This is a synthetic opiate that is often prescribed for analgesia (pain control) in the dog. The FDA has classified this drug as a “controlled” substance. In my experience, this medication creates more problems than it helps.
The dog does not have the pain receptors that this drug affects, making it a poor choice for pain control. Even more importantly, it appears to be an addictive substance, a fact that is completely overlooked and not even addressed by the veterinary community. In moderate and higher doses, it causes dysphoria (unease, crying, barking, inability to get comfortable) that owners attribute to pain. Often more Tramadol is recommended by the patient’s veterinarian or given by the owner, making the dysphoria worse.
Dogs that have been on Tramadol for extended periods seem to reach a point where the addiction takes over. They become agitated and weak if not given the medication at the appropriate intervals. Many of these patients have been incorrectly diagnosed with arthritis when the problem is really neurologic in its presentation. The owner reports that their pet is having difficulty getting up and squatting to urinate or have a bowel movement. The animal is then put on Tramadol for pain when pain, in fact, may not be present.
We as pet owners and veterinarians never want an animal to be in pain. Prescribing analgesic medication is an important consideration. As an “end of life” consultant, I have to deal with many concerns that owners have for their pets. One of the most common problems I am called for is loss of function to the rear legs. This is a graduated problem that pet owners deal with until the animal cannot get up at all. That is when I am called. It is especially concerning when the owner reports that the dog is crying all the time and can’t get comfortable. In many of these cases, the animal is on a high dose of Tramadol and has been on the drug for an extended period of time. Once the Tramadol dose is decreased, the animal is much more comfortable and is often able to get up and walk with help.
At a recent veterinary conference, several discussions on “pain control” discounted Tramadol as a poor choice for analgesia and one classified the drug as “not recommended for use in the dog.” My experience indicates that both of the above statements are true and I would strongly recommend that if your pet is on Tramadol, you consider stopping the medication. It may be causing some of the symptoms you are concerned with
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions about Tramadol or any other concerns.
Recent studies have confirmed that Tramadol does nothing to alleviate pain in the dog. Following is a clinical study in regard to Tramadol and its ineffectiveness for pain mitigation in the dog:
Oral Tramadol failed as a single agent or offered no advantage to other medications: Railland 2012, Davila 2013, Flôr 2013, Delgado 2014, Benitez 2015, Budsberg 2017. The Budsberg one, most recent and with regards to OA, can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/term=budsberg+tramadol+dog
AAHA recommends not using opiates in the dog and also states that Tramadol is not effective in pain relief. https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2019-10/prescribing-oral-opioids-for-dogs-probably-doesnt-help-themand-could-hurt-their-owners/