Tramadol for Dogs: Safe Guidelines, Proper Doses and Side Effects

Medical articles
A chocolate labrador looking at a pill, that is being offered by a vet, Could this pill be a tramadol, and if so can dogs take tramadol? What are the potential tramadol side effects for dogs?

Man's best friend deserves the best care, especially when they're hurting. Recent surgery leaving your pup whimpering? Chronic pain from arthritis got them down? Tramadol can be a powerful tool to manage pain in dogs, but with any medication, knowledge is key. 

Tramadol, a common pain medication originally used in people, has made the crossover to the veterinary side of medicine. It's often combined with anti-inflammatories to tackle pain in dogs recovering from surgery or battling chronic conditions like arthritis. Because there are currently no veterinary-specific tramadol products available, vets prescribe it off-label. Since it's also a controlled substance, following your veterinarian's dosing instructions carefully is crucial. 

What is Tramadol and How Does it Work? 

Tramadol is classified as an opioid, similar to morphine. Opioids are a class of drugs that act on specialized proteins in the nervous system called mu-receptors. Tramadol targets mu-receptors throughout the central nervous system to inhibit pain and increase serotonin release. It is different than other commonly used medications, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), because it doesn’t do anything to decrease inflammation, instead, it only works on pain.  

After being widely used in the human world, tramadol is now commonly prescribed in veterinary medicine as an additional form of pain management, similar to gabapentin in cats. It is often used in combination with NSAIDs or other anti-inflammatories.  

What is Tramadol Used for in Dogs? 

Tramadol can be used both as a short-acting and a long-acting pain medication. It can be given as needed for occasional pain, or daily as part of a chronic pain management regime. Because of this versatility, tramadol can be used in many different situations. So, if you’re wondering what can I give my dog for pain, the answer is often tramadol, but only as prescribed by their vet.  

Keep in mind that tramadol is usually reserved for dogs with moderate to severe pain, not minor aches and discomforts. It is commonly used post-op with orthopedic surgeries or a herniated disc. It can be used for chronic conditions such as arthritis or cancer, and even a chronic cough. 

Since tramadol doesn’t do anything to negate inflammation associated with these conditions, it’s often given in combination with NSAIDs or more potent anti-inflammatories. 

Tramadol for Dogs Dosages 

Tramadol is an off-label and controlled drug in veterinary medicine, so it’s very important to follow your veterinarian’s direction explicitly. That being said, the tramadol dose for dogs has a fairly wide dose range, allowing you to tweak it a bit by giving more or less medication to keep your dog comfortable.

The tramadol for dogs dosage will mainly depend on your dog’s weight and their level of pain. Your vet will be able to give you a range of doses based on your dog’s size, and then they will often allow you to adjust as needed depending on your dog’s pain level. Even with a range to work with, you still need to make sure you’re following your vet’s directions and not giving your dog too much. 

Tramadol Side Effects in Dogs 

Tramadol is typically safe and effective in dogs, but there are a few signs you’ll want to watch out for. The most common side effects associated with tramadol are: 

  • Vomiting 

  • Diarrhea/constipation 

  • Not eating or reduce appetite 

  • Sedation, especially at higher doses 

More severe, but less common, side effects you may see with tramadol are: 

  • Tremors 

  • Anxiety 

  • Agitation 

  • Dizziness 

Keep a careful watch over your dog, especially when first starting tramadol and any time you increase the dose. Report any side effects to your vet so that you both can decide how to proceed. 

Risks and Precautions When Using Tramadol in Dogs 

Tramadol is considered fairly safe for dogs, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Dogs with seizure disorders, such as epilepsy or liver or kidney disease, may not be the best candidates to take tramadol. Dogs that are taking other antidepressants or antianxiety medications, such as trazodone for dogs, shouldn’t take tramadol either, as it can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome

Dogs that take too much tramadol may show signs of extreme lethargy or sedation that can even turn into a coma. Dogs may also suffer seizures, cardiac arrest, or even death.  

Proper Administration and Storage of Tramadol 

To prevent potentially severe tramadol side effects in dogs or overdoses, always follow your veterinarian’s guidelines on the tramadol dose for dogs. If you happen to miss a dose, give the next dose as soon as possible and then return to the regular schedule. Don’t give two doses at once or give two doses in less than 6-8 hours. 

Keep your tramadol bottle securely closed and stored in a cupboard or shelf that is well out of reach of both dogs and children. Make sure everyone in your home knows how to give tramadol to your dog and that they all follow the same guidelines. 

Be aware that because tramadol is a controlled substance, your vet will have a hard time giving you extra tramadol should you misplace it. 

Pet Insurance and Tramadol for Dogs  

Tramadol is a common pain medication used to treat both short-lived and long-term pain in dogs. It isn’t for minor bumps and bruises, but instead is reserved for more moderate to severe pain associated with surgeries, major injuries, or chronic conditions. Tramadol, while an affordable medication itself, can be part of a larger pain management plan for your dog. Vet visits, diagnostics, and potential combination therapies can quickly add up, not to mention the long-term use. Consider dog health insurance to help cover these costs.  

Look for a plan that reimburses you for veterinary expenses, including medications like tramadol, and covers diagnostic tests to identify the underlying pain source. Ideally, your chosen plan would even help offset costs of additional pain management strategies. Remember that most pet insurance policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions, so get your dog in on the health care ground floor by purchasing a policy before things start to pop up. 

Tramadol for Dogs is Often Effective for Pain Management 

Tramadol is typically very effective, especially when used in combination with anti-inflammatories, but it’s not without its risks. Pay careful attention to your vet’s prescribing doses, monitor your dog closely for any side effects, and report them to your vet immediately. Remember, tramadol is just one piece of the pain management puzzle. Veterinarians often create personalized plans that may include anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, or other medications.  

The journey of helping your dog heal can be a challenging one, but witnessing the return of their playful spirit, even if only temporary, will make it all worthwhile. The strong bond you share will only deepen as you navigate this experience together.