:
My 9 yo white German shepherd has been on rimadyl for 4 mos for bad arthritis and hip dysplasia. Yesterday he vomited dark blood in 4 different places. Rushed him to the vet and they believe the rimadyl has caused a gi bleed. Now he is on carafate, cerenia and prilosec. Will not eat anything at all. Will drink some water but not much. Don't ever give your dog nsaids. I am angry and not sure i will ever trust my vet again. I only hope he will survive.
Cindy S on July 16, 2018:
Our beautiful healthy 17 month old Border Collie was given Rimadyl after being spayed. She was fine until this pain Killer got into her system. Rimadyl was toxic and she died after 3 days in the hospital.
We were given no warring about this drug. Do NOT ever take the chance. Heartbroken!
Kathy Palmer on July 04, 2018:
My dog died in 2004 after taking Rimadyl. He died an agonizing death and had to be put to sleep less than 24 hours after his symptoms appeared. I did not know it was the Rimadyl until 6 months later when I watched an episode of 20/20. It was about all the deaths from Rimadyl. I was so angry. I imagine the death rate is much higher than reported, because pet parents like me had no idea it was from Rimadyl and vets won't admit it either to protect themselves. It is very sad.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 07, 2018:
DOK48, I have used Dog Gone Pain in the past for my dogs and it always worked well for us. I asked my vet first to make sure it was OK with the other supplements they get and their bloodwork was checked recently so they were good to go on it.
DOK48 on January 29, 2018:
Have a 9 yr old 52 lb English Bull and she's been OK on it so far, 6 mos in. Started with 50mg am and 50mg pm chewables with her food. None of the issues listed as side affects have occurred. Reduced her to 1/4 tab(25) am and pm and added a product called DGP which has a variety of anti inflammatory ingredients and she's remained relieved, active and regained much of her prior activity level on an ongoing basis. I know it doesn't work for everyone and sensitivity to the drug bears close observation when initiating usage and for at least a month or so to determine if it works without major side affects for your dog. Good luck.
Lori Simpson on December 19, 2017:
I believe Rimadyl, given to my 8 year old Italian Greyhound (1 dose given prior to dental surgery and 1 dose of 20 mg by mouth given approximately 8 hours post-op) caused severe bleeding that required my dog to need intensive care, including 2 blood transfusions, and a 2 day hospitalization at a major veterinary hospital to stabilize. My dog had been healthy prior to this routine dental surgery (cleaning and extraction of several teeth). The vet noted some bleeding during the surgery, but prescribed Rimadyl as a post op pain reliever anyway. My dog started bleeding from his nose, mouth, and also started having bloody diarrhea. Initially, it was thought that maybe he had a clotting disorder, but multiple clotting tests revealed that his clotting factors were all normal. Luckily, my dog survived this horrible ordeal. Please do not allow your vet to administer or prescribe Rimadyl to your pet, especially for surgery/post-op pain. Research shows that Rimadyl impairs blood clotting and also can cause GI bleeding. There are many reports out there that tell of severe reactions and death because of this NSAID med. My pet was a victim of this med and almost died because of it. There are other pain relief options that are much safer choices.
Amy Utke on September 30, 2017:
I believe that this medicine caused liver and renal failure in my 10 year old greyhound. Wish that my vet would have ran tests while she was on Rymadil instead of just refilling it for 2 years. DO NOT USE THIS DRUG!
Stacie on September 26, 2017:
My beautiful pit/boxer broke his dew claw the vet prescribed Rimadyl I’ve only given 3 to him 75 msg each over 3 days but he’s been kinda loopy n snappy at me!! I’m kinda scared n this vet is supposed to be a good one but they never gave me a heads up on this med!!! I’m not giving it to him again!!
Erika on August 17, 2017:
My beautiful, healthy 6 years old German Shepherd just suddenly passed. Literally 4 days ago. He had a minor limp, the vet put him on Rymadil without previous bood work. My dog lasted 3 days. It took three 75 mg tablets. On the 3rd day he was peeing and drinking a lot. He was weak. After a couple of hours he has a seizure and died. Thanks to Rimadyl . Now I am left crying in a corner over the unnecessary death of my only family. My everything.
kathy on April 23, 2017:
My 9 year old Australian Shepard was having back leg issues Vet put him on rimadyl 75mg bid x 7 days In March he was put on it again bid for 14 days. His appetite started decreasing and then he would not eat at all. Only time vet drew blood work was end of March. Then told me my dog had cancer! Did sono showed enlarged liver. My dog passed 4/13/17.......very upset over this, think it was the rimadyl that killed him, & not to mention the vet! Please be careful of drugs you give your pet even if it is prescribed by vet research drug. I am now without my best friend because of vet and this drug!
Heather on March 03, 2017:
My dog has liver failure from Rimadyl. Don't give it to your dog!
JoeD on February 03, 2017:
Our 11 year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever was diagnosed with a ligament deficiency and vet prescribed 200 mg/day of rimadyl and omega 3 oil. She felt better the very next day. the following day she vomited her dinner, then vomited breakfast the next day then had extreme diarrhea that afternoon. We stopped all meds immediately. The diarrhea continued for 2 days. She didn't eat for 3 day and we thought we were going to lose her. She recovered over the course of 3 weeks and we resumed the omega 3 oil. She has fully recovered and the omega 3 seems to help, her limping has declined to almost unnoticeable but she has changed her gate. It was a frightening experience and we chastised our vet for not warning us adequately. I do take some responsibility as well for not researching the product enough before giving it to her. It has been a learning experience.
Ed Palumbo from Tualatin, OR on January 27, 2014:
The veterinarian recently prescribed Rimadyl for our 11 yr-old dachshund for mild spinal discomfort, and it seemed to work. You've provided much more information than the veterinarian. Thank you!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 07, 2013:
I agree, they fix one thing and create another, just as many other human medications:(
Michelle Liew from Singapore on April 07, 2013:
I think the problem with medication is that it cures one ailment only to esacerbate another. Thanks for telling us about the effects of this drug!