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Tramadol for dogs

The essentials

  • Tramadol is safe for dogs — If taken with vet supervision, tramadol can help manage your dog’s pain levels and improve their quality of life.
  • Doctors prescribe tramadol for human aches and pains — It’s one of the few human painkillers that is safe to give to dogs.
  • Tramadol is an opioid — Like most opioids, tramadol doesn’t treat the underlying cause of pain. Instead, it provides relief by altering the way the body perceives pain.

What is tramadol? 

Tramadol is a medication commonly prescribed to treat pain in humans and other small mammals like dogs. It’s a synthetic opioid that works by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and altering the transmission and perception of pain. It also blocks the brain’s reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin, creating a buildup of these chemicals in the bloodstream that causes overall feelings of calm and euphoria.

Since tramadol is mainly intended to treat humans, its use in veterinary medicine is considered off-label, but it’s perfectly safe for most dogs when taken under vet supervision. Tramadol isn’t as strong as some of the other drugs in the opioid family and often produces less side effects in dogs.

Medication type: Tramadol
Form: capsule, tablet, or liquid
Availability: Prescription
FDA approved? Yes, but only for humans
Active ingredient names: tramadol
Common medications: Ultram®, ConZip®, Durela®, Ralivia®, Rybix®, Ryzolt®, Tridural®,  Zytram®
Life stage: All life stages

Tramadol in veterinary medicine

Tramadol is used to treat moderate to severe pain in dogs and cats, which could result from any of the following conditions:

  • Cancer
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Lameness/difficulty walking
  • Post-operation or post-surgery pain
  • Spinal diseases
  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety

Like most opioids, tramadol doesn’t treat the cause of a dog’s pain. Tramadol simply makes them more comfortable by altering their perception of that pain. It also doesn’t treat inflammation, so it’s often used along with other medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs.

Tramadol is most commonly given by mouth as a capsule, tablet, or liquid. The usual dosage for dogs is 0.45 to 1.8 milligrams (mg) per pound of their body weight every 8 to 12 hours, but this varies based on what type of pain your dog is experiencing, as well as any pre-existing conditions they may have. Always ask a vet to help you determine the best dose for your dog, and do not give them pills from human Tramadol prescriptions.

🚨Never attempt to calculate the right tramadol dosage for your dog without consulting a veterinarian.

Is tramadol safe for dogs? 

Tramadol is generally safe for dogs to take as long as the dosage instructions are followed properly, but there are still some side effects to look out for. These include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety

While every dog’s reaction to tramadol will differ, you should contact your veterinarian if you notice any of these side effects. Tramadol is metabolized through the liver and kidneys, so it’s best to have a professional monitor these organs early on as a precaution.

When to avoid tramadol

Tramadol should not be used in pets that are hypersensitive to opioids. It should also be avoided if your dog is taking serotonin reuptake or monoamine oxidase inhibitor medications, as the combination could result in an adverse reaction. Do not give your dog tramadol if they have a history of seizures, or if they have a kidney or liver disease. You should also refrain from giving it to any dog that’s pregnant or nursing, as the drug can pass from the mother to the pup.

Tramadol overdose

If a dog is given an incorrect dosage of tramadol, or if they get into a prescription that’s laying around, an accidental overdose can happen. These reactions are serious and should be treated by a vet as soon as possible. Symptoms of tramadol overdose include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Excessive drooling
  • Sedation
  • Agitation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Ataxia (uncontrollable movement)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

🚨Stop giving your dog tramadol and call a vet immediately if you notice any signs of tramadol overdose.

Alternative pain medication for pets

While your vet will ultimately help you choose the best medication for your dog, it’s good to know that opioids aren’t the only option available when it comes to treating pain. These are a few good options to consider if your dog shows any sensitivity to opioids:

  • NSAIDS. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help relieve swelling, stiffness, and joint pain in both humans and dogs. NSAIDs are usually safe for dogs and have fewer side effects than opioids, but they should only ever be taken under vet supervision.
  • Supplements. Vitamins and joint supplements are great non-medicinal ways to boost your dog’s health. They don’t treat pain the same way opioids and NSAIDs do, but they provide key building blocks for cartilage regeneration and help get dogs back on their feet without the side effects associated with other anti-inflammatories.
  • CBD oil. We still don’t know a lot about the long-term clinical effects of CBD use in dogs, but anecdotal evidence suggests it’s a promising natural alternative to opioids when it comes to pain relief. Among other things, CBD oil can help alleviate pain and discomfort related to anxiety, osteoarthritis, cancer treatments, seizures, and itchiness.

Frequently asked questions

Will tramadol calm my dog?

While tramadol can be an effective anxiety medication for dogs, it’s also been known to cause anxiety as a side effect. Always consult a veterinarian about the correct medication and dosage for your dog’s anxiety.

How much tramadol can I give my dog safely?

The usual dose for dogs is 0.45 mg to 1.8 mg per pound every 8 to 12 hours, but this varies depending on the kind of pain your dog is experiencing and the presence of pre-existing conditions. Consult a veterinarian about the correct tramadol dosage for your dog.

Does tramadol work immediately for dogs?

Tramadol is a fast-acting drug that takes effect 1 to 2 hours after consumption.

How long does tramadol last for pain in dogs?

Tramadol is a short-acting medication that lasts about 6 to 8 hours and fully wears off after about 24 hours.