Tramadol is the cornerstone for managing chronic pain in humans, but what about dogs in pain? Can Tramadol be used in dogs? Is it safe or risky? In this article, we will talk about Tramadol for dogs.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, Tramadol can be used in dogs to treat “acute and chronic pain of moderate to severe intensity.” When used responsibly, Tramadol can be an excellent addition to any anti-pain strategy.
Here’s your guide to everything you need to know about Tramadol for pups – the benefits, the risks, and the importance of your trusted vet’s opinion on the topic.
Can I Give My Dog Tramadol?
Tramadol is a synthetic opioid commonly used to relieve acute and chronic pain. In 2014 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified Tramadol as a schedule IV controlled substance. Although not FDA-approved for use in veterinary medicine, Tramadol is regularly prescribed by veterinarians off-label.
When to Use Tramadol for Dogs
Tramadol in dogs is used for hard-to-treat pain or, in other words, pain that does not respond to the standard of pain management in pets – the non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Tramadol works by binding with the opioid receptors in the brain, causing altered perception and transmission of pain. It also inhibits the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. This leads to higher concentrations of these chemicals in the blood and an unusual feeling of happiness and euphoria.
Benefits and Uses of Tramadol for Dogs
Unlike many painkillers that work by targeting the different aspects of pain, Tramadol changes pain perception. Here are some chronic pain management uses of Tramadol in dogs.
Potential Side Effects and Risks of Tramadol for Dogs
Just like any other medication, Tramadol may cause side effects in some dogs. Some side effects are transient and benign, and others are continuous and more severe. Here are the common side effects associated with Tramadol use in dogs:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach upset
- Loss of appetite
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Tremors and seizures
The side effects of Tramadol are more or less manageable. However, a dog allergic to the active ingredient can develop a life-threatening reaction called anaphylactic shock and exhibit:
- Hives and urticaria
- Facial swelling
- Impaired breathing
We should note that same as in people, long-term use of Tramadol in dogs can cause addiction. Therefore, before giving your dog a Tramadol prescription, the vet will evaluate the overall situation and outweigh whether the benefits of using this opioid outweigh the risks.
Even when the benefits are significant, Tramadol must not be used in dogs:
- With allergic reactions and sensitivities to opioids
- Receiving medications with known drug interactions
Dogs allergic or sensitive to Acetaminophen should not be given the Ultracet® Tramadol formulation because, in addition to the opioid, it also contains Acetaminophen. This medication must not be used for cats either, as Acetaminophen is extremely toxic to them.
On the other hand, careful and closely monitored Tramadol use is warranted in dogs with:
- Pre-existing seizure disorders
- Liver and kidney problems
- Pregnant and lactating females
- Puppies and senior dogs
Tramadol Dosage for Dogs
The Tramadol dosage for dogs is between 0.45 to 1.8 mg per pound of body weight. However, the administration frequency can vary based on the underlying issue. Namely, when using Tramadol for regular pain management, it is given every 8 to 12 hours, but if using it for cancer-related pain, it can be administered every 6 hours.
Tramadol comes in different forms, including tablets, capsules, injectable solutions, powders, and suppositories. In dogs, the most commonly prescribed form is the Tramadol tablet. It is recommended to give the tablet with food because it has a bitter taste dogs do not generally like. Plus, if given on an empty stomach, it can trigger vomiting in sensitive pups.
If you forgot to give your dog Tramadol and it is not close to the next scheduled dose, give the dosage immediately. On the other hand, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dosing and continue with the regular schedule.
In both cases, it is critical not to double up the Tramadol amount in an effort to compensate for the missed dose. This is because giving too much Tramadol may result in an overdose which manifests with the following signs and symptoms:
- Drowsiness. Sedation, shallow breathing, and decreased heart rate are linked with high Tramadol doses. In more severe cases, loss of consciousness, unresponsiveness, and coma are possible.
- Decreased pupils. A dog, overdosed on Tramadol will have constricted pupils. Based on the overdose severity, they can shrink to hardly visible dots.
- Compulsiveness. Some dogs experience a sudden feeling of euphoria and start acting hyper (obsessive tail chasing, pacing, licking, shadow chasing, the hoarding of toys or household objects, food fixation).
- Digestive issues. Halitosis, stomach pain, black stools, diarrhea, blood-tinged vomit, and excessive thirst are observed in some dogs after Tramadol overdoses.
- Organ failure. In severe Tramadol toxicosis cases, dogs may sustain neurological damage (tremors and seizures) or organ damage (kidney and liver failure).
Tramadol overdoses are life-threatening situations. If you accidentally gave your dog too much or your dog ingested the Tramadol stash, immediately call your vet – a prompt treatment could be lifesaving.
Tramadol for Dogs Usage Guidelines
Generally speaking, Tramadol is a fast-acting drug and triggers an improvement in the dog’s pain status within 1 to 2 hours of administration. However, it may take up to several weeks in dogs with chronic pain before Tramadol achieves full efficacy. Because of its short-acting nature, Tramadol stops working after 24 hours of administration, although its effects may last longer in dogs with kidney and liver diseases.
It is not just the Tramadol dose and administration that matter – extra caution is necessary when weaning your dog off Tramadol. This is because of Tramadol’s ability to cause addictiveness – namely, abrupt discontinuation of the medication results in withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Runny tummy
- Breathing issues
To prevent withdrawal symptoms, the vet will recommend gradual Tramadol discontinuation – using the medication at a lower dose and then administering it at a lower frequency for a couple of days.
As with any other medication, drug interactions with Tramadol are possible. Here is a shortlist of the medications that could interact with this opioid:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) like selegiline
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine or sertraline
- Anti-vomiting and nausea meds like ondansetron and metoclopramide
- Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline
- Anesthetic agents like ketamine and sevoflurane
- Azole antifungals like itraconazole
- Blood-thinning agents like warfarin
- Heart medications like digoxin and quinidine
- Certain antacids like cimetidine
- First-generation antihistamines like cyproheptadine
- Alpha-2 adrenergic antagonists like yohimbine
- Other members of the opioid class of medications
If your dog is receiving some of these interacting medications or is sensitive to the Tramadol side effects, do not worry – there are other pain control options you can look into.
NSAIDs for dogs. Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the golden standards of pain management in veterinary medicine. Common NSAIDs include Carprofen (Novox® or Rimadyl® ), Deracoxib (Deramaxx® ), Firocoxib (Previcox® ), and Meloxicam (Metacam® ).
Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs are suitable for managing various painful conditions and can be used in conjunction with other pain medications (including Tramadol and opioids) and supplements. It should be noted that you must not use human NSAID formulas like Ibuprofen (Advil) or Acetaminophen (Tylenol) in dogs.
In addition to managing pain, CBD can also promote relaxation in dogs, assist the immune system, and support long-term health. CBD is also a safe option for dogs since it’s all-natural and derived from plants.
Our Final Thoughts on Tramadol for Dogs
Tramadol is a potent medication dispensed by veterinarians to relieve pain in dogs. It is available under several brand names – ConZip®, Ultram®, Tridural®, Durela®, Zytram®, Ralivia®, Rybix®, and Ryzolt®.
Regardless of which Tramadol product you are using for your pup, it is critical you stick to the vet’s recommended dosages and administration instructions. Tramadol is not just a regular pain killer – it is a potent opioid that requires responsible use.