Is Rimadyl Safe for Dogs?

Updated on April 19, 2016
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Rimadyl: safe  or dangerous drug?
Rimadyl: safe or dangerous drug?

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 another 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 signs of trouble immediately.

Rimadyl, generic name Caprofen, is a popular drug produced by Pfizer, the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company. 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. 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. As good as this drug may sound in alleviating pain and inflammation, there are several things you need to know.

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. The next paragraphs will go over a few risks and issues this drug can pose.

Rimadyl is often prescribed after dog orthopedic injuries and surgeries.
Rimadyl is often prescribed after dog orthopedic injuries and surgeries. | Source

Rimadyl Dangers

The Problems with Rimadyl for your Dog

Rimadyl was first introduced in 1997. It's estimated that about 15 million dogs suffering from pain or degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis have taken such prescription. As much as NSAID medications may seem helpful in reducing pain and inflammation, about 3,200 dogs have died after taking these drugs and almost 19,000 dogs 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.

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 Chances for Reactions

  • 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 3 weeks seem to be more vulnerable for liver problems; however, consider though that Labradors are prone to joint problems and that also any dog breed can be virtually 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 so much Rimadyl is given. Nutraceuticals may be an alternate choice that can be taken along to lower the dosage of Rimadyl.
  • Report to your vet any bleeding problems 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, 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 under 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 in known as jaundice and may indicate liver problems. NSAID's 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.

Glucosamine Supplements

Liquid Health K-9 Glucosamine, Hip and Joint Formula, 32 Ounce (Packaging may vary)
Liquid Health K-9 Glucosamine, Hip and Joint Formula, 32 Ounce (Packaging may vary)

Supplements in a liquid form are shown to absorb more quickly & efficiently than tablets, offering faster results.


Dog Rimadyl Alternatives

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 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, there 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 following first three 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 withing 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.

  • Turmeric (Curcumin)

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

  • Tramadol

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.

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.

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Consult with your veterinarian before trying any supplements. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.

Rimadyl Dangers and Side Effects

Has your dog ever had adverse effects to Rimadyl? Vote and share your story in the comments section.

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    • profile image

      Lori Simpson 4 weeks ago

      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.

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      Amy Utke 3 months ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Stacie 3 months ago

      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!!

    • profile image

      Erika 5 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      kathy 9 months ago

      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!

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      Heather 10 months ago

      My dog has liver failure from Rimadyl. Don't give it to your dog!

    • profile image

      JoeD 11 months ago

      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.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 3 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      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!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      I agree, they fix one thing and create another, just as many other human medications:(

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      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!