What Is the Drug Torbutrol Used for in Dogs?

By Betty Lewis

Torbutrol is the brand name for butorphanol tartrate, an opiate that has a variety of uses to help your dog. It's a versatile drug, helping to relieve coughs and pain, as well as the effects of nausea. Because of its potential to be misused, this drug is controlled by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency, making it available only by veterinary prescription.

Opiates and Receptors

Your dog's nervous system has several types of receptors responding to opiates. Some opiates bind and stimulate the receptors referred to as agonist opiates, while others bind and block the receptors, to antagonize the receptors. For some opiates, it's an either/or proposition: They either stimulate or block. Others, such as butorphanol, do both. As an agonist/antagonist opiate, butorphanol is a versatile medication in your vet's pharmaceutical toolbox. It's available as an injectable, to be delivered by the vet, or as a nasal spray or tablet form for home administration.

Torbutrol for Coughs

Also available as Stadol or Torbugesic, Torbutrol's primary use is as a cough suppressant. There are other opiates effective for treating a cough, however, butorphanol doesn't suppress the brain's respiratory center. That allows the cough to be controlled without slowing your dog's respiration rate or making his breathing more shallow.

Other Uses

Just as codeine is a cough suppressant with pain relieving qualities, so is Torbutrol, though its effects are short, making multiple doses throughout the day necessary. It's also an effective sedative, useful as a tranquilizer prior to administering anesthesia for surgery. Butorphanol's anti-nausea properties make it popular for preventing vomiting in animals undergoing chemotherapy.

Side Effects and Concerns

The most frequently seen side effects from Torbutrol are sedation, loss of appetite and diarrhea; it also can cause a slower heart rate. A dog who is hypersensitive to the drug may vomit, have difficulty breathing or experience hives, facial swelling or skin reactions -- all of which call for immediate veterinary treatment. Dogs with kidney or liver disease, hypothyroidism, Addison's disease, head trauma or nervous system dysfunction should not use butorphanol. The medication may interact with other drugs, including antihistamines, barbiturates and other opiates. Pregnant and lactating dogs should not take Torbutrol.