Tramadol is a popular medication for dogs with pain. It is used in dogs for osteoarthritic pain and in pre- and post-surgery as part of a pain-control regimen.
Tramadol is a synthetic opioid that is not FDA-approved for dogs, so it is used by veterinarians off-label. That means there have not been full studies on dosing, toxicity, and so on. Veterinarians prescribe it because there is a fair amount of anecdotal information regarding the use of tramadol in dogs available, and many studies are ongoing. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies tramadol as a controlled substance.
Possible side effects appear conflicting, as you will see below, but this emphasizes how each dog is truly an individual and within a household, different dogs may have different experiences with this medication.
Key side effects for dogs taking tramadol include:
When to Avoid Tramadol
Tramadol is generally not recommended for use in dogs with liver, kidney, or seizure problems. It is metabolized via the liver, which is the reason for caution in liver patients.
Because tramadol can lead to increases in serotonin levels, it is important to avoid using it along with many antidepressants and drugs that are monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). When these types of drugs are doubled up on, a dog may develop “serotonin syndrome” as a side effect. Symptoms can range from sedation to restlessness. Dogs may have muscle twitching, which can lead to hyperthermia. In severe cases, dogs can lose consciousness and even die.
Other drugs that can interact with tramadol include:
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Digoxin (Digitalis)
- Metoclopramide (Reglan)
- Cyproheptadine (Periactin)
Always use tramadol under veterinary guidance. If your dog goes to a different clinic or an emergency clinic, make sure the veterinarian knows your dog is taking tramadol. Unlike many opioids, tramadol is not fully reversed by naloxone (Narcan).