Tramadol For Dogs
What You Need To Know
Guest Author: Dr. Sarah Robinson
Does your dog have severe arthritis or suffer from debilitating post-operative pain? Or perhaps they are not able to tolerate painkillers from the commonly prescribed NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) group. As a caring pet parent, you are likely to be distressed about your dog’s discomfort and therefore may wish to discuss with your veterinarian whether tramadol for dogs is an appropriate option or not.
The Drawbacks of NSAIDs
Once upon a time there were relatively few options for pain relief in the dog. Happily, this is no longer the case. A group of drugs called the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) has in recent years vastly improved access to pain relief for dogs in discomfort.
NSAIDs work by reducing inflammation in the affected area, along with numbing pain. They have been through rigorous testing and largely regarded as safe when administered in line with the recommended dosage and given with food.
However, not all dogs have read the data sheet for their NSAID medication and some dogs suffer from side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, or strange complications with the liver. Indeed, NSAIDs may not be safe in some groups of dogs, such as those with kidney or liver disease, in which case this family of painkillers are best avoided.
So where does this leave your older dog with dodgy kidneys but who hobbles around, afflicted by long-term arthritis?
It is right and humane that dogs in need of pain relief receive it, which is where tramadol for dogs comes in useful. Tramadol belongs to a different family of painkillers, the opiates, and acts differently to the NSAIDs. This means that some dogs who can’t tolerate more traditional pain relief may be fine with tramadol, and the other good news is that tramadol can often be combined with other pain-relieving medication to beef up their action.
For the dog who would otherwise stay in pain or the dog who needs extra pain relief, tramadol for your dog could be the answer (of course, only ever give any medication after discussion with your vet first.)
Signs of Pain or Discomfort
The first thing to recognize is if your dog is in pain and therefore needs pain relief.
The following are common indications your pet is in discomfort.
- Limping or lameness: While it is true that some lameness is due to physical changes in the joint that prevent it from moving normally, the majority of limping dogs are in pain.
- Restlessness: Discomfort can prevent a dog from settling.
- Whining or crying: Can be due to a dog vocalizing their distress
- Lip-licking or repeatedly licking a body part: A sign of anxiety, tension, or pain. Repeated licking, like a child sucking their thumb, can soothe a troubled dog.
- Loss of appetite
- Reluctance to get up or exercise
- Uncharacteristic aggression or grumpiness
- Character change such as from placid to aggressive
- Hiding away
When you notice any of these signs, it’s a fair bet that something is wrong. Your first stop should be the vet for a checkup, to see if they can identify a physical cause that can be treated and eliminated.
Perhaps your vet then recommends a course of tramadol, so let’s find out what this entails.
Using Tramadol for Dogs
Tramadol is a human medication, and not recognized by the FDA for use in dogs. This means that the vet can only prescribe it if other licensed drugs aren’t effective or would worsen the dog’s health, and so tramadol is the safest option.
Tramadol is most frequently used to numb pain, but also has mild sedation properties and a gentle anti-cough action. It is an opioid and acts directly on the brain to bring about its beneficial effects. It can also be combined with many other drugs (although not all, so always tell your vet if the dog is on food supplements, nutraceuticals, or medications.)
Tramadol Side Effects in Dogs
You just remembered you have some tramadol sitting in the bathroom cabinet, as prescribed by your doctor. Can you give these to the dog?
Human formulations of tramadol often contain other medications, many of which are dangerous to dogs. Some ‘human tramadol’ preparations are a slow release formulation; however, a dog’s metabolism is different and liable to release in the active dog suddenly rather than in a sustained way. This could lead to high spikes in the bloodstream which are potentially toxic.
Another example where it would be dangerous to dose the dog is with products containing tramadol such as Ultracet. This contains acetaminophen along with the tramadol, and dogs should avoid the former.
Also, although tramadol has a good safety margin, it is not suitable for every dog, such as those with kidney or liver disease. Never dose your dog without first clearing the suitability of tramadol with your vet.
As with any drug, tramadol does have side effects in some animals or at high dosages. The most common of these is sedation. For a dog recovering from surgery that needs to rest, then being a little sleepy may be a useful thing in aiding recuperation. However, if your dog is wobbly as a drunk then let your vet know so they can adjust the dosage.
Indeed, some dogs ironically aren’t sedated but go the other way and are restless, pace, and seem unable to settle. Other recognized side effects are vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or decreased appetite. These effects usually wear off as the drug leaves their system, but be sure to let your vet know for future reference and to discuss what to do when the next dose falls due.
In cases of severe overdose, such as when the dog swallows all their medication in one go, contact your vet immediately. The signs of overdose include collapse or profound sedation, drooling, breathing difficulties, and even seizures. Your vet will administer drugs to counteract the neurological effects and give supportive care with intravenous fluids.
Tramadol Dosage for Dogs
Since tramadol has not been through clinical trials in dogs, there is no hard and fast recommended dosage. However, it is widely acknowledged that around 2 mg per kg body weight, two or three times a day, is a good starting dose. This is equivalent to a 25 kg dog taking one 50 mg tramadol capsule, two or three times a day.
Your vet may adjust the dose up or down, depending on the dog’s response to treatment. So if the dog is very sleepy (a recognized side effect), they may drop the dose. Or if the dog continues to be in pain they may step things up. A ceiling of 10 mg/kg is generally regarded as the maximum advisable dose, but this is rarely needed.
Also, just as the amount given is variable, so is the dosing interval. Some dogs do just fine on twice daily dosages, whereas others, especially those in severe discomfort require medicating three times a day.
Tramadol can be given with food or on an empty stomach. It should also be borne in mind that it can take up to two weeks for the dog to derive maximum benefit from tramadol, so don’t despair if the effects are disappointing at first.
Indications for Dogs to Taking Tramadol
To recap, let’s take a look at an expanded list of the dog’s symptoms that may benefit from access to tramadol. They include:
- When taking a NSAID doesn’t give relief from pain
- When NSAIDs are contraindicated, such as dogs with stomach ulcers
- Intense pain, such as that from disc disease or post-operative pain
- When mild sedation may be beneficial, such as recovering from surgery
- To relieve the pain associated with cancer
- To help in the control of long-term arthritic discomfort
Know when NOT to Give Tramadol
Safe as tramadol for dogs is, there are times when it is not a good idea. For example, some drugs go badly together and cause unpleasant or potentially serious side effects. Most notable is the interaction between tramadol and mood-altering drugs such as fluoxetine and selegiline. Other problematic combinations include giving tramadol with the liver support supplement called SAMe, warfarin, and state-of-the-art anesthetic agents such as sevoflurane gas. Also, the vet may need to consider the dose of tramadol and adjust it for dogs that have impaired kidney or liver function.
And finally, know that tramadol is a useful option for providing pain relief in difficult cases. However, never dose your dog without first consulting with your vet, and be sure to tell them about any and every supplement or medication your dog takes, so as to work together to keep your dog safe and well.
Tramadol For Dogs: What You Need To Know
Guest Author Bio: Dr. Sarah Robinson attended veterinary school at Oklahoma State University receiving a D.V.M. in 2008.
Sarah’s longtime interest is to help people to better communicate with their pet companions, and in doing so, to help them to strengthen their relationships with their dogs and cats.
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