Tramadol for Dogs: How It Works & Signs Your Dog Needs It

Tramadol for Dogs: How It Works & Signs Your Dog Needs It

Alpha Paw Sale

May 29, 2021
AUTHOR Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian with a passion for providing reliable veterinary insight & expert advice to help pet parents better care for their pups.

  • Tramadol for dogs is an opioid pain medication that is sometimes prescribed by veterinarians.
  • You should never give your dog tramadol unless it was prescribed by your veterinarian because tramadol has many potential side effects and should be used with caution in dogs with certain conditions.
  • There is growing evidence that tramadol may not be very effective at treating pain in dogs, and there are other better dog pain medications available.

Tramadol for Dogs

Tramadol is an opioid agonist pain medication that is commonly prescribed by veterinarians to painful dogs. There is varying evidence on the efficacy of tramadol for dogs meaning that it may work for some dogs while other dogs may see no beneficial pain-relieving effects. It is probably most effective when used in combination with other pain medications such as dog-specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.

Tramadol is sometimes used by veterinarians to treat pain associated with:

How Does Tramadol for Dogs Work?

There are chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters that are important in the pain pathway. Tramadol inhibits the re-uptake of two of these neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine, and as a result, this may make your dog feel better. It works similarly to how morphine works in people.

Is tramadol an anti-inflammatory medication?

Tramadol is not an anti-inflammatory medication. Because it is not anti-inflammatory, it will not be useful at treating the underlying cause of your dog’s pain. Tramadol use in dogs does not reduce any inflammation within your dog’s body and only acts to decrease the pain sensations that your dog is feeling.

Does tramadol work in dogs?

There is growing evidence that tramadol may not work to relieve pain as much as we once thought. More studies are suggesting that tramadol may not work very well in dogs. Because there are other more effective pain medications that can be used in dogs, many veterinarians are no longer prescribing tramadol for dogs.

What other pain medications can be used in dogs?

Because tramadol may not work for some dogs, you should ask your vet about other pain medication options. Dog-specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like carprofen can be extremely effective at relieving pain in dogs. In addition, gabapentin may help treat back pain and pain secondary to chronic arthritis. For dogs that are painful from arthritis, joint supplements may be recommended by your veterinarian for pain relief. Most joint supplements contain glucosamine and chondroitin which may help keep your dog’s joints healthy.

Tramadol for Dogs: How It Works & Signs Your Dog Needs It

Tramadol for Dogs Dosage

Always consult with your veterinarian before administering any new medications or supplements to your dog. Tramadol is a prescription medication and a controlled substance and should be used with caution in dogs. If you would like to start your dog on tramadol, discuss with your veterinarian what a safe starting dose would be for your dog. Some medications and conditions can cause tramadol to be unsafe for dogs so it is always important to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations when using tramadol.

If the veterinarian decides that tramadol is safe for your dog, they will prescribe a dose of 1 milligram per pound of body weight. Again, please do not administer tramadol to your dog unless you have consulted first with your veterinarian because it can be dangerous for some dogs. Also, an overdose of this medication, because it is an opioid, could be fatal to your dog.

How long does it take for tramadol to kick in?

According to VCA specialty hospital, tramadol takes a few hours to work. They also suggest that in dogs with more severe and chronic pain, your dog may not see beneficial effects from the medication for a few weeks.

Tramadol for Dogs How It Works & Signs Your Dog Needs It

Tramadol for Dogs: Side Effects and Warnings

Tramadol should only be used under the direction of your veterinarian. There are many potential side effects, drug interactions, and hazards when using this medication. Only your veterinarian will be able to decide if tramadol is safe to give to your dog. If your dog has been prescribed Tramadol and you notice any of the following side effects, it is important to alert your veterinarian. The most common side effects of tramadol use include lethargy or mild stomach upset. Occasionally, your dog may experience other more significant side effects from tramadol.

The main side effects of tramadol for dogs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness or disorientation
  • Agitation
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Loose stool
  • Decreased appetite
  • Constipation

Tramadol Cautions

Multiple conditions might make tramadol unsafe for use. Tramadol should be used with caution in dogs that have the following conditions:

  • Seizures
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Geriatric animals
  • Extremely sick animals
  • Pregnant or nursing animals

Tramadol Drug Interactions

Many medications are not safe when used together with tramadol. Using these medications at the same time as tramadol may increase your dog’s risk of a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Tramadol may interact adversely and should not be used with the following medications:

  • Mirtazapine
  • Trazodone
  • Amitraz
  • Selegiline
  • Metoclopramide
  • Butorphanol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Fluoxetine
  • Paroxetine
  • Clomipramine

Does tramadol cause panting in dogs?

Panting is not a common side effect of tramadol use in dogs. If you notice panting while your dog is taking tramadol, you should let your veterinarian know as soon as possible. Panting could be a sign that your dog is painful. In addition, panting could be a sign that your dog is exhibiting a serious condition called serotonin syndrome.

Serotonin Syndrome

Tramadol use can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome, especially if used along with other medications. Serotonin syndrome is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency veterinary treatment. If you suspect that your dog has serotonin syndrome, you should call a veterinarian as soon as possible. Signs of serotonin syndrome in dogs include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Vocalization
  • Agitation
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • High body temperature
  • High heart rate
  • Panting

Final Recommendations on Tramadol for Dogs

If you are interested in starting your dog on tramadol, you should first consult with your veterinarian. They will be able to determine if the benefits of this medication will outweigh the potential risks. Your veterinarian can help you decide what medication or supplement will provide your dog with the best pain relief.

Alpha Paw Sale
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Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian who lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, greyhound, and four cats. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and currently practices in the central Kentucky region. Dr. Addie has special interests in preventative care, dermatology, and diseases, and she enjoys creating helpful educational resources related to these topics to help pet parents keep their four-legged family members happy and healthy. We love Dr. Addie’s passion for providing reliable veterinary insight and medical advice to help pet parents like us give their pups the happy & healthy lives they deserve!

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