Carprofen For Dogs: Dosage, Side Effects, And Risks – Relievet

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Carprofen For Dogs: Dosage, Side Effects, And Risks

Christopher Kjolseth, CEO | Relievet - July 20th 2022

Accuracy review: James Davis, PharmD - July 21st 2022

Side-effects-of-carprofen-for-dogs-dosage

If a member of your fur family is in pain from Arthritis or surgery, your vet might suggest a drug called Carprofen.

It reduces inflammation and pain in most dogs that take it. However, as I've heard from many pet parents, some dogs can have a different experience.

So what is Carpforen, is it safe, and are there any alternatives you should consider?

Table Of Contents

  • What is Carprofen for dogs?
  • What is it used for?
  • Is it safe?
  • Carprofen dosage for dogs
  • Carprofen side effects in dogs
  • Cost
  • Drug interactions to be aware of
  • Conclusion
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What is Carprofen for dogs?

Carprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that was initially developed for use in humans in 1988. Interestingly, it was never marketed that way. While the developer said this was due to an overcrowded market, some negative feedback was circulating in the medical community around the same time.

Outside experts found unusual liver readings in 14% – 20% of test subjects. They wrote in a medical journal that "until additional data on carprofen are available, older compounds should probably be tried initially."

It sat unused for ten years before being sold to Pfizer, who gained FDA approval for its use in dogs in 1997.

It was one of the first drugs for animals marketed through a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. Pfizer also offered incentives to veterinarians based on the volume they prescribed.

It was immediately popular and has remained that way to this day. Most likely due to how it works in comparison to other NSAIDs.

How does it work?

Like all NSAIDs and aspirin, Carprofen works by targeting Cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, specifically COX-1 and COX-2.

COX-2 is linked to the regulation of pain and inflammation, whereas COX-1 is related to the production of mucus which protects the stomach.

What makes Carprofen unique is that it inhibits COX-2 more than COX-1. Theoretically, it can relieve pain and inflammation with less risk of causing gastrointestinal issues like ulcers.

Aspirin is the opposite, as it more selectively targets COX-1. One animal study demonstrated that it is 35 times more likely to cause stomach ulcers than Carprofen. 

While research is conflicting on which NSAID is the most selective of COX-2 (safest), Carprofen and Meloxicam usually top the list.

What is it used for?

According to the manufacturer, Carprofen is used for the "relief of pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and for the control of postoperative pain associated with soft tissue and orthopedic surgeries in dogs."

In the case of surgery, vets will usually prescribe it for two weeks or less. However, Arthritis is a long-term condition that isn't curable, meaning Carprofen is often taken for years. This is critical when evaluating its safety in dogs.

Is it safe?

Carprofen is safer than most other NSAIDs when used at the prescribed dose, but rare and severe side effects are possible, including death. The risks increase the longer this drug is used.

The reality is that safety is relative to the problem your dog is facing and the available alternatives.

The first TV commercials in the 90s showed dogs, once immobile from joint pain, bounding and running happily outside after using Carprofen. This experience was accurate for most dogs who used Carprofen. Unfortunately, a small minority of dogs had a different experience.

In the first full year of its mass-market use, the FDA received thousands of reports from pet parents and veterinary professionals that suspected Carprofen was responsible for bad reactions and even death in dogs.

However, we can't say if Carprofen was responsible without autopsies, which are uncommon in dogs. Even if it were, the reports (which are usually underreported) would still only account for less than 1% of dogs that used Carprofen.

Overall, for most dogs suffering from debilitating arthritis pain, the benefits of Carprofen outweighed the risks. At the time, it appeared to be the safest and most effective option for vets to prescribe.

Carprofen dosage for dogs

Before discussing the dosage of Carprofen for dogs you should discuss the possible side effects and risks with your vet.

The recommended dose is generally 2 milligrams per pound of your dogs body weight a day. You can split the dose into two servings of 1 mg/lb daily or serve it all at once.

Your vet will help you determine which dosing schedule is best for your dog. Giving your dog Carprofen for the shortest duration is recommended to keep them healthy and safe. Never give your dog more than the recommended dosage.

If you forget to give them with their dose one day, it is usually advisable to give it to them as soon as you remember. However, if you remember it too close to their next scheduled dose, it's usually advised to skip the one they missed. Any dosing considerations should always be checked with your veterinarian.

Dosage Chart

Dog's Weight (lb)Dosage of Carprofen per day (mg)
10
20
2040
3060
4080
50100
60120
70140
80160
90180
100200

Cost

Carprofen has three strengths: 25, 75, and 100 mg. You can expect to pay about a dollar per pill on average. 

Drug interactions to be aware of

Carprofen should never be taken with steroids and can have potentially dangerous interactions with other NSAIDs, diuretics, insulin, digoxin, cyclosporine, and ACE-inhibitors.

It is important to always tell your vet about any drugs or supplements your dog is taking or if they've had a bad reaction to other drugs in the past, especially other NSAIDs.

Carprofen side effects in dogs

The side effects of Carprofen are primarily gastrointestinal and mild but can be severe, even rarely leading to death. It's essential to be fully aware of them as catching the signs of a bad reaction early, stopping the drug use, and contacting your vet will significantly increase your dog's chances of recovery.

When the FDA first approved Carprofen for use in dogs, the information sheet said, "No clinically significant adverse reactions were reported. Some clinical signs were observed during field studies which were similar for carprofen caplet and placebo-treated dogs."

It listed the percentage of abnormal observations as follows:

  • vomiting (4%)
  • diarrhea (4%)
  • changes in appetite (3%)
  • lethargy (1.4%)
  • behavioral changes (1%) 
  • constipation (0.3%)

Even though one healthy young dog on a high dose of Carprofen had already died in a study, there was no mention of that possibility.

After a few years and millions of dogs having used Carprofen, some changes were made to the drug information panel. They added side effects that had been reported to the FDA by owners and veterinarians; they are as follows:   

  • Gastrointestinal: Vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, inappetence, melena, hematemesis, gastrointestinal ulceration, gastrointestinal bleeding, pancreatitis. 
  • Hepatic: Inappetence, vomiting, jaundice, acute hepatic toxicity, hepatic enzyme elevation, abnormal liver function test(s), hyperbilirubinemia, bilirubinuria, hypoalbuminemia. Approximately one-fourth of hepatic reports were in Labrador Retrievers. 
  • Neurologic: Ataxia, paresis, paralysis, seizures, vestibular signs, disorientation. 
  • Urinary: Hematuria, polyuria, polydipsia, urinary incontinence, urinary tract infection, azotemia, acute renal failure, tubular abnormalities including acute tubular necrosis, renal tubular acidosis, glucosuria. 
  • Behavioral: Sedation, lethargy, hyperactivity, restlessness, aggressiveness. 
  • Hematologic: Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, blood loss anemia, epistaxis. 
  • Dermatologic: Pruritus, increased shedding, alopecia, pyotraumatic moist dermatitis (hot spots), necrotizing panniculitis/vasculitis, ventral ecchymosis. In rare situations, injection site reactions, including necrosis, abscess and seroma formation, and granulomas, have been reported with the injectable formulation. 
  • Immunologic or hypersensitivity: Facial swelling, hives, erythema. 
  • In rare situations, death has been associated with some of the adverse reactions listed above. 

The most important thing to be aware of when giving Carprofen to your dog is how to spot the signs of an adverse reaction before it turns into something serious.

According to the manufacturer, you should look for the following signs. If you encounter them, stop giving Carprofen to your dog and contact your veterinarian immediately.

  • Decrease or increase in appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Change in bowel movements (such as diarrhea, or black, tarry, or bloody stools)
  • Change in behavior (such as decreased or increased activity level, incoordination, seizure, or aggression)
  • Yellowing of gums, skin, or whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Change in drinking habits (frequency, amount consumed)
  • Change in urination habits (frequency, color, or smell)
  • A difference in the skin (redness, scabs, or scratching)

Carprofen is viewed positively by most who've tried it for their dogs. If they had the choice of doing nothing and watching their dog suffer or using Carprofen with a small risk of adverse effects, many say they would choose Carprofen again.

However, science backed natural remedies were not as widely available as they are today. 

Conclusion

Carprofen benefits many dogs that take it, helping them live out their later years in less pain. However, it has well-documented risks, which have been demonstrated to increase over time.

If using Carprofen, ensure you know the early signs of a bad reaction. If you encounter one, stop use and contact your veterinarian immediately.

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