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 for Dogs and Cats?
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 ConZip® and Qdolo®, and also as generic tramadol. 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.
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.
Tramadol Considerations in Dogs and Cats
Tramadol for dogs and cats should not be used in pets who are hypersensitive to it or other opioid pain-relieving medications and in pets with gastrointestinal obstruction. Tramadol should be used with caution in pets with a history of seizures in geriatric or severely debilitated pets, in pets with severe asthma, and in pets receiving medications that can cause neurological or respiratory depression.
Giving tramadol with certain medications can result in health risks to your pet, so it is important to discuss your pet’s medical conditions and medications, including vitamins and supplements, with your veterinarian.
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.
How Tramadol Works in Dogs and Cats
Tramadol is classified as an opioid narcotic pain reliever that helps reduces pain in dogs in cats in two ways. Like other opioids, it directly binds to opioid pain receptors in the nervous system, which blocks pain signals from communicating with the brain, thereby preventing your pet from feeling pain. Tramadol can also help relieve pain by increasing certain chemical messengers such as serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.
Tramadol Directions for Dogs and Cats
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 administering tramadol to your pet.
If your veterinarian recommends that you discontinue this medication for any reason, they will typically recommend that you wean your pet off the medication slowly, and under their supervision, especially if your pet has been taking it long-term. Abruptly stopping tramadol after your pet has been on it for a long time may cause them to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Missed a Dose?
Speak with your veterinarian about what to do if you forget to give a dose of tramadol.
Possible Side Effects of Tramadol in Dogs and Cats
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 tramadol, consult your veterinarian.
Some formulations of tramadol also contain acetaminophen. 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 acetaminophen toxicity may include rapid breathing, panting, vomiting, abnormal gum color (blue, gray, brown, or yellow), swollen legs or face, or dark-brown urine.
Human Side Effects
Tramadol is also a prescription medication for humans, frequently with dosages different from those prescribed for your pet by a veterinarian. Due to possible side effects, humans should never use medicine dispensed for their pets and pets should not be given any medicine dispensed for a human’s use.
If you accidentally ingest your pet’s medication, immediately seek medical attention or 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. However, your veterinarian may recommend routine testing depending on your pets' individual needs, other medications they may be on, 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 for Dogs and Cats
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 can cause life-threatening toxicity in cats and dogs. Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog or 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
Tramadol Storage for Dogs and Cats
Most tramadol tablets are stored at controlled room temperature from 68 F to 77 F.
Brief exposure to temperatures of 59 F to 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.
Can I give my dog tramadol for pain?
Before giving tramadol, ask your veterinarian first and discuss your dog’s medications and medical conditions with them, as there may be health risks to your pet if they are hypersensitive to it, if they have certain medical conditions, or if they are taking certain other medications. Your veterinarian will determine whether this medication is right for your pet, based on their symptoms and circumstances.
Is tramadol safe for dogs and cats?
Tramadol can be used safely in dogs and cats in very specific circumstances and under the direct supervision of your veterinarian. Speak with your vet first to ensure this medication is appropriate for your pet.
Is tramadol for humans the same for dogs?
Yes and no. The active ingredient in generic tramadol for both humans and pets is the same, and the greatest differences are the concentrations of the products. There are many different doses and formulations of human tramadol products available, and many are not suited for dogs.
You should only give tramadol if directly instructed by your veterinarian. It is important to note that some formulations of tramadol also contain acetaminophen.
Do not give your pet any human tramadol combination medication, as acetaminophen can be toxic to dogs. Avoid giving your dog extended-release tablets and capsules of tramadol, as these formulations could potentially cause an overdose due to the differences in absorption between humans and dogs.
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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