I remember back in 1996 when Rimadyl® (carprofen) first became available for veterinary patients. Before that, we only had human and horse anti-inflammatories to treat pain in dogs. And those caused serious adverse reactions in some dogs. Rimadyl was a huge advancement in pain relief and inflammation control in dogs.
Today, there are many Rimadyl alternatives including Deramaxx®, Metacam®, Previcox® and Galliprant®. Vets also prescribe opioids, injectable Adequan® and good old corticosteroids. Nutritional and herbal supplements are less proven in treating pain and inflammation in dogs.
13 Rimadyl Alternatives for Dogs
Here’s a list of the carprofen alternatives I will discuss in this article. There are many others, but I’ve chosen these because they are the most likely to be effective.
- Opioids & tramadol
- Injectable glycosaminoglycans
- Fish oil
- Glucosamine & chondroitin
What Is Carprofen for Dogs?
Carprofen is in the propionic acid class of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It selectively inhibits the inflammatory enzymes called cyclo-oxygenase. The way it works causes fewer side effects in dogs than a human NSAID like aspirin.
Carprofen is one of the most common drugs prescribed for dogs by veterinarians for
- General pain relief
- Acute joint pain
- Chronic pain from arthritis
- Pain and inflammation from traumatic injury
- Pain from surgery
Carprofen may be used in dogs over 6 weeks of age.
Carprofen comes as a chewable tablet or caplet in dosage sizes 25 mg, 75 mg and 100 mg. It also comes in an injectable form.
A dog’s entire dosage can be given once a day or split into two dosages.
Since carprofen has been around the longest of any of the veterinary NSAIDs, most vets are pretty comfortable with it. We have a good idea of which cases it will work for and which animals might not react well to it.
Carprofen Side Effects
As helpful as carprofen is, it can cause unwanted side effects. The most common side effects in dogs are vomiting, decreased appetite and diarrhea. These symptoms can occur shortly after starting carprofen or many weeks into therapy.
Liver enzyme elevation and gastric ulcers occur in a few dogs. Other side effects that are seen infrequently include liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, and bleeding abnormalities.
Your veterinarian may recommend screening your dog for pre-existing liver or kidney disease before they start taking carprofen. Dogs taking the drug long-term should have periodic blood tests to make sure everything is still normal.
These side effects and cautions are not unique to carprofen. All of the NSAIDs labeled for use in dogs can cause similar side effects and carry similar warnings.
Giving Carprofen Long-Term
Is it safe to give your dog carprofen caplets or tablets every day for years? Multiple studies have shown that carprofen is safe for long-term use but you should still monitor your dog closely for side effects as listed below.
One study found that long-term use of carprofen inhibited healing after tibial plateau-leveling osteotomy (TPLO) in dogs.(6) So if your dog is already taking carprofen and is soon having orthopedic surgery, your vet will want to monitor healing closely.
It can cause elevations in liver enzymes and has effects on the kidneys so your vet will want to monitor your dog’s blood and urine. Keep an eye out for
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Increased thirst
- Changes in urination
Keep in mind that NSAIDs are not compatible with all medications. The biggest conflict is steroids–injectable, oral and sometimes even topical steroids can be a problem if your dog is concurrently taking any NSAID.
Cheaper Alternatives to Rimadyl
Rimadyl vs. carprofen–which is better? Rimadyl is the brand name for the drug carprofen so they’re actually one and the same drug.
Carprofen is now available as a generic drug and may be sold under any of the names listed below. The price is often significantly lower than the brand-name product, Rimadyl. I don’t think there has been a clinical trial on the effectiveness of generic carprofen, from what I’ve seen it seems to work just as well. Some of the names for generic carprofen are
Is There an Over-the-Counter Version of Rimadyl?
There is no over-the-counter version of carprofen or any of the NSAIDs made specifically for dogs. So why do you need a prescription from a veterinarian to buy carprofen for your dog? After all, aspirin and ibuprofen are available for human use without a prescription.
Dogs are more likely than humans to have serious side effects when taking drugs like carprofen. That’s why regulatory agencies require the drug to be administered under the care of a veterinarian.
The main action of NSAIDs is to decrease the formation of cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2), an inflammatory enzyme produced in the body. But there are other cyclo-oxygenases like Cyclo-oxygenase-1 (COX-1) that act in a healing/protective capacity. It can be harmful to block COX-1 enzymes.
NSAIDs that are able to block COX-2 without blocking COX-1 are less likely to cause bad side effects like vomiting and diarrhea. Older NSAIDs like aspirin block all COX enzymes, including the protective ones. Carprofen is more selective in blocking COX-2 more than COX-1. That’s why dogs tolerate carprofen much better than aspirin.
We are fortunate to have many choices of dog NSAIDs these days. If your dog doesn’t respond well to one, it might be worth trying a different drug.
|Class of NSAID||Coxib||Oxicam||Coxib||PGE2/EP4 antagonist|
|Approved Uses||Post-op pain, Canine osteoarthritis||Canine osteoarthritis||Post-op pain, Canine osteoarthritis||Canine osteoarthritis|
|Youngest Age||4 months||6 months||May cause problems in puppies under 7 months of age||9 months|
|Form Supplied||Chewable tablet||Liquid, injection||Chewable tablet||Chewable tablet|
|Weight Restrictions||Only use 12 mg tablet to dose dogs under 12.5 pounds||Can’t be dosed accurately for dogs under 12.5 pounds||Not tested in dogs under 8 pounds|
This drug was approved by the FDA in 2002 for postoperative pain control as well as treatment for pain and inflammation associated with canine osteoarthritis.
Deramaxx is a coxib class NSAID and selectively inhibits cyclooxygenase-2 while sparing cyclooxygenase-1. It is made by Elanco and comes as a flavored, chewable tablet. Dosage sizes are 12 mg, 25 mg, 50 mg, 75 mg and 100 mg. The usual dosing regimen involves giving a dog’s entire dose once a day.
Metacam is a veterinary drug that was approved for U.S. veterinary use in 2003 and is made by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica.
It is an oxicam NSAID that selectively inhibits cyclooxygenase-2. It comes as a liquid with a concentration of either 0.5 mg/mL or 1.5 mg/mL. It’s also available in an injectable form. The oral liquid form is flavored and the small volume makes it easy to give to a dog by syringe dropper. Metacam is labeled as a once-a-day medication.
Previcox, made by Merial, was approved by the FDA in 2004 to treat pain from osteoarthritis and postoperative pain.
This drug is in the coxib class of NSAIDs. It is made to be given orally once a day and comes in 57 mg and 227 mg chewable tablets.
Galliprant is sold by Elanco. It was approved in the U.S. in 2016 for use in dogs to treat pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis.
It works in a slightly different way than traditional NSAIDs. Rather than suppressing cyclooxygenase or other prostaglandins, it blocks a particular prostaglandin receptor.
The effect is that pain is decreased while sparing the beneficial functions of prostaglandins. In other words, it’s less likely to cause stomach and kidney side effects than older NSAIDs.
But that doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe for all dogs. It’s still recommended to run blood tests before starting a chronic regimen of grapiprant. You should also monitor for the most common adverse side effects of vomiting and diarrhea.
Galliprant is supplied as 20 mg, 60 mg and 100 mg chewable tablets to be given once a day. This medication has not been tested in animals less than 9 months of age, less than 8 pounds or in pregnant or lactating dogs. Appropriate monitoring is recommended if used long-term.
The strongest anti-inflammatory available is not necessarily the best or safest drug.
Piroxicam is a very strong human NSAID in the oxicam class. It’s less specific for COX-2 inhibition than the NSAIDs made just for dogs that I listed above.
Piroxicam is more likely to cause gastrointestinal and kidney adverse effects than the other NSAIDs listed above. Veterinarians generally only prescribe it in very specific circumstances like treating certain types of cancer. It is rarely used to treat arthritis pain in dogs.
This drug requires close monitoring by a veterinarian during the entire time a dog is taking it.
Cautions for Dogs Taking Any NSAID
No matter which NSAID your dog is taking you should follow some general cautions.
- Don’t give more than one NSAID at the same time. Ask your vet how long to wait if you’re switching to a different medication.
- Don’t give steroids like prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone or dexamethasone at the same time as giving NSAIDs. A washout period is recommended between the two types of drugs to prevent side effects like gastric ulceration. Talk to your vet before switching drug classes.
- Don’t give more medicine than your veterinarian instructs on the label. Higher dosages are more likely to cause side effects.
- Ask your veterinarian if any of the nutraceuticals, herbs or supplements you give your arthritic dog could interact badly with NSAIDs.
- Do call your veterinarian immediately if you notice vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite or any other new/unusual symptoms.
- Do follow your vet’s recommendation for monitoring including physical exam, bloodwork and urine before, during and after giving your dog NSAIDs. This is especially important with chronic use and in dogs with other health conditions.
Some dogs can’t tolerate any kind of NSAID due to an intolerance or their need to take an incompatible drug such as a corticosteroid (prednisone).
While the drugs listed below are not really a substitute for Rimadyl/carprofen, they can help relieve pain.
Opioids & Tramadol
Strong pain medication like opioids may be used for dogs with severe pain from broken bones or end-stage cancer.
Opiates like hydrocodone are usually administered in a vet clinic but there are also a few options for outpatient treatment. Side effects include lethargy, increase sleeping, changes in digestion, constipation, diarrhea, and even vomiting sometimes.
Tramadol is not exactly an opioid, but it is similar. The jury is still out on whether tramadol is effective in treating canine pain. It seems to be effective for certain situations like back pain in dogs.
Tramadol can cause some drowsiness but it’s usually less pronounced than what we see with drugs like hydrocodone and morphine.
Gabapentin is also known as Neurontin. It was originally created as an anti-seizure medication for humans. At some point, scientists realized that it had some effect on pain in humans and animals. Gabapentin is currently used to treat pain in dogs but more research is needed to understand how to use it effectively. Vets disagree on whether gabapentin is a good treatment for osteoarthritis pain in dogs but it seems to work for neurologic-related pain.
Gabapentin can cause similar side effects to those of opioids, most notably drowsiness and a wobbly gait. Dogs tend to get used to Gabapentin after a few days and the side effects are less noticeable.
Injectable glycosaminoglycans (like Adequan) are used to treat arthritis pain in dogs. These naturally occurring compounds may help normalize joint tissue, thereby decreasing pain and inflammation. Although this treatment is related to glucosamine, the injectable form seems to be more effective than oral glucosamine/chondroitin supplements.
Most people take their dog to the vet for an injection, but some people are able to administer the injection at home about once a month. Adequan treatment is more expensive than carprofen, but when it works it’s definitely worth it because there are very few side effects! It can also be used concurrently with NSAIDs to treat osteoarthritis pain in multiple ways.
Corticosteroids are synthetic versions of naturally-occurring hormones. Corticosteroids serve many functions in the body, including acting as an anti-inflammatory.
You’ve probably heard of prednisone and prednisolone. These are both commonly used corticosteroids. Many people call them “steroids” but they’re not the same thing as anabolic “steroids” used by bodybuilders.
Corticosteroids have strong anti-inflammatory effects but cause a lot of unwanted side effects. Most dogs taking high doses of steroids experience increased thirst, increased appetite, increased urination and panting. Long-term use can lead to muscle weakness and liver problems.
Lower doses of steroids may be used short-term as an anti-inflammatory in some situations. But vets don’t usually reach for steroids when a dog needs treatment for longer than a week or two.
It’s important to remember that steroids are almost never compatible with NSAIDs like carprofen in dogs.
The risk of stomach ulcers and other digestive symptoms is high when these two types of drugs are used at the same time. If you’re thinking about switching from one to the other, it’s extremely important to talk to your vet about how long you need to wait between using the two drugs.
Carprofen Alternatives–Natural Pain Relievers
There are many natural alternatives promoted as replacements for NSAIDs for dogs. Scientific evidence to support this is lacking. In my experience, none of these natural alternatives are quite as effective as carprofen.
Still, it may be worth trying one or more of these nutraceuticals. They may be enough to treat mild, chronic pain on their own. Or they may allow a dog owner to decrease their dog’s dosage of carprofen.
There is quite a bit of research supporting the use of fish oil against inflammation in dogs. Fish oil is unlikely to cause problems for most dogs when given in recommended dosages.
I have written a couple of articles regarding the use of fish oil for dogs with allergies but the dosing can be used for dogs with arthritis pain. I wrote another article about choosing the best dog food for treating pain.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural substances found in the joints and cartilage of dogs. These substances have been given to dogs orally to decrease pain from osteoarthritis and improve joint health.
There is conflicting evidence on whether this therapy is effective. (1) Since oral glucosamine/chondroitin supplements are unlikely to cause harm and may help dogs with arthritis pain, many veterinarians recommend them. Dasuquin and Cosequin are common brands that have a reliable track record.
Turmeric comes from a plant root and is used as a spice in cooking. It has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in traditional medicine for many years. There is mixed scientific evidence to support the use of turmeric to treat pain or inflammation in dogs.
Unfortunately, turmeric is poorly absorbed when given orally to dogs. Researchers continue to look at new ways to get the active compounds in turmeric into the cells that need it most.
Current thinking is turmeric works best when processed in a particular way. Look for “Meriva” on the label of turmeric supplements for dogs. Read more:
Check out this article: Turmeric for Dogs
Herbal supplements have been used in traditional medicine to treat pain and inflammation in humans and animals. Most herbs have conflicting research results on whether they’re effective.
Boswellia is one herb that has some research supporting its use to treat canine arthritis pain. A 2004 study found dogs with osteoarthritis had significant improvement in symptoms after eating Boswellia resin extract for 6 weeks (4).
While most herbs are safe when given in small amounts, some of them can cause serious side effects, especially when given in large amounts. My advice is to get the help of an experienced veterinary herbalist if you want to try herbal medicines for your dog.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound derived from a cannabis plant. Interest in therapeutic uses of CBD oil in dogs has exploded in the last ten years.
Researchers continue to look at the risks and benefits of CBD oil to treat dogs with seizures, pain and other health conditions. Some researchers have found a benefit from CBD (2) and others have found none (3).
At this time, there is not enough evidence to recommend CBD for the treatment of any condition and dogs.
Since CBD can cause liver enzyme elevation and other side effects, it’s not a completely safe medication to try without risking any side effects.
I’ll continue to watch how the situation unfolds and will change my recommendation if more evidence becomes available.
- Fernández-Martín, S., González-Cantalapiedra, A., Muñoz, F., García-González, M., Permuy, M., & López-Peña, M. (2021). Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate: Is There Any Scientific Evidence for Their Effectiveness as Disease-Modifying Drugs in Knee Osteoarthritis Preclinical Studies?—A Systematic Review from 2000 to 2021. Animals, 11(6), 1608.
- Gamble, L. J., Boesch, J. M., Frye, C. W., Schwark, W. S., Mann, S., Wolfe, L., … & Wakshlag, J. J. (2018). Pharmacokinetics, safety, and clinical efficacy of cannabidiol treatment in osteoarthritic dogs. Frontiers in veterinary science, 5, 165.
- Mejia, S., Duerr, F. M., Griffenhagen, G., & McGrath, S. (2021). Evaluation of the Effect of Cannabidiol on Naturally Occurring Osteoarthritis-Associated Pain: A Pilot Study in Dogs. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 57(2), 81-90.
- Reichling, J., Schmökel, H., Fitzi, J., Bucher, S., & Saller, R. (2004). Dietary support with Boswellia resin in canine inflammatory joint and spinal disease. Schweizer Archiv für Tierheilkunde, 146(2), 71-79.
- Sandersoln, R. O., Beata, C., Flipo, R. M., Genevois, J. P., Macias, C., Tacke, S., … & Innes, J. F. (2009). Systematic review of the management of canine osteoarthritis. Veterinary Record, 164(14), 418-424.
- Vuolteenaho, K., Moilanen, T., & Moilanen, E. (2008). Non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs, cyclooxygenase‐2 and the bone healing process. Basic & clinical pharmacology & toxicology, 102(1), 10-14.