What Are the Side Effects of Tramadol in Dogs?
It's heartbreaking to see a dog suffering in pain. If it happens, it's important to seek immediate veterinarian care for pain medications that offer quick pain relief. We spoke with Dr. Shagufta Mulla, a veterinarian with a DVM degree from Colorado State University with 20 years of experience as a small animal veterinarian, to find out more about tramadol.
Whether your dog's pain is stemming from a sudden event, your dog is experiencing postoperative pain, or it's due to a chronic pain condition, your veterinarian might prescribe tramadol for pain relief. "It is marketed for humans under the brand name Ultram, among others," says Dr. Mulla. This drug is not currently approved for use in animals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but some veterinarians may prescribe it under the FDA's "extra label" use provision.
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Debate surrounding tramadol use
There is an ongoing debate in veterinary medicine surrounding the efficacy of oral tramadol use for arthritis pain in dogs. "It's thought now that it might just elevate their mood, so it seems like they feel better, but it isn't doing much for their pain," says Dr. Mulla.
While it may give them a feeling of euphoria, in reality, the medicine may not be doing anything to relieve their acute pain. Some specialists believe the oral form is not effective for arthritis pain nor a post-op painkiller at all.
"It's being shown that if oral tramadol is used at all, it's a supplemental analgesic and should be combined with other primary pain meds like NSAIDs or other opioids," says Dr. Mulla. "That is, tramadol is no longer viewed as a primary analgesic — a drug to prescribe first — but as an add on to other pain relievers. Some specialists point blank say the oral form is not effective for arthritis pain or post-op pain. Vets still prescribe it though. Also, the Merck medical manual says it can be used alone but that info is dated 2016, which doesn't account for a 2018 study that was done."
Tramadol hydrochloride for dogs
"Tramadol hydrochloride is an opioid similar to codeine, but it's synthetic," explains Dr. Mulla. Dogs in moderate or severe pain might receive tramadol along with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Tramadol is available in tablet form and is usually given two to three times daily.
Tramadol side effects in dogs
Although most dogs tolerate tramadol well, side effects that can harm your dog's health can occur. Some dogs experience side effects of tramadol that include gastrointestinal problems, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and constipation. "Another side effect you might see is sleepiness," explains Dr. Mulla. Some animals might also experience potential side effects that include a decreased heart rate, but thankfully, it's usually not enough to harm the dog. You may also notice your dog's pupils constricting and an increase in panting.
If your dog takes the drug for a long period — six weeks or more — they could develop hypermotility (abnormal or excessive movement). "Dogs don't usually get diarrhea on tramadol, but abruptly discontinuing it after being on it for a while might cause diarrhea," Dr. Mulla says. A dog who is allergic to tramadol might exhibit hives, mouth swelling, or breathing problems. If you suspect an allergy or see any other concerning side effect, call your DVM immediately.
Tramadol overdose in dogs
If your veterinarian miscalculated the proper dosage or if you accidentally give too much to your dog tramadol may cause your dog to develop seizures or exhibit behavioral changes. In a worst-case scenario, your dog can suffer from cardiac arrest or respiratory depression and die. There's a chance your dog might go into a coma too. If your dog exhibits any signs of an overdose, take them to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately. After recovery, your veterinarian might opt to lower the dosage or switch your dog to another drug.
Contraindications of tramadol for dogs
Epileptic dogs, or those with a history of seizure disorders, should not receive tramadol, as the medication appears to lower the seizure threshold. If your dog has kidney disease or liver disease, your veterinarian might opt not to use tramadol or may lower the tramadol dosage. "The same holds true for elderly or debilitated canines in general as well as those who are pregnant or nursing puppies," says Dr. Mulla.
Dogs receiving anti-depressants or any medications acting on the central nervous system should not take tramadol. Pet owners should always tell their veterinarian about any medications or supplements a dog is currently receiving to avoid harmful drug interactions.
Although tramadol is not currently approved for use in animals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some pet parents may have it prescribed under the FDA's "extra label" use provision. Its use is controversial, as some veterinarians don't believe it's actually a painkiller but rather just elevates a dog's mood. If your veterinarian does prescribe tramadol, be sure to monitor your dog closely for any allergic reactions or concerning side effects, and if you notice any, contact your veterinarian immediately.