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Carprofen for dogs: Dosage, uses and side effects

Carprofen for dogs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your veterinarian has prescribed carprofen for dogs, you may have questions. Whether your veterinarian has prescribed a short course of carprofen for an injury or long-term carprofen for the treatment of osteoarthritis (opens in new tab), it’s natural to be curious about the expected benefits and expected side effects associated with this medication. 

Fortunately, carprofen is an effective treatment for pain and inflammation, with most dogs experiencing few (if any) side effects. 

What is carprofen for dogs used for? 

Carprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug, used to treat pain and inflammation. This medication has been used in dogs for over 25 years, and extensive research has demonstrated that it is effective in controlling pain and inflammation associated with a variety of conditions. 

Carprofen may be used alone (as a sole agent) or combined with other medications to provide enhanced pain-relief benefits. 

As an NSAID, carprofen’s effects are similar to ibuprofen, a commonly-used NSAID in humans. We take ibuprofen to treat pain and inflammation; carprofen is used for these same indications in dogs. 

Ibuprofen is toxic in dogs, affecting the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract, but carprofen has been developed to provide safe and effective relief for dogs. 

Carprofen can be used to treat both acute and chronic pain. Veterinarians may prescribe a short course of carprofen to treat pain associated with surgery or an acute injury. 

Long-term carprofen may be used to treat joint pain in dogs or osteoarthritis, and this treatment is often continued for the rest of a dog’s life.

Senior female dog mixed breed lying down

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Carprofen for dogs: dosage 

Carprofen is typically given by mouth, as a tablet or a flavored chew. (In some cases, your veterinarian may give a one-time injection of carprofen for the rapid relief of pain.) 

You can give your dog’s oral carprofen with food or on an empty stomach. Many owners give this medication with food, to decrease the risk of gastrointestinal side effects. 

Your veterinarian will calculate your dog’s carprofen dose, based on your dog’s weight and medical condition. The amount of carprofen prescribed per pound of body weight varies, based on the condition requiring treatment, your dog’s degree of discomfort, and your dog’s anticipated susceptibility to side effects. 

In general, your veterinarian will try to use the lowest effective dose that controls your dog’s pain and inflammation, to minimize the risk of side effects. If your veterinarian prescribes chewable carprofen, be careful to store this medication in an out-of-reach area. 

The tasty flavor of chewable carprofen can lead dogs to chew through plastic bottles to reach the medication inside. Ingesting an entire bottle of carprofen at once can result in a significant risk of toxicity, so this medication should be safely stored in an inaccessible area. 

Carprofen for dogs: side effects 

Just like NSAIDs in humans, carprofen can have side effects. Fortunately, most dogs do well on carprofen and experience few (if any) negative effects. Even so, you should be aware of their potential and know what to watch for if your dog is taking carprofen.

The most common side effects associated with carprofen (and other NSAIDs) are vomiting and diarrhea. Blood in the stool, abdominal pain, and gastrointestinal ulcers may also occur, although these effects are uncommon. 

Rarely, some dogs may experience a rare liver reaction to carprofen. We don’t know exactly why this reaction occurs and it is impossible to predict whether a given dog will or will not react to carprofen. For this reason, your veterinarian may monitor your dog’s liver values (via blood tests) while on carprofen treatment. 

If you notice signs of illness, such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or decreased appetite, contact your veterinarian. 

Even nonspecific concerns that may leave you wondering “Is my dog sick?" should prompt a call to your veterinarian, to determine whether or not your dog’s signs may be a medication effect.

 While most side effects can be managed by stopping or changing the medication, some dogs may require veterinary care. 

Sick dog lying on the couch

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can you get carprofen for dogs without a vet prescription? 

Carprofen is a prescription medication, available only through a veterinarian. Dogs taking long-term carprofen require ongoing veterinary monitoring. 

Dogs with an acute injury need a veterinary examination, to ensure that carprofen is sufficient and further treatment is not needed. (For more information, learn how to identify a pet emergency.)

Carprofen isn’t appropriate for every dog. It should be avoided in pregnant dogs and dogs with liver disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal ulcers, and dehydration. It can also have harmful interactions with other medications, including corticosteroids.

 Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and obtain a complete medical history before starting your dog on carprofen. Your veterinarian may also recommend baseline laboratory tests before starting this medication, especially if your dog will remain on carprofen long-term. 

Summary 

Carprofen for dogs is an effective medication for treating pain and inflammation caused by a variety of medical conditions. This medication is given orally and can be prescribed for short-term or long-term use. 

Carprofen is well-tolerated by most dogs, although side effects can occur and may require veterinary attention. Your veterinarian will help you balance the benefits of carprofen with the risk of side effects, in order to determine whether this medication is an appropriate treatment for your dog.  

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.