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What to Know About Tramadol in Dogs

Reviewed by Vanessa Farner, DVM on December 09, 2021

Sometimes, vets use tramadol for pain control in dogs. It’s safe for most dogs, but there are possible side effects that you should know about.

What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid medication used to relieve pain. It binds to opioid receptors, helps release the brain chemical serotonin, and blocks noradrenaline and serotonin reabsorption. When this reabsorption is blocked, these chemicals build up in the bloodstream, which helps to regulate pain and creates a sense of euphoria and wellbeing. 

Tramadol is prescribed for people, but it’s also a pain medication for dogs. It’s one of the few medications that vets can safely give your dog, and it has potentially fewer side effects than other opioids. 

How Is Tramadol Used in Dogs?

Your vet might prescribe tramadol for sudden or ongoing pain that’s moderate or severe, which means it can be used in lots of different scenarios. Some causes of pain in dogs include:

Tramadol doesn’t treat the underlying condition; it only relieves pain and makes your dog more comfortable. It also doesn’t treat inflammation, so it’s often used along with other medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs. 

Your vet might also use tramadol with other pain medications to make sure your pet’s pain is under control. 

There is a debate about how and if tramadol should be used to treat dogs. Some experts say there isn’t enough research that shows it effectively treats pain. Other experts say that it helps, but it isn’t meant to be used by itself and should be given along with an anti-inflammatory medication. 

While it’s not fully clear how tramadol works for pain in dogs, it might at least help with the emotional effect of pain like anxiety and suffering. 

Is Tramadol Safe for Dogs?

Tramadol is safe for dogs when you use it as instructed by your vet. There are some cases where your dog shouldn’t be prescribed tramadol, including if they:

Tramadol is a fast-acting drug, but dogs also clear tramadol from the body faster than other animals, like cats. It might not last as long as other medications. 

What Are Tramadol Side Effects in Dogs?

As with other medications, side effects are possible. Common tramadol side effects in dogs include:

Tramadol can also raise the risk of seizures in dogs that have a history of seizures. 

Tramadol comes in tablet form, and it’s best to give it with food. Tramadol on an empty stomach can trigger vomiting. 

How Much Tramadol Can You Give a Dog?

Dogs need different amounts of medication than people. Your vet will prescribe a tramadol dosage based on your dog’s size. You might have to give it multiple times a day, but that depends on your dog’s health and condition. 

Puppies and older dogs might need less, and the dose might be different if your dog has other conditions like liver disease or if tramadol is used along with other drugs. 

Tramadol is a controlled medication, so you can only get it by prescription from your vet. You should follow your vet’s instructions and the medication label closely. It’s possible for your dog to overdose on tramadol. Don’t double the dose, and don’t give it to your dog more often than instructed.

If you receive a tramadol prescription for your own health, don’t give it to your dog. Keep your prescriptions out of reach of your dog to prevent poisoning

What Are Signs of a Tramadol Overdose in Dogs?

Tramadol is safe for dogs at the right dosage, but an accidental overdose can happen. Signs of an overdose include:

An overdose can be life-threatening for your dog. If you think your dog has had too much tramadol, talk to your vet or take them to a veterinary clinic right away. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Animal Hospital Association: “New pain study ensures that the debate over tramadol will continue.”

American Kennel Club: “Tramadol for Dogs: Uses and Side Effects.”

Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research: “Pharmacokinetics of intravenous tramadol in dogs.”

Carrier Veterinary Hospital: “IVDD Surgery for Dogs - What Pet Parents Should Know.”

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: “Lack of effectiveness of tramadol hydrochloride for the treatment of pain and joint dysfunction in dogs with chronic osteoarthritis.”

Merck Manual Veterinary Manual: “Analgesic Pharmacology.” “Pain Management in Small Animals with Lameness.”

Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice: “Outpatient Oral Analgesics in Dogs and Cats Beyond Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: An Evidence-based Approach.”

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