One of the worst feelings for a pet owner is knowing that your beloved four-legged companion is in pain but not knowing exactly what to do for them.
Whether your dog is recovering from surgery or experiencing pain associated with aging bones and joints, your vet will likely prescribe conventional pain medication.
Here's where things may get worrisome. A quick glance at the laundry list of potential adverse reactions associated with nearly every single conventional medication could terrify most any dog owner.
From kidney damage to liver failure to potential death, the number of things that could go wrong is horrifying. Yet, what else can you do? You don't want your precious pup to be in pain, but is there any other way?
In this article, we'll cover the pros and cons of a commonly prescribed pain medication called Tramadol. You should only use the medication based on the advice of your vet, and it is imperative for you to also know the associated risks.
Additionally, we will cover holistic alternatives that continue to prove to be effective and safe. Let's begin!
What is Tramadol for Dogs
Tramadol is a prescription medication that many vets recommend for managing pain in dogs. You may recognize the name, as it is also prescribed by many physicians to treat pain in humans.
In fact, tramadol is one of the few human painkillers that veterinarians deem safe to give to Fido, under veterinary supervision of course. A tramadol prescription however, should never be transferred between pets or from owner to pet.
Each case is different and should be closely monitored by your vet (or your physician, depending on who has prescribed the drug).
Understanding How Tramadol for Dogs Works
Understanding How Tramadol for Dogs Works
Tramadol is a member of the opioid family. It inhibits the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, and thereby increases the levels of these substances in the bloodstream and alters the perception of pain in both dogs and humans.
Additionally, the increased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the bloodstream helps to create sensations of euphoria and wellbeing, allowing your dog to not only be pain-free, but also mentally calm and physically relaxed.
Although opioids can be addictive in humans, the drugs do not usually affect our dogs in the same, destructive manner (some dogs however, may experience withdrawal symptoms when treatment is stopped).
What is Tramadol Used For
Tramadol is primarily used to manage general, chronic pain, and acute pain in dogs. However, in this section, we'll break down the more specific reasons why tramadol may be prescribed.
Tramadol for Osteoarthritis
One of the primary reasons for tramadol prescriptions is the treatment of the signs of osteoarthritis in dogs. It is important to note that tramadol merely alleviates the signs and is not a cure for the underlying cause of the condition.
As your dog gets older, their bones and joints begin to wear from years of constant use.
The wear creates inflammation and associated pain that can cause your dog to become lethargic, depressed, and even shy away from physical attention for fear of being touched or handled in a way that may result in even more pain.
In these cases, your veterinarian may prescribe tramadol.
Treating Post-Operative Pain
Vets may also prescribe tramadol to manage pain resulting from recent surgery. It is important to note that if you are using tramadol to manage post-operative pain, you'll need to keep a close eye on your dog to make sure they aren't overexerting themselves.
The medication will relieve their pain, which can lead to increased activity, possibly insufficient rest, and an inability to fully heal from the recent surgery.
Managing Cancer Symptoms
Additionally, your veterinarian may prescribe tramadol to ease symptoms associated with cancer in addition to conventional cancer treatment.
If your pup is battling cancer, the last thing that you want for them is to experience even more pain. Tramadol may be an effective way to increase their serotonin levels and reduce distress.
Tramadol is also prescribed to alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with hip dysplasia and a number of other joint disorders.
Again, tramadol does not work to cure the underlying cause of these disorders. It merely manages the associated pain and distress that the dog may be facing.
Nonsurgical Intervertebral Disc Disease
Additionally, tramadol may be prescribed to treat diseases that affect the spinal cord. Conditions such as intervertebral disc disease can cause an immense amount of pain, nerve damage, and potential paralysis.
Tramadol may provide relief. It is important that pet parents monitor these conditions closely and know to recognize whether a painkiller is providing enough relief or maybe showing side effects.
Additionally, in less common situations, your veterinarian may prescribe tramadol to relieve:
- Canine degenerative myelopathy
Tramadol Side Effects
Like all conventional medications, tramadol can have its fair share of side effects. Studies show that most dogs tend to tolerate the medication relatively well.
However, the following side effects may still occur in dogs with varying degrees of severity:
- Excessive nausea & vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy and drowsiness
- Lack of coordination (ataxia)
Avoiding Tramadol Side Effects
The only real way to completely avoid the side effects of tramadol is to simply use an alternative treatment.
However, we understand that for some, a conventional painkiller may be what they find necessary. In such cases, there are a few ways to avoid or limit the severity of several associated side effects.
First, ensure that your veterinarian has a complete, accurate, and detailed account of your dog's medical history.
Your veterinarian should be aware of any allergies, as well as any previous adverse reactions to a medication. Additionally, your vet should be informed of any other medications that your dog may be presently taking.
Tramadol should not be used in conjunction with certain drugs and can cause irreversible effects if used incorrectly.
Also, it is important for dog owners to make sure that they are following the prescribed medication exactly as directed.
If you stop the medication too soon, this can cause the symptoms being treated to reappear, often with greater severity than before.
Additionally, increasing the dose of tramadol without consulting with your veterinarian can be extremely harmful.
Accidentally missing a dose of tramadol can also worsen your dog’s discomfort.
Signs of Tramadol Overdose
Adverse reactions aren't the only thing that pet owners must be aware of when it comes to tramadol. Overdoses also occur and can cause severe, irreversible damage.
If you do not see immediate signs of relief, please seek proper veterinary re-evaluation, before opting to increase the dosage.
Tramadol overdoses may also occur if the dog gets into the medicine cabinet and consumes too much of the medication.
It is imperative that pet owners recognize the signs of overdose and seek immediate veterinary intervention.
- Excessive, severe vomiting
- Lethargy and possible sedation
- Decreased heart rate
- Respiratory depression
- Excessive, uncontrollable tremors
- Uncontrollable drooling
- Uncontrolled movement (Ataxia)
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of consciousness
If you see any of these signs, call your veterinarian straight away.
It is important for pet owners to understand that tramadol is a class 4 controlled substance that requires a prescription from your veterinarian.
As we previously mentioned, never give your dogs the tramadol dose that was intended for humans, as the dosages for dogs can vary significantly, and is typically based on the dog’s weight.
Tramadol 50 mg Tablets
Tramadol is available in 50 mg pills. Only your veterinarian should advise you regarding the exact dose for your dog's specific needs.
For example, a dog experiencing chronic pain is often given a different dosage of tramadol than a dog experiencing acute pain, even if they are both the same weight.
We previously mentioned the importance of informing your veterinarian about all of your dog's current medications and preexisting health conditions.
This is because tramadol may also interact with a number of medications, or potentially cause harm to dogs with certain health issues.
Dogs with the following preexisting health conditions should not take tramadol:
- Liver disease or liver damage
- Kidney disease and associated damage
- Pregnant dogs
- Nursing dogs
- Dogs with a history of seizures
If your dog has had stomach or gastrointestinal issues in the past, please let your vet know.
Additionally, the following medications are known to have negative reactions when used with tramadol:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) such as selegiline
- Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) including fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline and fluvoxamine
When Will Tramadol Start Working
In most cases, pet owners find that tramadol begins to work within the first day of administration. However, the course of medication recommended by your vet must be completed in its entirety.
As we previously mentioned, stopping the medication too quickly can cause adverse effects or recurrence of the signs of pain and discomfort. In the vast majority of cases, tramadol should not be used as a long-term solution.
Once your dog shows signs of relief, if possible, it is imperative to find a more permanent solution that addresses the underlying cause of the pain.
Other Pain Medication for Dogs
Although this article pertains specifically to tramadol for dogs, we want to briefly mention other commonly prescribed medications for pain management known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
What are NSAIDs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly prescribed for pain relief in dogs and humans alike.
Tramadol is not an NSAID, which some dog owners may consider an advantage, as NSAIDs are commonly associated with stomach ulcers and internal bleeding.
What is Amantadine
Another medication, amantadine, is often prescribed to treat chronic pain in dogs. Amantadine also has its fair share of side effects.
Regardless of the medication that your vet prescribes, it is extremely important to be well aware of the risks involved.
Is My Dog in Pain?
Pet owners must understand that dogs are notorious for hiding pain. Therefore, if and when your dog begins to show signs of pain, it is imperative that you take it seriously and act accordingly.
If your dog is limping, crying out, or struggling to perform basic activities, it's likely they are in considerable pain.
What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?
Considering all of the adverse effects associated with conventional pain medication, many pet parents find themselves wondering if there are any alternatives available for dogs.
Are there any ways to truly provide pain relief in a safe way? We are happy to be able to tell you that there are! And many prove to be even more effective than prescription drugs.
Even better - the holistic, all-natural alternatives that we are about to discuss come without any of the aforementioned side effects associated with conventional pain meds.
CBD for Dogs
If you're one to stay up to date with the latest and greatest in holistic wellness (which we highly recommend doing), then you've likely heard of cannabidiol (CBD).
Derived from the hemp plant, CBD is making substantial headway in terms of how we can support healthy joint and bone function in humans and dogs alike.
Also, because hemp contains no more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), your dog won't feel "high" or out of it.
CBD Helps to Maintain a Normal Inflammatory Response
CBD oil supports a healthy inflammatory response. When you trace the vast majority of ailments and diseases back to their root, you'll usually find that they all have one major thing in common: inflammation.
Even if your dog is not presently affected by any aches or pains, we highly recommend implementing CBD oil into their diet, as it may prevent future issues.
Joint Support CBD Soft Chews
If your dog is presently suffering from joint pain due to advancing age or injury, we recommend the Joint Support CBD Soft Chews.
The soft chews are packed with the highest quality CBD along with 500 mg of glucosamine.
The soft chews:
- May help to ease aches and discomfort
- May help to maintain a normal inflammatory response
- Enhance the body’s normal repair of connective tissues and joints
- Supports animals with joint tenderness due to everyday activity
Relief CBD Dog Treats
We also recommend trying the turmeric-flavored Relief CBD Dog Treats to support a healthy inflammatory response.
The treats may help to relieve any discomfort associated with normal daily exercise and activity. At Honest Paws, we believe that life is far too short to live in pain.
Let the Relief CBD Dog Treats help.
Acupuncture & Massage Therapy
Additionally, many pet parents have found that acupuncture and different massage therapies have made a world of difference for their four-legged friends.
Both acupuncture and massage therapy work best with consistency, which may be neither ideal nor possible for some dog owners, as it proves to be a bit of a commitment.
However, it is comforting to know that there are all-natural alternatives for pain relief in dogs that are proving to be both effective and safe.
Turmeric for Inflammation
Another wonderful dietary supplement that we recommend adding to Fido's diet is turmeric. Turmeric is an all-natural anti-inflammatory from which both humans and animals can derive considerable benefits.
As we previously mentioned, inflammation is a leading cause of a slew of conditions including:
- Joint disorders
- Kidney disease
- Dental disease
- Digestive disease
- Among many others
All of these conditions can lead to your dog experiencing an immense amount of pain and distress if the disease is not diagnosed and treated promptly. Adding turmeric to your pup's diet can serve as a way to ease and prevent inflammation.
If you've been following along with our other articles, you know that we always stress how absolutely imperative it is to feed your dog a well-balanced diet.
Diet can truly be a game changer in terms of your dog's health and well-being, As a pet owner, you must make sure to do all that you can to support the health of your four-legged friends through proper nutrition.
Many experts recommend implementing a raw food diet as a means to ensure that your dog is receiving all the nutrients they need. We recommend consulting your holistic veterinarian to determine any dietary changes from which your dog may benefit.
Additionally, we highly recommend researching the incredible benefits of glucosamine for dogs. Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound that promotes the growth and repair of cartilage and synovial fluid, which both protect the joints.
Using a glucosamine supplement provides additional support for overall joint health. Or you can check out our CBD and Glucosamine joint support chews for a double whammy!
Finally, exercise! We understand that exercise may seem like the last thing you want to implement if your dog is in pain.
However, light movement and physical activity are necessary to build muscle and maintain overall health. Depending on your dog's level of pain, the "exercise" may start off as basic as standing up and lying down.
Don't overdo it in the beginning. We recommend talking to your veterinarian regarding the appropriate amount of movement that will help to maintain and restore joint health.
Tramadol for Dogs: A Final Thought
At the end of the day, we know that you want the very best for your beloved four-legged friend. At Honest Paws, we are all pet lovers and dog owners. Therefore, we empathize with the heart-wrenching experience of knowing that your best friend is suffering.
There are times when conventional drugs such as tramadol are necessary, and we certainly do not want to take away from the incredible importance and benefits of modern-day medicine.
However, with that being said, we firmly believe that pet parents must understand the associated risks involved before beginning treatment with conventional drugs. Furthermore, knowing that there are all-natural alternatives to not only treat, but also prevent ailments is something that we can all stand behind.
When all is said and done, we encourage you to know your options and ask questions as they arise. Knowledge is power! We sincerely hope that your dog feels better soon.
Petal Smart is a veterinarian who, after a brief stint in clinical practice, has been a medical, veterinary, and science editor for the past four years. She has edited hundreds of research studies that have been published in various academic journals, and more recently, she has been editing blog articles on pet health. She holds a DVM (Hons) from the University of the West Indies - St. Augustine. Her pets in the past have included dogs, fish, birds, and a turtle. At times, she also likes to think of herself as a horse whisperer. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
*This article has been edited and updated for publication by Petal Smart, DVM.