You hate to see your dog in pain. If he's suffering from either a sudden or chronic condition, your vet might prescribe tramadol for pain relief. Marketed for humans under the brand name Ultram, this drug is not approved for use in animals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but veterinarians may prescribe it under the FDA's "extra label" use provision.
Tramadol hydrochloride is a synthetic form of codeine, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Because tramadol can be used in conjunction with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, your vet is more likely to prescribe this medication alone for dogs in mild pain. Those in moderate or severe pain might receive tramadol along with NSAIDs. Unlike many other drugs, tramadol is safe for use in pregnant and nursing dogs. Tramadol is available in tablet form and is usually given two to three times daily.
Tramadol Side Effects
Although most dogs tolerate tramadol well, side effects can occur. Some dogs experience gastrointestinal problems, including nausea, appetite loss, vomiting and constipation. Some animals might experience a decreased heart rate, but not enough to harm the dog. You could notice your dog's pupils constricting and increased panting. If your dog takes the drug for a long period -- six weeks or more -- he could develop hypermotility, usually resulting in diarrhea or an inability to "hold" his bowels. A dog allergic to tramadol might exhibit hives, mouth swelling or breathing problems. If you suspect an allergy, call your vet at once.
If your vet miscalculated the proper dosage for your pet, or if you accidentally overdose him, your dog might develop seizures or behavioral changes. In a worst case scenario, your dog can suffer from cardiac arrest or inability to breathe and die. Coma is also a possibility. If your dog exhibits any signs of an overdose, take him to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately. After recovery, your vet might opt to lower the dosage or switch the dog to another drug.
Epileptic dogs or those with a history of seizures should not receive tramadol, as the medication appears to lower the seizure threshold. If your dog has kidney or liver disease, your vet might opt not to use tramadol or prescribe a lower dose. The same holds true for elderly or debilitated canines in general. Dogs receiving antidepressants or any medications acting on the central nervous system should not take tramadol. Tell your vet about any medications or supplements your dog receives.