How safe is long-term Rimadyl use?

In the last week I have received several questions about the safety of Rimadyl. Since it seems to be a hot topic, I will devote...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Feb 29th 2008

In the last week I have received several questions about the safety of Rimadyl. Since it seems to be a hot topic, I will devote this post to issues surrounding Rimadyl and related medicines.

Rimadyl is a pain killer and anti-inflammatory medication. It is a class of medicines called prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (prescription NSAIDs). Other commonly used medicines in this class include Deramaxx, Previcox, Metacam and EtoGesic.

In veterinary medicine, prescription NSAIDs commonly are used to treat pain and inflammation from arthritis, trauma, surgery, strains, sprains and pulled muscles. Prescription NSAIDs are used frequently in dogs. They are used less often in cats.

All of the prescription NSAIDs have similar side effects (gastrointestinal upset is most common). All of the prescription NSAIDs are metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys. This means that all of them have the potential to damage the liver, and all of them must be used cautiously in animals that have impaired liver or kidney function.

Extreme reactions to prescription NSAIDs occur very rarely. However, when they occur they can be fatal. If you google any of the medicines that I listed above, you will find web pages in which people have written about their bad experiences with each of them. These cases are very sad. However, they are the exception, not the rule.

Rimadyl, in particular, has received some bad press for being linked to liver failure in some Labrador retrievers. However, in my experience adverse reactions to prescription NSAIDs are unpredicable, and Rimadyl does not seem to cause more adverse reactions than the others. One dog may react badly to Rimadyl and tolerate Deramaxx. For another dog, it could be the other way around.

I have said many times on this blog that in veterinary medicine one must weigh the benefits of a treatment against its risks. Prescription NSAIDs may cause side effects or, very rarely, severe adverse reactions. However, they are potent pain killers, and they give some arthritic dogs new leases on life. For most dogs, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Long-term use of prescription NSAIDs is safe for most dogs. However, regardless of which one you use, your vet should check your pet’s liver and kidney function periodically to make sure that no damage has occurred.