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Tramadol for Dogs: Uses, Side Effects, and Alternative Treatments

Keren Perles
Aug. 3, 2017

Wondering whether tramadol for dogs is safe? Learn about tramadol's uses, potential side effects, as well as alternative treatment options.

Tramadol for Dogs: Uses, Side Effects, and Alternative Treatment Options
Image via Getty Images/Hero Images

Your dog might have hurt herself rough-housing at doggy day care. Or, she might have been injured by an aggressive dog while out with her dog-walking crew. These things happen, but at the end of the day, your dog is in pain. And as her pet parent, you want to do everything you can to make that pain go away.

In some cases, veterinarians may prescribe tramadol for dogs to help relieve your pup's discomfort -- especially if she had to get surgery. That said, most pain medications that were originally designed with humans in mind aren't always the best options for our pets. For this reason, tramadol should always be prescribed -- and administered -- with caution.

If your dog has been prescribed tramadol, here's everything you need to know about its potential uses and side effects so that you can make the right decision for your dog's health. We've also included a list of some alternative treatment options if you're still on the fence about whether to give your dog this drug.


What Is Tramadol?

What Is Tramadol for Dogs
Image via Pixabay

Tramadol is an atypical opioid that's used as a pain reliever to treat moderate to severe pain, as well as chronic pain. This drug acts similarly to morphine in that it blocks the specific parts of the brain that sense pain -- enhancing serotonin levels -- thereby providing the patient with some relief. In August 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified tramadol as a schedule IV controlled substance, which means that you can only get the drug if you have a prescription from a licensed veterinarian -- and your veterinarian has to document every single prescription they make for it.

If your dog has chronic pain and has been put on tramadol, keep in mind that it may take several weeks for the drug to begin to work, according to Dr. Jusmeen Sarkar, a pain management and anesthesia specialist at the Veterinary Specialty Center in Illinois.


How Is Tramadol Used to Treat Dogs' Pain?

How Is Tramadol Used to Treat Pain in Dogs?
Image via Getty Images/bradleyhebdon

Since tramadol isn't a typical opioid drug, it doesn't carry the same level of risk of addiction that's usually associated with opioids, said Dr. Hayley Adams, an experienced veterinarian and the founder of the Silent Heroes Foundation. For this reason, it can be safer for some dogs than other opioid drugs.

(However, the Mayo Clinic notes that tramadol can become habit forming when used for extended periods of time.)

According to Live Science, veterinarians typically prescribe tramadol for dogs suffering from:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cancer
  • Post-operative pain
  • Other chronic pain disorders

Tramadol is most effective for mild to moderate pain, but can be used for severe pain in dogs as well. However, if tramadol is used consistently to manage chronic pain -- especially pain that grows more severe due to a progressive illness -- your dog may begin to tolerate it. This means that, over time, tramadol may not provide adequate levels of pain relief on its own.

According to Dr. Sarkar, your veterinarian may be able to solve this problem by adding additional pain medications, such as NSAIDs, gabapentin, amantadine, or a stronger opioid.


What Are the Potential Side Effects of Tramadol?

What Are the Potential Side Effects of Tramadol for Dogs
Image via Flickr/Dan Carlbom

Tramadol can cause various side effects in dogs. According to Dr. Sarkar, the most common side effect is sedation. This is especially true for dogs who are taking higher doses of tramadol combined with other drugs with similar potential side effects, as well as for dogs who are ill.

According to the American Kennel Club, here are some of the potential side effects your dog might experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Vomiting and/or Diarrhea
  • Possible seizures
  • Dizziness

Given the severity of some of these side effects, it's important that you monitor your dog closely after administering tramadol. Tramadol is metabolized and passed through the liver and kidneys, so your veterinarian may want to monitor the function of these organs as a precaution.

"Any change in behavior or [mental activity] should be brought immediately to the attention of your veterinarian, or contact the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline," said Dr. Sarkar.


How Much Tramadol Should My Dog Take?

How Much Tramadol Should My Dog Take
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Before we continue, it's important to stress that dog owners should NEVER try to calculate their dog's tramadol dosage. This task should only be done by a licensed veterinarian. 

That said, it's useful for owners to be aware of the different factors veterinarians take into account when they're determining an appropriate dosage. According to the American Kennel Club, vets typically consider a dog's weight, the animal's preexisting conditions, their liver values, and the originating cause of the pain.

In addition to these considerations, "the recommended dosage depends on the degree of pain your pet is in, any underlying medical issues or concomitant medications, and the length of time the medication is needed," said Dr. Adams. "Your veterinarian can recommend a dosage that is safe for your pet based on these factors."

Several studies have looked at the procession of tramadol after its absorption into the body, and it seems that each dog's metabolism of the drug is different. Therefore, the best way to determine whether your dog's dosage is appropriate is by watching your dog's response to the medication while you're home. If you notice any changes in your dog's behavior or have any concerns, be sure to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

If you aren't going to be home during the day to monitor your dog, consider having a dog sitter come in and check on your pet during the day.


Alternative Treatment Options to Tramadol

Alternative Treatment Options to Tramadol
Image via Stocksy.com

Even though tramadol is not habit-forming for pets, it can be for humans. In recent years, there's been a rise in cases of pet owners abusing opioids intended for their animals. In fact, some owners have gone to great -- and sometimes highly disturbing -- lengths to get their hands on the powerful drugs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

If you're at all concerned about someone in your household having access to this drug, consider forgoing the tramadol in favor of more natural alternatives to help manage and relieve your pet's pain. Here are a few alternative treatment options that were suggested by Dr. Tabitha Thompson, a veterinarian and the founder of Natural Alternatives for Pets: 

  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal medications
  • Laser therapy
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Chiropractic techniques
  • Homeopathic remedies
  • Massage
  • Physical therapy

Remember: It's important to consult your dog's veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's medication or treatment plan.

 

Originally written by Keren Perles. Updated by Rachel Murphy on 27 June 2017.

 *This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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