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What is tramadol for dogs?Dog tramadol is a synthetic form of an opioid – similar to fentanyl or morphine – that works at the level of the central nervous system to control pain. It is recommended for the treatment of mild, moderate, and even severe pain states in dogs. Only the oral form is available in the United States, so it is often prescribed for at-home treatment of pain. Injectible forms are available in the UK and other parts of the world. This medication is widely available and used frequently in human medicine. It is now considered a controlled substance meaning that the drug must be specially prescribed and documented for it to be sold.
How does tramadol work?Tramadol for dogs works at the level of the central nervous system to provide analgesia, which can help with acute pain or chronic pain. It has two mechanisms of action. First, it acts as a weak mu-receptor agonist and is similar to morphine or codeine in this regard. The second mechanism of action is to inhibit the reuptake of serotonin and morphine in the central nervous system. This works similarly to anti-depressant drugs and alpha-2 agonists. Dog tramadol is classified as a pro-drug, meaning that it must be metabolized by various pathways in the body to be converted to its most effective form. Dogs produce less active metabolite than humans or cats, therefore, the medication is considered to be much less effective in canines. The medication is also rapidly absorbed and eliminated so must be given at frequent dosing intervals.
What is tramadol used for in dogs?Due to tramadol’s wide margin of safety and ability to be administered synergistically with other medications, it is administered for a variety of diseases. It is used commonly for acute pain management, such as after a surgical procedure, and also for chronic pain states such as neuropathic pain or osteoarthritis.
What is the dosage of tramadol for dogs?Due to tramadol’s wide safety margin, its dosing varies and is dictated by the degree of pain and administration of other medications. Suggested doses fall within 2-5mg/kg every 8-12 hours. The highest dose is 10mg/kg every 8 hours. If tramadol is given alone, the dosing may need to be increased to every 6 hours. Dogs with renal or liver disease should be dose-reduced. Administration can be adjusted as needed and the medication may need to be given long-term (greater than 14 days) to see a beneficial effect in chronic conditions. As with any other medication, do not use it without the guidance of your veterinarian.
How is tramadol given?Tramadol is administered as an oral medicine in the United States. Injectible formulations are available in other parts of the world. It can be given with or without food. Tramadol may also be compounded into a liquid formulation for ease of administration.
Side effects of tramadol in dogsTramadol is a weak opioid and is unlikely to have the same detrimental effects as other opioid drugs. Some negative tramadol side effects are still reported including gastrointestinal signs like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Some dogs will become sedated and others may be predisposed to agitation or anxiety when a vet decides to prescribe tramadol. Tremors and dizziness have also been reported.
What other drugs will affect tramadol?Seratonin syndrome poses a risk when administering tramadol with other specific medications. Tramadol should not be given with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) for the reason of drug interactions. Serotonin syndrome causes clinical signs of lethargy, pupil dilation, unsteadiness, vomiting, drooling, elevated heart rate, vocalization, seizures, sedation, and anxiety. These clinical signs can also be seen with acute tramadol overdose.
Other drugs that should not be administered with tramadol include:
What is the bottom line on tramadol for dogs?Recent studies have demonstrated that tramadol has poor bioavailability in dogs and little of the active metabolite is formed after oral administration. This decreases the efficacy of the drug, hindering any beneficial effects. Even injectible forms have debatable meaningful benefits in dogs. Overall, tramadol is questionably effective for a dog’s health and should never be given as a single first-line agent to treat pain. Administering the medication with another drug, like a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, will cause a synergistic effect – increasing the effects of the medication. Due to this recent clinical research, tramadol has fallen out of favor for treating pain, including joint pain, in canine patients.
The recommended tramadol dosage is based on the dog’s weight. For dogs is 2-5mg/kg every 8-12 hours. Dosing may need to be increased or decreased depending on any additional medications administered or comorbidities.
Consult with your veterinarian that prescribed tramadol before administration.
Tramadol is a pain reliever that has the potential to cause drowsiness or over-sedation, especially when paired with adjunctive pain medications such as gabapentin or pregabalin.
If you find that your dog becomes overly sedated while taking tramadol, discuss dosing with your veterinarian.
The recommended dosage or frequency of administration may need to be decreased. Some dogs are more tolerant of other pain meds, so tramadol usage may need to be discontinued.
Tramadol is quickly absorbed and metabolized so effects are generally appreciated in 1-2 hours. In chronic pain states such as osteoarthritis or neuropathic pain, tramadol may need to be given for a minimum of 2 weeks to see the clinical effects.