Tramadol for Dogs: Dosage and Side Effects

Is your dog pain-free?

Every pet parent wants their dog to be pain-free.

It is a basic requirement for a good quality of life that our beloved fur friends are free from the distress of serious discomfort.

But what if they have a long term condition such as arthritis?

Even mild to moderate joint pain should not be a problem with the wide availability of modern drugs such as the NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.)

But even then, whilst NSAIDs are excellent and help with mild to moderate pain, there are times when they just don’t cut it.

Indeed, some dogs are over-sensitive to NSAIDs and can’t take them for fear of the side effects.

meditating dog

What choice does the caring pet parent have then to reduce their pet’s discomfort?

This is where tramadol for dogs is often added into the equation.

Tramadol is a pain-killer developed for people, but is also used in dogs.

The great news is that most dogs tolerate it well and it can be combined with other analgesics such as the NSAIDs to beef up the amount of analgesia.

This means tramadol in dogs has the potential to boost pain relief for patients that need that extra help, or to provide an option for dogs that otherwise would be denied pain relief.

Let’s now take a more detailed look at whether it could be helpful to your dog.

1. Signs of Discomfort

Question: Your dog limps. Is he in pain?

Answer: Yes

A change in gait is a sure sign that your dog is in discomfort.

OK, the elderly arthritic dog may have physical remodeling of the joints that prevents him from walking normally, but notice the underlying cause is arthritis, which is a painful condition.

There’s one reason right there a dog may need tramadol, so let’s take a closer look at your dog and see if they are showing signs of discomfort.

old dog

Signs of pain in dogs include:

  • Restlessness
  • Whining or crying
  • Lip licking
  • Repetitive licking of a part of the body
  • Poor appetite
  • Unwillingness to get up
  • Lack of interest in exercise
  • Heavy panting
  • Hiding away or aggression
  • Character change
  • Limping

OK, you’re pretty sure your dog is sore.

He’s checked by the vet and they suggest tramadol is appropriate.

Let’s find out more about this human drug when it is used in dogs.

2. What is Tramadol for Dogs?

Tramadol in dogs has two main uses: primarily as pain relief and occasionally as an anti-cough medication.

dog melancolic

This human drug has been through extensive testing for people but not for dogs, so your vet will only choose tramadol if they are certain no other licensed veterinary drug will do the job.

Tramadol has an opiate-like action and works directly on receptors in the brain to switch off pain signals.

As well as being highly effective it has the added benefits that it is usually OK to mix it with other types of pain relief and an added bonus is that it’s inexpensive.

3. Can I Give My Dog Tramadol?

OK, your physician prescribed you tramadol, so is it OK to give this to my dog?

Whilst tramadol is safe when prescribed by your vet, it’s NOT safe for you to take capsules out of the bathroom cabinet that is intended for people.

This is because some formulations contain additional drugs that are harmful to dogs.

For example, Ultracet contains acetaminophen in addition to tramadol.

Also, human preps are usually slow-release formulation, and these can be dangerous for dogs.

The canine digestive tract differs from the human one and the dog is more likely to get a sudden hit of tramadol, possibly reaching overdose levels.

big dog sad

If the above weren’t reasons enough to consult your vet, the other thing is the dog needs to be fully assessed for suitability.

For example, those fur friends on other medications or with liver or kidney disease may not be able to take tramadol.

4. Uses of Tramadol for Dogs

The side effects of tramadol in dogs are usually mild, making it ideal to give in a number of circumstances, including:

  • To relieve intense post-operative pain
  • Long term pain control for conditions such as arthritis
  • Cancer pain
  • Disc disease discomfort
  • When dogs can’t tolerate NSAIDs
  • When NSAIDs alone don’t provide enough pain control

5. Tramadol for Dogs Dosage

Tramadol was developed for people, so the recommended dose for dogs can vary widely depending on who you speak to.

It is generally accepted that a typical average dose is 2mg / kg body weight twice a day, meaning a 25 kg dog would take a 50mg tramadol for dogs twice a day.

This dose can be given with food or on an empty stomach, it doesn’t matter.

How Much Tramadol Can I Give My Dog?

There is a sliding scale of dosage from a lowly 1mg / kg up to a hefty 10 mg/ kg.

In practical terms what usually happens is the vet will recommend a dose at the bottom of this range and slowly increase it to effect.

Although it must be borne in mind that it takes up to two weeks to reach the maximum pain-relieving effect.

Just as the tramadol dog dosage is flexible, so is the dosing interval.

As standard, most vets prescribe tramadol twice a day, but three or even four times a day may be appropriate depending on the individual dog.

6. Tramadol Side Effects in Dogs

Tramadol is well tolerated by most dogs but as with any drug, it can have side effects.

The most common of these is sedation, which can actually be helpful in some circumstances, say if your dog has a bad back and the vet has instructed him to be rested.

However, excessive sedation can lead to the dog staggering around as if drunk, which can be alarming.

If this happens alert your vet so they can adjust the dosage.

Bizarrely, some dogs go the other way and instead of becoming sedated become over-anxious, pace, and are restless.

focused dog

Other recognized side effects include vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and a decreased appetite.

Again, if you see these signs your vet will want to know.

In the event of an overdose, the symptoms are more severe and include extreme sedation or agitation, with drooling and increased salivation, an increased effort to breathe, and possibly seizures.

Contact your vet immediately if these signs occur.

The vet will give a sedative to counteract the effects and intravenous fluids to support the dog until the effects of the tramadol wear off.

7. When Not to Use Tramadol

Tramadol dog’s side effects can be amplified when it’s given with certain other drugs.

These include medications from the family of drugs that have mood-altering benefits, such as fluoxetine and selegiline, also SAMe (used to support the liver), warfarin, and certain anesthetics such as state-of-the-art sevoflurane.

Given in combination with the above tramadol has the potential to lower a dog’s seizure threshold and have a fit breakthrough, cause extreme mental dullness, or suppress respiration making it difficult for the dog to breathe.

For dogs with liver or kidney disease, the dose of tramadol needs careful attention.

sad dog staring

It is usually sufficient to give a lowered dose, but again this is a decision for your vet.

Bear in mind your vet will carefully assess whether tramadol is a suitable medication for your dog and take other treatments and health conditions into account when deciding on a dosage.

In a nutshell, tramadol is a useful medication for controlling your dog’s pain, but be sure to dose only as recommended by your vet. Read our comprehensive guide on Dog Medication here. 

Dr Sarah Robinson attended veterinary school at Oklahoma State University receiving a D.V.M. in 2008. Sarah’s longtime interest is to help people to better communicate with their pet companions, and in doing so, to help them to strengthen their relationships with their dogs and cats. Sarah has published numerous articles on canine feeding in pet related magazines, veterinary journals and leading natural health web sites.

Dog struggles