If your vet has recently prescribed tramadol for your pet then you might be wondering why this particular drug was chosen. Sometimes there’s so much information and other things to talk about at your pet’s consultation that you might have forgotten to ask questions about the medication. Hopefully, this article will cover most of what you need to know. But you should always contact your vet if you have any concerns at all.

What is tramadol?

Tramadol is an analgesic (painkilling) drug used in humans, which has gained popularity in veterinary medicine in recent years. Vets are always looking for alternative forms of pain relief medication for their patients, to create a multi-modal approach. The evidence so far is that tramadol should not be used as a sole medication for pain. But instead should be used in combination with other pain-relieving drugs.

How does it work?

According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, tramadol is a synthetic codeine analogue, acting as a (very) weak mu-opioid receptor agonist (like a weaker version of codeine). As well as its direct pain-relieving properties, however, it inhibits neuronal reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin, increasing the levels of these chemicals in the body. This can lead to an increased feel-good factor and even feelings of euphoria. In most dogs, these are the main effects it has.

The effects of tramadol are variable in different patients though. In some dogs, the drug may have little or no benefit, whereas in others it can be quite helpful. This is thought to be due to individual differences in the way the drug is metabolised.

Tramadol has some advantages though. It is thought to have quite a wide-safety margin and minimal side effects compared to some other pain-relieving drugs.

How is it administered?

Tramadol is usually given in tablet form, by mouth or with food. It can be given every 8 hours or as needed, depending on pain levels. Your vet will discuss the dosing regime with you further, depending on your pet’s individual needs.

Tramadol is a prescription only medicine, which means a vet needs to recommend its use for your pet. It is also a Schedule 3 controlled drug which means your veterinary practice will keep careful records about the amount they prescribe, and they are limited as to how many tablets they can dispense to you in one go. You should never give your dog your own tramadol as your vet will need to carefully work out doses, and tailor the medication to your dog’s specific health complaint. You might risk overdosing your pet by giving your own tablets. And of course, you should never take your dog’s medication yourself.

What is it used for?

Tramadol is best given alongside other pain-relieving drugs but can be used to treat a number of conditions. It can be used for both acute and chronic soft tissue and musculoskeletal pain, including osteoarthritis pain, recovery from surgery (postoperative pain) and cancer, amongst other things. It is often used alongside other drugs that have different mechanisms of action, such as anti-inflammatory medications.

Does tramadol have any side effects?

All medications have side effects, and whilst tramadol is relatively low risk there are still some possible adverse effects. A common side effect of tramadol is mild sedation and drowsiness, especially at high doses. Nausea and vomiting are seen in a small percentage of animals, but this is relatively uncommon. In very rare cases allergic reactions may occur.

The medication should not be used in animals with epilepsy, as it can lower the seizure threshold making it more likely for these animals to have a fit. Care should also be taken in animals that have liver or kidney issues as it can affect how well the drug is metabolised and excreted.

If your pet overdoses on this medication, then contact your veterinarian straight away for advice.

Are there any drug interactions to be aware of?

Care needs to be taken with dogs taking selegiline which is a drug used to treat canine cognitive dysfunction, some behavioural issues, and some types of Cushing’s disease. This drug is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOIs) which shouldn’t be given alongside tramadol. Dogs that are on antidepressant type medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like fluoxetine, are also more at risk of side effects if they take tramadol alongside, so it is best avoided.

For more information have a look at the datasheet for the licensed version of tramadol here.


Tramadol is used to treat a variety of painful conditions with relatively low associated side effects. However, its effectiveness is variable in different patients, and it is often used alongside other pain-relieving medications. This means you will need to work closely with your vet to tailor dosing and understand if it is helpful to your dog. Hopefully, this article has helped broaden your understanding of tramadol, but don’t hesitate to contact your vet if you still have any questions.

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