Tramadol is a painkiller for dogs commonly prescribed by veterinarians. It's also used for humans, making it one of the few medications that both humans and animals can safely take. Even though it is safe for both humans and dogs, you still shouldn't give it to your pet without a vet's supervision.
Tramadol is an opioid. This means that it works by binding to the opioid receptors on your dog's neurons, changing the way your pet experiences pain. It also acts as a serotonin uptake inhibitor. This means that instead of serotonin being reabsorbed by your dog's brain, they remain in the bloodstream, keeping your dog feeling happy. These two effects work together, relieving pain while improving your dog's mood.
Tramadol usually begins to take effect within an hour after dosage. It goes by many brand names, including Tramacet, Ultracet, Ultram, Tramal, and Conzip. It's prescribed for both acute and chronic pain, so if your dog is dealing with arthritis or something similar, they are a good candidate for a tramadol prescription.
Tramadol typically comes in 50mg tablets, as well as an IV injection solution, powder, and epidural solution. Tramadol can only be given as a prescription, and that prescription can only be made by a licensed vet.
What Is Tramadol For Dogs Used For?
Tramadol is primarily used for pain relief. This includes mild to moderate pain relief, both temporary and chronic. NSAIDs like ibuprofen have traditionally been the go-to prescription for pain relief, both for humans and our pets. Recent research has shown, however, that NSAIDs are not as safe as we once thought and can have lasting health consequences if given over a long period of time.
Some of these consequences include things like stomach ulcers, kidney damage, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and heartburn. While the occasional NSAID isn't particularly harmful, those who use it long term for recurring pains and discomforts - like arthritis - increase the likelihood that they will have a negative experience with the medication.
Tramadol, being opioid-based, is not as severe on your pet's system over a prolonged period of time. This makes it a popular option for conditions like arthritis, post-operation pain, generalized pain, lameness, and cancer. Because tramadol also has a calming, mood-boosting property, it might be prescribed for anxiety as well.
It's important to remember, though, that tramadol only treats pain - not the underlying issue. For example, in cases of arthritis, the underlying issue is generally inflammation. NSAIDs have typically been prescribed for arthritis due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Tramadol, on the other hand, has no such properties, and therefore only placates the issue.
Research Against Tramadol For Dogs
Tramadol is generally a much safer alternative to NSAIDs and has become popular among veterinarians for treating pain cats and dogs alike. However, recent research has started to suggest that while tramadol is likely safe for your pet, its effectiveness as a pain reliever is questionable at best. That is to say, there might not be much of a point in giving your dog tramadol.
New studies into the effectiveness of tramadol on dogs have shown that, when given orally, tramadol isn't absorbed and metabolized enough to have any noticeable effects. There have been studies that showed dogs were having a positive and measurable reaction to the medication, but most point towards its effects being negligible when taken orally.
Likewise, most studies examining tramadol's effectiveness when administered parenterally have also indicated that it doesn't abate pain by a significant degree. It does seem to be more effective than giving tramadol orally, but still not enough to justify its use.
In this study, where a group of dogs was given either a placebo or tramadol, there didn't seem to be an improvement in arthritis symptoms for either group. The study also interviewed a handful of vets, with a general consensus that tramadol was either useless or not proven to be useful enough to be prescribed.
The Side Effects Of Tramadol For Dogs
Despite being a relatively safe medication for dogs, tramadol still has its fair share of side effects. These side effects range from mild to severe, so keep an eye on your pet after they've been given tramadol. Some of these side effects will simply be unavoidable, depending on your dog, while others can be resolved by adjusting your pet's dosage.
Tramadol should metabolize quickly enough that it won't cause harm to your dog's liver or kidneys when it passes through them.
However, if the dosage is too high or your pet doesn't metabolize it fast enough, they may experience some of the following side effects:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Allergic reaction (hives/swelling of the face)
- Loss of appetite
Tramadol has also been linked to seizures in dogs and humans alike. This typically occurs only when your dog overdoses on tramadol, though the possibility is there. Your dog may also experience seizures while taking tramadol if they are on other medications at the same time. Some medications have a side effect of lowering the seizure threshold in their users, which can make your pet more susceptible to having a seizure while taking tramadol.
Dogs can also experience adverse side effects when being taken off of tramadol. Be sure that when you decide to cease tramadol treatment that you do so gradually.
Otherwise, your dog may experience some of the following side effects:
- Respiratory problems
The Pros Of Tramadol For Dogs
The biggest pro of tramadol is that it is an extremely safe medication for your dog to take. The side effects are all temporary and mostly non-severe. And according to current research, there are no lasting health consequences for taking tramadol, unlike other prescriptions like NSAIDs.
Tramadol is effective for treating mild, moderate, and even severe levels of pain. In particular, studies have shown that it works best against nerve-related conditions, like multiple sclerosis, restless leg syndrome, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and motor neuron disease. Tramadol is also commonly prescribed for arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Because it can treat such a broad swath of pain levels, it's a very versatile medication. It works well against acute and chronic pain, especially since there are no consequences for using this medication long term. Acute pains, like in cases of injury or post-surgery, are treatable by tramadol. And in chronic cases, like arthritis, tramadol is also relatively effective.
Tramadol also has antidepressant properties. This is due to its ability to increase serotonin levels throughout your dog's body. It does this by temporarily preventing serotonin in your pet's bloodstream from being absorbed by their brain. This improves their mood and keeps them calm. In this sense, tramadol is good for both pain and stress relief.
The Cons Of Tramadol For Dogs
It's not all flowers, though. As mentioned before, there are several studies coming out now that suggest it might not be as effective as previously thought, especially when being used by dogs. Tramadol takes effect by being metabolized by your dog's digestive system. This brings it into the bloodstream and allows it to reach the areas in your dog's brain that it needs to in order to provide pain relief.
The problem with tramadol being used by dogs is that it isn't metabolized by their system quickly enough to make it into their bloodstream - at least not to a significant extent. This means that the rest of the tramadol that they ingest simply goes through their digestive system, providing little to no pain relief. While it does seem to have a positive effect on certain dogs, the majority of animals in these studies don't seem to have any noticeable effects.
Alongside this, tramadol can also have severe side effects when used in conjunction with other medications. Tramadol has been linked to seizures in both humans and dogs. Some medications lower the seizure threshold in dogs, making them more susceptible to having a seizure. In an otherwise healthy dog, this generally isn't an issue. But if your pet is already taking medications that make them susceptible to seizures, the chances of them having a seizure increase drastically.
Tramadol Dosage For Dogs
Like any medication, you should always follow the provided directions when determining dosage. Since tramadol can only be obtained through a vet's prescription, follow your vet's advice on how much tramadol to give your pet and how often. If you feel that the dosage is having adverse effects on your dog - or not enough of an effect - consult with them before changing the dosage.
That said, a good rule of thumb is 1mg of tramadol for ever pound that your dog weighs. For example, if your pet weighs 40lbs, then you would give them 40mg of tramadol. Tramadol dosages are usually given twice throughout the day, at least six hours apart. Never give your dog more tramadol than your vet prescribes or for longer than they suggest. Tramadol can leave your dog feeling dehydrated, so make sure that they have plenty of water to drink.
Be sure that you never stop giving your dog tramadol unexpectedly. If you miss a dosage, give them another dosage as soon as you realize this. Missing a dosage can result in harmful side effects like nausea, anxiety, respiratory issues, diarrhea, and chills. If you are ready to stop giving your dog tramadol, speak with your vet about how to easily get them off of the medication.
Can My Dog Overdose On Tramadol?
Yes, your dog can overdose on tramadol, as well as any other medication. Overdosing in dogs is usually the result of one of two accidents. Either a dog gets into the medication - as they are prone to do - and ingests more than they are capable of handling, or a well-meaning pet owner or dog sitter accidentally gives the dog more than the prescribed amount. The second is usually less dangerous than the first, though each is cause to seek immediate veterinary attention.
The symptoms of an overdose on tramadol are fortunately obvious and potentially life-threatening:
- Uncontrollable tremors
- Decreased heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Ataxia (uncontrollable movements)
- Respiratory depression
These are only some of the symptoms your dog may experience after overdosing on tramadol. If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog or have any suspicions that they may have overdosed on tramadol, then they should be taken to a vet's office as quickly as possible. Once there, a vet will either pump your pet's stomach or attempt to neutralize the overdose, depending on how much they ingested and how much time has passed.
Should My Dog Take Tramadol?
Any time you take your pet to the vet, it's important that you inform your vet of any and all preexisting health conditions that your dog has. In the same way that medications have interactions with one another when taken at the same time, mediations can also react with your dog differently depending on their health status. For example, if your dog has a history of epilepsy, putting them on tramadol could increase their chances of having a seizure.
Tramadol is relatively safe, so most dogs won't suffer any adverse effects. But there are instances where you may want to avoid using tramadol. For instance, if your dog is pregnant or nursing, they should not be taking tramadol. This is because the medication could be passed onto the pups, which aren't capable of handling an adult dog's dosage of tramadol. Your dog also shouldn't take tramadol if they have liver disease or damage, kidney disease or damage, or have experienced seizures in the past.
Tramadol can also have negative interactions with other medications, primarily because of its serotonin reducing properties. Certain medications can also lower your dog's seizure threshold. These kinds of medications shouldn't be taken with tramadol since tramadol is known to increase the chances of your dog having a seizure.
If your dog is taking any of the following medications, they might experience negative side effects when taking tramadol:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Narcotic pain medicines
- Certain anxiety medications
- Muscle relaxers
Alternatives To Tramadol For Dogs
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of pain relievers available for dogs, so if your pet has a condition that prevents them from being able to take tramadol, or they are already on a conflicting medication, then trying some of these alternatives might be the way to go! Just keep in mind that you should never completely disregard a vet's prescription. If you're unsure about switching to any of these tramadol alternatives, speak with your pet's vet before making the switch.
CBD For Dogs
You've likely heard talk about CBD in recent years. It's becoming increasingly popular for use in humans and animals alike for its wide array of health benefits. CBD is an all-natural and non-toxic health supplement that works by stimulating your pet's ECS system. Your dog's ECS system is responsible for regulating some of their core health processes, like appetite, mood, sleep, and immunity.One of the more popular uses of CBD for dogs is pain relief. CBD helps regulate pain in your pet's body by targeting the pain receptors in their brain and blocking them from turning on. Once blocked, these neurons stop sending pain signals throughout your dog's body, allowing the pain to naturally go away on its own.
CBD also has natural anti-inflammatory properties, making it a great way to treat and prevent arthritis. Unlike tramadol, which only alleviates pain, CBD can reduce the inflammation that causes and worsen arthritis. This helps slow down the advance of arthritis while also providing relief for your pet.
This anti-inflammatory property also makes it helpful for treating the following conditions:
- Intestinal inflammation
- Neuropathy pain
- Nerve-related pain
- Inflammation on oxidative stress
Alongside being a great way to relieve pain, CBD also has a whole host of other benefits, like reducing seizures, nausea, and anxiety, as well as treating glaucoma, IBD, and potentially cancer (though there is still research being conducted on this front).
Not only is it a great way to spice up your dishes, but turmeric also has a number of health benefits that make it a healthy and safe alternative to some medications - including tramadol. Turmeric's primary health benefit comes from its natural anti-inflammatory properties. It gets these properties from the compound curcumin, which is found in turmeric.
Inflammation is a normal and healthy function of your immune system. It's used to target and attack foreign presences in the body, causing what you normally see as red, warm, slightly swollen skin. The problem with inflammation, though, is that it is often triggered when it doesn't need to be. This causes it to attack your dog's own body, and it's why it is one of the leading causes of arthritis.
Because turmeric is able to reduce inflammation, it is a viable alternative to tramadol for the following conditions:
- Joint disorders
- Dental disease
- Digestive disease
Keep in mind that turmeric doesn't have any pain relieving properties. So while it can treat the root of the issue for these conditions, it won't alleviate your pet's discomfort. For this reason, it might work better when used in addition to tramadol, rather than instead of it.
Compared to other prescription medications, tramadol is one of the safest out there when it comes to pain relief. However, new research has started to indicate that while it isn't hurting your pet, it might not be helping them nearly as much as we used to think. If you feel like your dog isn't benefiting as much from tramadol as they should, consider switching to a more natural alternative with more measurable effects.
Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
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