Carprofen for dogs, aka Rimadyl … vets love it. They hand it out for any kind of pain and inflammation in dogs. Vets use it to treat chronic pain. They’ll also use it for injuries or emergency pain relief. And they use it for post surgical care.
But they often don’t warn you about the side effects that could harm your dog. The list of risky side effects is long and you need to know what they are.
Fortunately, there are some excellent options for natural, much safer alternatives you can use.
But first, here’s some background on carprofen …
What Is Carprofen?
You can get carprofen under many different brand names. Rimadyl is the best known.
It’s a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for dogs. Carprofen works by inhibiting COX-2, or cyclogenase enzymes that create prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are fatty acid derivatives that generate pain and inflammation. So suppressing them might seem like a good idea. But they also do several other important jobs throughout the body, like …
- Constrict or dilate blood vessels
- Regulate kidney function and fluid balance
- Contract or relax muscles in the gastrointestinal tract and lungs
- Control platelet formation in blood clotting
- Cause uterine contractions during menstruation or labor
- Control blood pressure
- Regulate body temperature
So … your dog needs prostaglandins for his body to work well.
In fact, COX-2 inhibiting drugs in humans have become notorious for their side effects. One of them was Vioxx, recalled worldwide in 2004 for causing fatal heart attacks and strokes.
So, carprofen might relieve inflammation and pain in your dog. But it can do some damage in the process.
Carprofen Side Effects
There’s a long list of problems that carprofen has caused in dogs. Here are some of them:
- Liver toxicity and abnormal liver function
- Gastrointestinal damage, including ulcers and internal bleeding
- Kidney and urinary tract damage
- Neurological issues, including seizures and paralysis
- Blood diseases like immune-mediated hemolytic anemia
- Behavioral issues like hyperactivity, aggression or lethargy
- Skin issues like itching, hair loss, dermatitis
- Allergic responses like facial swelling or hives
Yes, you read right. Carprofen drugs have killed dogs. In 2000, the Wall Street Journal published an article about adverse reactions and deaths from Rimadyl. The title of the article was Most Dogs Do Well On Rimadyl, Except The Ones That Die. Many owners said their vets never warned them about the dangers of Rimadyl. And countless dogs died or were harmed. Today, Rimadyl prescribing information still says: “Serious adverse reactions associated with this drug class can occur without warning and in rare situations result in death.”
Now that you’ve read this, you’ll know to avoid carprofen drugs for your dog. But if your dog ever has to take them, ask your vet to do bloodwork first. And then get his liver enzymes tested every few months. Then, be on the lookout for symptoms like:
- Vomiting (especially bloody vomit)
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin or whites of eyes)
- Pale gums
- Black tarry stool
- Lack of appetite
- Increased drinking and urinating
- Abdominal pain
- Behavior changes
One More BIG Problem With Carprofen
There’s one more thing we saved for last because it’s important. It’s also ironic.
Dogs with arthritis often take carprofen or other NSAIDs. So you would think these drugs might support joint health so that your dog doesn’t get worse! You might even hope the drugs would make him better. But that doesn’t happen. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Several studies show that NSAIDs actually damage the joints. Yes, that’s right. They do the very thing you most want to avoid in a dog with chronic joint issues.
- University of North Carolina found COX-2 inhibitors slow bone and ligament healing.
- Ross Hauser MD published a study showing NSAIDs cause articular cartilage degeneration.
- The Rotterdam Study showed NSAIDs accelerated the progression of hip and knee osteoarthritis.
So think twice if your vet wants to prescribe carprofen or other NSAIDs for arthritis or joint pain. Instead, consider some natural alternatives.
5 Natural Alternatives To Carprofen For Dogs
The most important thing you want to do is control your dog’s pain. Top of the list for that is:
#1 CBD (Cannabidiol) Oil
CBD helps a lot of dogs with pain. It’s very safe. Some owners report dogs may get a little sleepy with CBD. CBD oil from hemp won’t make your dog high because it doesn’t have THC. That’s the compound in marijuana that makes it psychoactive.
CBD is effective for many different types of pain. There’s research showing it helps with nerve pain and pain from inflammation. You can use it daily for chronic pain … or give it as needed when your dog is sore from an injury or overactivity.
Finding The Right CBD For Your Dog’s Pain
CBD is everywhere these days, so choosing a product can be bewildering.
To relieve your dog’s pain, buy a full spectrum or broad spectrum, organic CBD in a 500mg or 1000 mg strength.
Full or broad spectrum means your product has a wide range of healthy cannabinoids … like CBC, CBN, CBD, CBG, CBA. These cannabinoids work together to create the entourage effect that will work best for your dog. Always ask to see the Certificate of Analysis. This will show that your product is full or broad spectrum and free of contaminants.
Follow the dosing instructions on the label. The seller should tell you how much CBD is in a dropperful. As a general guide, give 1mg to 6mg of CBD per 10 lbs of body weight. But don’t be afraid to adjust the dose up or down to find out what works best for your dog. Some dogs do better with doses twice daily. Every individual is different!
CBD can also help manage inflammation. But you can use other products for extra support.
Next on the top 5 list is a creature from the sea.
#2 Green Lipped Mussels (GLM)
Green lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) come from waters off the New Zealand coast.
Research shows these magical mollusks are as good as NSAIDs at managing inflammation. But they don’t harm your dog’s joints like NSAIDs do. Another study specifically compared GLM to carprofen. The researchers found it was a good alternative to manage arthritis, without the side effects of the drug.
GLM are naturally rich in fatty acids … especially EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). These are two important fatty acids that reduce inflammation. EPA can also help regenerate cartilage.
You can get these fatty acids from fish oil. But fish oil is unstable and can turn rancid very quickly. So GLM is a much safer source. Not every GLM product has these fatty acids though. Some manufacturers remove them to sell the oil separately. So ask to see a nutritional analysis and make sure your product has at least 6% fatty acids.
Give your dog 200 mg per day for every 10 lbs of body weight.
The next natural joint support product comes from our good friend, the egg.
#3 Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM)
NEM® is the natural thin membrane that’s on the inside of an eggshell. You can peel it off yourself if you want to go through all that work … or you can buy it as a supplement instead.
NEM® is an amazing supplement for dogs with arthritis. It can help reduce pain. It also improves joint function.
Research in humans has shown excellent results in managing joint pain and stiffness. And now there’s research showing proven benefits in dogs too. A 6-week trial on 51 dogs found a 23.6% improvement in pain compared to placebo, and a 26.8% quality of life improvement. The study also measured changes in serum levels of cartilage degradation biomarker CTX-II. This showed a 47.9% improvement.
Make sure the eggshell membrane you buy carries the NEM® registered trademark. Give your dog 60mg per 10 lbs of body weight a day.
Next up … fats for joint support.
#4 Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Earlier we mentioned that Green Lipped Mussels (GLM) contain EPA and DHA. These are both omega-3 fats that strongly support joint health.
Omega-3s are also important for your dog to balance the fats in his diet, because most dogs already get a lot of Omega-6 in meat-based diets. Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory … and Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. So you want to add omega-3 for balance.
You may be thinking, “I’ll just give my dog fish oil.” But fish oil isn’t ideal …
- It’s processed and it oxidizes easily. Rancid oil is worse for your dog than no oil at all.
- It can be contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins – even radiation.
- It’s environmentally unfriendly. It depletes our oceans of the fish they need to survive.
Fortunately there are better alternatives to fish oil. Green lipped mussel oil is our preference … but you can read about other options in the link below.
If you do give fish oil, buy a high quality oil in a dark glass container, and keep it refrigerated.
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. Its active ingredient is a compound called curcumin.
Curcumin has many powerful healing properties. It’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal … and may even help fight cancer. Its anti-inflammatory property makes it a good choice for dogs with joint pain. One study found it worked just as well as ibuprofen in people with knee osteoarthritis.
An easy way to give it is to make this golden paste recipe. Start slowly and work up to about 1/8 to ¼ tsp a day per 10 lbs of your dog’s body weight. You can add it to food or mix with some water or kefir.
Or you can give a joint supplement that includes curcumin.
Tip: if your dog is a very hot dog who pants a lot and is always looking for cool spots to lie, you might want to skip turmeric. It can create more heat in some dogs.
Why We Don’t Recommend Boswellia For Dogs
Before closing, it’s important to talk about Boswellia … specifically, Boswellia serrata or Indian Frankincense.
Boswellia supplements come from the resin of the Indian Boswellia serrata tree. Many people swear by Boswellia to help with dogs’ joint pain and inflammation. Research shows it can be as effective as NSAIDs. But there are two problems with it.
First, it’s hard to find a pure source of Boswellia. Because it’s a resin, Boswellia powders contain silicon dioxide. That’s essentially sand. It can be natural … but in supplements it’s usually man-made. Food and supplement manufacturers use the man-made kind as an anti-caking agent. It stops powdered foods and supplements from clumping together. And it’s always in Boswellia powders and capsules.
If you want to use Boswellia, buy a tincture. Tinctures are less likely to contain silicon dioxide. But it’s wise to verify this. Silicon dioxide is added to Boswellia at the source, so manufacturers don’t have to list it on the label. That means you have to trace it back to the supplier to find out.
The second problem with Boswellia is it’s becoming endangered. It’s a slow-growing tree and demand is outstripping supply. Different species of Boswellia grow in other countries … but they don’t all have the same healing properties.
So keep these things in mind if you want to use Boswellia for your dog.
Choose Natural Joint Care For Your Dog
So now you have some great natural choices to use instead of carprofen for dogs. And that means you can say a polite “no thank you” if your vet wants to prescribe Rimadyl or other NSAIDs.
Ricciotti E, FitzGerald GA. Prostaglandins and inflammation. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2011;31(5):986-1000.
Dahners LE, Mullis BH. Effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on bone formation and soft-tissue healing. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2004 May-Jun;12(3):139-43.
Ross A Hauser. The Acceleration of Articular Cartilage Degeneration in Osteoarthritis by Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs. J Prolotherapy, 2010;(2)1:305-322.
Reijman M et al. Is there an association between the use of different types of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs and radiologic progression of osteoarthritis?: The rotterdam study. Arthritis & Rheumatology, September 2005.
Tiffany Linn Bierer, Linh M. Bui. Improvement of Arthritic Signs in Dogs Fed Green-Lipped Mussel (Perna canaliculus). The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 132, Issue 6, June 2002, Pages 1634S–1636S.
Hielm-Björkman A et al.Evaluating Complementary Therapies for Canine Osteoarthritis Part I: Green-lipped Mussel (Perna canaliculus). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009;6(3):365-373.
Ruff KJ, DeVore DP, Leu MD, Robinson MA. Eggshell membrane: a possible new natural therapeutic for joint and connective tissue disorders. Results from two open-label human clinical studies. Clin Interv Aging. 2009;4:235-240.
Ruff KJ et al. Effectiveness of NEM® brand eggshell membrane in the treatment of suboptimal joint function in dogs: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Vet Med (Auckl). 2016;7:113-121. Published 2016 Aug 18.
Goel A et al. Curcumin as “Curecumin”: from kitchen to clinic. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Feb 15;75(4):787-809.
Kuptniratsaikul V et al. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study. Clin Interv Aging. 2014 Mar 20;9:451-8.
Ernst E. Frankincense: systematic review BMJ 2008; 337 :a2813