PetMD’s medications content was written and reviewed by veterinary professionals to answer your most common questions about how medications function, their side effects, and what species they are prescribed for. This content shouldn’t take the place of advice by your vet.
What is Tramadol?
Tramadol is an opioid pain medication commonly prescribed for dogs and cats after surgery. It can also be used to manage long-term (chronic) pain, when used in combination with other pain medications as part of a well-rounded pain management plan.
Tramadol is FDA-approved for human use under the brand names Ultram®, ConZip®, Qdolo®, and also as generics. Tramadol is currently not FDA approved as a veterinary medication. However, it is readily utilized in the veterinary field, and veterinarians can legally prescribe certain human drugs for use in animals in certain circumstances. This is called extra-label or off-label use because this use isn’t described on the drug label. While veterinarians often prescribe medications for off-label uses, your veterinarian will determine whether this medication is right for your pet.
In certain circumstances, your vet may recommend a compounded formulation of tramadol. Compounded medications are prescribed if there’s a specific reason your pet’s health can’t be managed by an FDA-approved drug, such as if your pet has trouble taking pills in capsule form, the dosage strength is not commercially available, or the pet is allergic to an ingredient in the FDA-approved medication. Compounded medications are not FDA-approved. They are created by either a veterinarian or a licensed pharmacist on an individual basis to best suit a patient’s particular needs. You can learn more about compounded medications here.
Do not give any tramadol to your pet that was not prescribed by your veterinarian, as some versions of tramadol contain acetaminophen, which can be harmful to dogs and cats.
Tramadol is classified as a schedule IV controlled substance. As such, this may affect the prescribing, dispensing, and refilling of this medication due to federal and state law. Likewise, it is illegal for you to consume, sell, or give away your pet’s tramadol.
How Tramadol Works
Tramadol reduces pain in two separate ways. It is an opioid that acts directly on certain pain receptors in the nervous system, and it increases serotonin and norepinephrine levels, which are neurotransmitters or chemical messengers that act within the nervous system.
Follow the directions on the drug label or as provided by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will determine the appropriate dose of tramadol based on your pet’s body weight and medical condition.
Tramadol can be given with or without food. Many pets, especially cats, do not like the bitter taste of the drug. If your pet won’t take the medication by mouth, try hiding the medication in a small amount of desirable food to mask the taste. Talk to your veterinarian if you are having trouble medicating your pet.
Contact your veterinarian if your pet still appears in pain after starting on tramadol. Since cats and dogs often hide their pain, signs of pain can be subtle.
Missed a Dose
Speak with your veterinarian about what to do if you forget to give a dose of tramadol. Generally they may instruct you to wait until it is time to give the next dose. Alternatively, if you give the missed dose right away, your veterinarian may instruct you to wait the prescribed amount of time before giving the next dose. In most cases, your veterinarian may instruct you to not give extra or double doses.
Tramadol Possible Side Effects
Tramadol is usually well-tolerated by cats and dogs. Many pet parents do report mild sedation with use of this medication. Other possible side effects of tramadol include:
Anxiety or vocalization (such as whining)
If you believe your pet may be experiencing any side effects of fluoxetine, consult your veterinarian.
Some formulations of tramadol also contain acetaminophen (such as the human medication called Ultracet®). Do not give your pet this human medication as acetaminophen can be toxic to dogs and cats.
Immediate emergency treatment is essential if your pet ingests any acetaminophen. Signs of an acetaminophen toxicity may include: fast breathing, panting, vomiting, abnormal gum color (blue, grey, brown, or yellow), swollen legs or face or dark brown colored urine.
Human Side Effects
While this is a human prescription medication, there are different dosages and side effects that can occur in humans. If you accidentally ingest your pet’s medication, immediately seek medical attention of call the national Poison Control Center hotline at 800-222-1222.
Typically, beyond monitoring your pet's response to tramadol, no specific monitoring is required for this medication, but your veterinarian may recommend routine testing depending on your pets' individual needs, other medications they may be on and/or the issue that initially caused your pet to be placed on this medication.
Call Your Vet If:
Severe side effects are seen (see above)
Your pet’s condition worsens or does not improve with treatment
You see or suspect an overdose
You have additional questions or concerns about the use of Tramadol
Remember, if your pet is accidentally given tramadol medication that contains acetaminophen, immediate emergency treatment is essential.
Tramadol Overdose Information
Overdoses of tramadol can be serious and may require emergency treatment. Signs of an overdose include severe sedation, lethargy, vomiting, lack of coordination, vocalization (such as crying or whining), agitation, muscle tremors, dilated pupils, and excessive drooling.
An overdose or even small amounts of a tramadol-acetaminophen product (such as Ultracet®) can cause life-threatening toxicity in cats and dogs. Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog, or if especially your cat has ingested any medication containing acetaminophen.
If you suspect an overdose, immediately seek emergency veterinary care or contact an animal poison control center. Consultation fees often apply.
Pet Poison Helpline (855) 764-7661
ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888) 426-4435
Most tramadol tablets are stored at controlled room temperature between 68°-77°F.
Brief exposure to temperatures between 59-86°F are acceptable.
Store medication in the provided child-proof container. Keep lid tightly closed. Always confirm storage requirements by reviewing the label.Compounded medications should be stored according to the compounding pharmacy’s label.
Keep out of reach of children and pets.
No vet writer or qualified reviewer has received any compensation from the manufacturer of the medication as part of creating this article. All content contained in this article is sourced from public sources or the manufacturer.
Featured Image: iStock.com/JoeChristensen
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