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Tramadol for Dogs

Tramadol for Dogs – All the Facts About This Painkiller

Is your pet dog suffering from excruciating pain? Perhaps that pain is coming from a healing post-operative wound, a bone problem, or an accidental injury. In these cases, your veterinarian will probably prescribe Tramadol to help alleviate your dog’s pain.

You might have heard of Tramadol before. It’s a medication used to manage pain in humans, after all. But yes, Tramadol can be safely administered to dogs, too! Find out all the facts about Tramadol use for dogs in this article.

What is Tramadol?

What is Tramadol?

Tramadol is a pain reliever used to treat mild to severe pain, including chronic pain. It is medically classified as an opioid, a potent drug class used to relieve pain and provide mild anesthesia. Tramadol is a synthetic analog of a painkilling opiate drug called codeine. 

Tramadol is primarily used to manage pain in dogs with osteoarthritis, chronic illnesses, and those who have undergone surgery. It is among the few painkillers approved for human use that can be safely administered to dogs under the guidance and prescription of a licensed veterinarian.

Tramadol was included among schedule IV controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration in August 2014. This means that such is the potency of Tramadol that it can only be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian. Also, your veterinarian must log every single time he prescribes the medication to dogs and other animals.

Humans may develop potential abuse and tolerance to Tramadol. This scenario may likely happen to dogs and other animals too. While Tramadol may be less addicting than other opioid painkillers, dogs could still develop tolerance to the drug especially when it is used for chronic pain management. This is why Tramadol has become a controlled substance in veterinary medicine as well.

Tramadol for dogs comes in both oral and injectable forms. Oral Tramadolis typically supplied in 50 mg tablets or capsules. Injectable Tramadol may be administered by your veterinarian by injecting it to the fatty tissues (subcutaneously), to the muscles (intramuscularly), or through the vein (intravenously) depending on the dog’s needs.

The medication exits your dog’s body through the liver (70%) and kidneys (30%). Tramadol can quickly be cleared in a dog’s body compared to other animals such as cats.

Tramadol’s Mechanism of Action in Dogs

Tramadol’s Mechanism of Action in Dogs

In dogs, Tramadol primarily works by altering the perception and transmission of pain. The exact mechanism of how this happens is yet to be uncovered. However, two complementary mechanisms may explain why and how this altered pain perception happens:

1. Binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord

There are four main opioid receptor classes located in different tissues inside a dog’s central nervous system. Tramadol, like a classic opioid, binds to most of these receptor classes. The three main receptors that bind to tramadol include the mu-, kappa-, and delta- receptors.

Now, these physiologic changes will happen as the Tramadol binds to these receptors:

  • Pain relief (analgesia)
  • Lowered heart rate (bradycardia)
  • Slowed breathing
  • Sedation

Brain cell activity is also partly inhibited when Tramadol binds to opioid receptors. This leads to a reduced perception of pain transmission. In simpler terms, the dog will feel less pain than the actual pain after administration of tramadol.

2. Inhibition of norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake

Norepinephrine is a natural chemical that acts as a hormone and a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter). It is secreted every time pain or stressful situations occur. Meanwhile, serotonin is another neurotransmitter that regulates mood, pain awareness, behavior, and other vital physiologic functions.

Tramadol inhibits norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake. This, in turn, increases the amount of these two chemicals in the dog’s brain and consequently, in his bloodstream. More norepinephrine and serotonin circulating in the body creates that feeling of well-being in your dog. This further lessens his pain experience and enhances his comfort.

Now, Tramadol is usually given alongside other pain medications such as carprofen and meloxicam.

When is Tramadol Indicated for Dogs?

When is Tramadol Indicated for Dogs

Pain relief is the main indication of Tramadol use in both humans and dogs. The medication can effectively alleviate both acute and chronic pain caused by conditions such as:

  • Post-operative wounds
  • Generalized pain from various physical injuries such as broken bones or sprains on joints
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cancer
  • Non-surgical intervertebral disc disease
  • Canine degenerative myelopathy

Note that dogs experiencing chronic pain may take a few days to weeks before being accustomed to Tramadol use. This goes the same for aging dogs experiencing constant pain and discomfort from progressive diseases.

Other potential uses of Tramadol include:

  • Mild anxiety – The medication’s inherent ability to increase norepinephrine and serotonin levels can soothe a dog’s anxiety.
  • Coughing – Veterinarians may prescribe Tramadol to suppress persistent coughing in dogs.
  • Before and after an operation – Tramadol may safely be included as part of a dog’s anesthesia plan. It can also be given subcutaneously (under the skin) or intravenously (through the veins) to help alleviate early postoperative pain alongside other medications.

Dosage Recommendations for Tramadol in Dogs

Dosage Recommendations for Tramadol

The recommended oral Tramadol dosage for dogs is 5-10 mg/kg of body weight. The doses may be given in intervals of 6-8 hours, especially for pets with cancer or other illnesses with chronic pain. Veterinarians may also give 2-4 mg/kg dose every 8-12 hours to relieve postoperative pain. 

Tramadol dosage is highly individualized according to each dog’s unique medical condition and pain relief needs. Veterinarians often prescribe the most effective yet lowest Tramadol dose possible. Progressive illnesses such as cancer may carry increasing pain intensities and severity, hence, your veterinarian may adjust the Tramadoldose to meet his needs from time to time.

There’s a risk of your dog developing tolerance to the drug when used long-term. As such, your vet will likely prescribe Tramadol along other analgesics to prevent this from happening.

Never attempt to give Tramadol tablets or calculate the dosages by yourself! Remember that veterinarians calculate the proper dosage with respect to your dog’s medical condition. Always stick to your veterinarian’s prescription regarding the right dosage of Tramadol for your pet dog. This will keep your pet safe from a fatal overdose or the potential tolerance effects of the drug. 

Contraindications of Tramadol Use in Dogs

Contraindications of Tramadol Use

Tramadol is generally safe and well-tolerated by most dogs when used exactly as directed by a veterinarian. But there are certain situations where the drug isn’t advisable to be used for dogs. Contraindications of Tramadol use in dogs include the following:

  • Dogs with known allergies or hypersensitivity to Tramadol itself or other opioid drugs
  • Pregnant or lactating dogs
  • A history of recent seizures in dogs
  • Dogs experiencing liver and/or kidney disease
  • Dogs taking medications that interfere with brain or lung function

Debilitated or older animals may use Tramadol with extreme caution only if the veterinarian deems it necessary and safe.

Drug Interactions with Tramadol

Drug Interactions with Tramadol

The most important drug interaction your vet will consider is the use of Tramadol with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). These drug classes increase serotonin levels in the body and could cause too much serotonin in the blood when used with Tramadol. They may cause potentially fatal serotonin syndrome in dogs.

Other drugs that may interact with Tramadol include the following:

  • Metoclopramide
  • Digoxin
  • Warfarin
  • Quinidine
  • Cimetidine
  • Ketamine
  • Carbamazepine
  • Ondansetron
  • Yohimbine
  • Cyproheptadine
  • Sevoflurane
  • Azole antifungals
  • S-Adenosyl-Methionine (SAMe)

Tell your veterinarian about all medications your dog is taking before he prescribed Tramadol for your pet. This includes over-the-counter drugs, prescription medications, vitamin supplements, and herbal therapies. Your vet will evaluate if Tramadol is safe to use for your dog in conjunction with the individual medications he is using.

Adverse Effects of Tramadol

Adverse Effects OF Tramadol

As with other medications, Tramadol comes with a fair share of adverse effects. These are rare and will typically not manifest especially if you’re following the individualized doses prescribed by your veterinarian. In any case, be alert for potential side effects such as:

  • Sedation – the most common side effect of Tramadol use
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Behavioral changes such as lowered activity levels, self-isolation, increased agitation, and anxiety

Report any side effects to your veterinarian. He may lower the Tramadol dose or give another painkiller instead.

Now, allergic reactions may also occur in dogs taking Tramadol. This may potentially happen even if your dog doesn’t have a known hypersensitivity to the drug. Immediately take your dog to the veterinarian if you notice a persistence in allergic reactions such as:

  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Difficulty in breathing

This may indicate a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to Tramadol and needs immediate medical attention.

Tramadol for Dogs Overdose

Tramadol for Dogs Overdose

Accidents happen all the time, and Tramadol overdose is still possible even if you’re mindfully giving the medication to your dog at the right dosage and intervals. Hence, you should stay alert for the following symptoms of tramadol overdose in dogs:

    • Respiratory depression
    • Decreased heart rate
    • Lethargy
    • Tremors
    • Excessive drooling
    • Increasing agitation
    • Dilated pupils
    • Ataxia or uncontrollable movements
    • Seizures
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Comatose

All these overdose symptoms are serious. Hence, you must immediately stop giving Tramadol and seek emergency veterinary care immediately.

Naloxone is a medication typically used to reverse opioid overdoses. However, it should not be used in Tramadol overdose as Tramadolis not a traditional opioid. Naloxone will not completely reverse the overdose in this case. 

Treatment of overdose is supportive, depending on the particular symptoms your pet exhibits. Your veterinarian will ensure that the dog maintains his airway, breathing, and circulation as he is treated for the overdose.

Can a Dog Be Addicted to Tramadol?

Can a Dog Be Addicted to Tramadol?

A common concern for fur parents is their dogs’ risk of being addicted to Tramadol. Thankfully, Tramadol isn’t your typical narcotic and is not habit-forming. This is why many vets use Tramadol for their patients as there is a very low risk of addiction to this drug.

Tolerance to the drug may be a problem, though. Long-term Tramadol use may create a drug tolerance in dogs, which means the dog will need higher doses of the drug for it to be effective. This is because the dog’s body has grown accustomed to how Tramadol works in a certain dose. Hence, your veterinarian may consider augmenting Tramadol use with another painkiller drug so that the dog doesn’t need to take higher Tramadol doses, which further aggravates drug tolerance.

Caring for a Dog Taking Tramadol

Caring for a Dog Taking Tramadol

You should provide your dog with supportive care while he is on Tramadol therapy. The following tips will help maximize the effectiveness and safety of Tramadol in your pet:

1. Stick with your vet’s Tramadol dosage prescriptions.

You’ve read it for the nth time in this post, but we can’t stress this enough: Follow your vet’s dosage recommendations for your dog! 

Many fur parents are tempted to raise the dosage or frequency of giving Tramadol to their dogs if they see their pooches still in pain. However, increasing the dosage by yourself or attempting to recalculate the Tramadol dosage could lead to a fatal overdose in your dog.

If you feel Tramadol isn’t working for your pet, report it to the veterinarian so that he can assess your dog. He may readjust the dose or give another medication in conjunction with Tramadol.

2. Don’t crush Tramadol tablets.

Tramadol usually comes in 50 mg tablets. However, your veterinarian or pharmacy may provide you with pre-cut and measured tablets according to your dog’s dosage requirement. Never crush Tramadol tablets as this significantly lessens drug efficacy. Also, crushed tablets are difficult to measure accurately, so you may end up under-dosing or overdosing your dog.

3. Give missed doses as soon as you remember.

You may give your dog a missed dose as long as it’s not yet close to the time of the next regular dose. If it’s 1-2 hours near the next dosage due, skip the missed dose. Never give two doses of the medication at one time.

4. Give Tramadol with food.

Tramadol is safe to take with or without food. However, it’s better to take it with some food to reduce stomach irritation. The tablet may taste a bit bitter, so some fur parents mix it with food so that they can give it successfully to their dogs. Others hide the tablets in dog treats and give it to dogs after playing, training, or exercising. Using treats to give Tramadol is especially effective because treats can be used as either a reward or a lure to get the desired response from your dog [1], making it easier to give the medication.

5. Spend more time with your dog.

Your dog is going through a rough time bearing with his painful medical condition. Hence, make it a point to spend extra time with your dog. This will help ease his anxiety and keep him comfortable. Isolation distress [2], agitation, and even destructive behavior are possible if your dog doesn’t feel like he’s adequately cared for despite the tramadol medications given to him. Your simple presence can do wonders for helping your pooch cope with his condition!

The Wrap-Up

Tramadol is a potent yet safe opioid-like drug used as a painkiller in dogs. It is a controlled substance that’s only available after a thorough prescription from your dog’s veterinarian. When used safely, tramadol can effectively alleviate both acute and chronic pain caused by various conditions your dog may be experiencing.

We’ve presented all the facts about Tramadol for dogs in this article. Now that you’re armed with proper information about this drug, you can actively participate in caring for your pooch if and when the time comes for him to use this medication.


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  4. Medical Dictionary. Analogue. The Free Dictionary.
  5. Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedules of Controlled Substances: Placement of Tramadol Into Schedule.

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