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What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol is a medication veterinarians commonly dispense to manage pain in dogs. Physicians also frequently prescribe tramadol for human aches and pains, and it’s one of the few human painkillers that’s safe to give to dogs under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Scientifically speaking, tramadol is a member of the opioid family, which means it alters the transmission and perception of pain in humans and animals. In addition, tramadol inhibits the reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin in the dog’s brain, which increases the level of these chemicals in the bloodstream and creates that feeling of euphoria and well-being that human patients sometimes experience.

What Is Tramadol Used for in Veterinary Medicine?

Like most opioids, tramadol is used to treat pain. The Merck Veterinary Manual recommends using tramadol to treat “acute and chronic pain of moderate to severe intensity,” which could mean anything from helping your dog recover from surgery or to help manage the pain associated with osteoarthritis when taken with other medications.

Your veterinarian might prescribe tramadol if your dog has any of the following causes of pain:

Other uses include treating:

  • Anxiety
  • Coughing
  • Canine degenerative myelopathy (progressive disease of the spinal cord)

Tramadol doesn’t have the anti-inflammatory properties associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or treat the underlying cause of the pain. Instead, it alters the way the body perceives pain, giving the patient some relief. As a result, it’s often used in conjunction with another drug, such as the NSAID carprofen (Rimadyl), or as an additional pain management strategy for chronic conditions.

Beagle laying down in its open crate.
©jagodka -

Side Effects of Tramadol in Dogs

Like most medications, tramadol has side effects. Most dogs tolerate tramadol well, as long as you properly follow the dosage instructions, but there are a few adverse reactions you should be aware of.

These reactions range in severity, but play it safe and call your veterinarian if your dog experiences any of these tramadol side effects.

Golden Retriever getting comforted while lying on a table at the vet.
alexsokolov/Getty Images Plus

Overdose of Tramadol in Dogs

Adverse reactions aren’t the only thing owners need to worry about when it comes to medications. Overdoses happen. Sometimes, dogs get into things they shouldn’t, like medication, or well-meaning pet sitters or family members accidentally give dogs a higher dose than prescribed. These reactions are serious. Here are the symptoms of a tramadol overdose that you need to be aware of:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Excessive drooling
  • Sedation
  • Agitation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Ataxia (uncontrollable movement)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

If you notice any of these symptoms, stop giving tramadol and call your veterinarian immediately.

Tramadol Dosage for Dogs

Tramadol requires a prescription and is a class 4 controlled substance. The only way to get tramadol for your dog is a prescription from your veterinarian. As tempting as it might be to pop your dog a pill from a human tramadol prescription, remember that dosages for dogs differ greatly from those for humans. Giving your dog tramadol outside of the guidance of a veterinarian could result in a tramadol overdose.

Owners should never attempt to calculate the dosage of tramadol for their dogs without a veterinarian. Veterinarians calculate tramadol dosages based on weight, but they also consider other components of your dog’s health, such as pre-existing conditions and liver values, and the cause of the pain itself. The dosage for chronic pain, for instance, might be different from the dosage used to treat acute pain.

©Patryk Kosmider -

What Dogs Shouldn’t Take Tramadol?

Most drugs have counter-indications, drug interactions, and safety restrictions. While tramadol is relatively safe, there are some exceptions.

Tramadol’s effects on serotonin uptake mean that some dogs should avoid tramadol unless a veterinarian states otherwise, as it can result in drug interactions. Tramadol can also pass from a mother to her pups, and there have been instances of tramadol increasing seizure activity in dogs with pre-existing conditions.

Ask your veterinarian if tramadol is right for your dog, if your dog meets the following criteria:

  • Dogs taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), like the drug selegiline, used to treat canine cognitive dysfunction and pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease)
  • Dogs taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, and fluvoxamine
  • Pregnant or nursing dogs
  • Dogs with a history of recent seizures
  • Dogs with liver or kidney disease

Tramadol can help manage your dog’s pain levels and improve their quality of life. Now that you know a little more about tramadol for dogs, don’t hesitate to bring up any questions or concerns you still have with your veterinarian.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Everything You Need to Know About Osteoarthritis in Dogs
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