Posted by Pet Honesty on

Side Effects of Tramadol for Dogs

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While you may be the best dog owner in the world, feeding your furry friend a nutritious diet, giving him a daily dog digestive supplement, and taking him out for daily walks, sometimes accidents are unavoidable. Whether your dog has had a major injury or has been diagnosed with a painful condition, your vet will need to prescribe him discomfort medication to make him more comfortable during this difficult time. 

If your dog has ever undergone surgery, then chances are he was sent home with Tramadol. Tramadol is an opioid-based painkiller, which means its primary function is to block receptors in the brain. Unlike an anti-inflammatory, i.e., ibuprofen for humans and Carprofen for dogs, Tramadol doesn’t stimulate recovery in muscles or joints, it just works to dull chronic discomfort and make your four-legged companion more comfortable. 

Is Tramadol for dogs safe?

Tramadol is one of the few painkillers where the medication given to dogs, and according to Dog Time, is precisely the same chemical composition as the medication given to humans. Mostly, the medicine your dog takes is similar to the medicines you take, but with slight alterations in chemical structure that make it safe for a dog’s liver to digest. 

For example, Carprofen is a dog-friendly anti-inflammatory that is similar to ibuprofen, but it has its differences. Because Tramadol does not target the affected area directly, it will often be prescribed in addition to an anti-inflammatory, which will stimulate muscle and joint recovery. 

How does Tramadol work?

According to the American Kennel Club, Tramadol works by preventing the brain from feeling discomfort as it usually would. For example, if your dog had surgery and came home with abdominal discomfort, on a scale of one to ten, that discomfort may register with him as an eight. However, when on Tramadol, the receptors are blocked, turning that severe discomfort of an eight into a four. For example, if your dog was diagnosed with kidney issues, arthritis, intervertebral disc problems, or any other painful condition, Tramadol is a common medication that your vet may prescribe to reduce his symptoms.

How does Tramadol affect my dog’s brain?

When Tramadol breaks down and enters the bloodstream, it begins to work with two chemicals called serotonin and norepinephrine. These chemicals regulate how your body feels and interact with the sensation of chronic discomfort.

Essentially you can think of norepinephrine as your body’s fight or flight chemical. After norepinephrine leaves the brain and enters the bloodstream, it travels around the body picking up signals from neuroreceptors about things like discomfort and fatigue. While it would typically return to the brain with the collected intel, Veterinary Practice News tells us that Tramadol blocks norepinephrine from returning to the brain. 

This signals the brain to continue sending small doses of norepinephrine to keep the body moving. The body is being told by the brain to be active and move through the severe discomfort, but the brain never receives the information that the movement is painful. As a result, the mind believes that the body is in less discomfort than it really is. 

Why does my dog seem a little loopy?

Excess levels of norepinephrine in the blood signal the body to release serotonin, which is a natural neurological compound that creates a feeling of euphoria. According to 1800 Pet Meds, the increase of norepinephrine and serotonin in the bloodstream are what creates the euphoric feeling that comes as a result of taking Tramadol. 

What is Tramadol used for? 

Tramadol has a wide variety of uses, which according to, range from small doses to assist with dull discomfort like joint stiffness, to managing acute discomfort like the kind experienced when recovering from surgery.  Tramadol for arthritis in dogs is also commonly used to reduce discomfort and other symptoms associated with this ailment. While Tramadol can be a very effective management approach, it is still highly advised to use with caution to avoid a tramadol overdose. Some of the most common uses for Tramadol are as follows:

  • Severe Nerve Discomfort
  • Broken bones or sprained joints
  • Degenerative joint issues
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Post-surgical discomfort
  • Cancer
  • Back discomfort

A dose of Tramadol is not a cure-all, and for all its benefits in symptom management, it also comes with some risk. Classified as a schedule four controlled substance, this discomfort reliever is a carefully monitored narcotic that can be dangerous if administered incorrectly or abused. The drug is not prescribed frivolously and is controlled by your vet and the accompanying pharmacy to prevent abuse on the part of the owner. As the dog owner, it is your duty to be very careful when administering the Tramadol dosage to your pet. Some of the side effects most commonly associated withTramadol include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness and stumbling
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Upset Stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

These Tramadol for dogs side effects are typical and can range in severity, but additional side effects that may indicate a Tramadol overdose may include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Uncontrolled movement and muscle spasms
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Severely low heart rate
  • Slow, shallow breath 

Is Tramadol Bad for Dogs?

If you fear your dog has suffered an overdose, call your vet and get your pet help immediately. Your vet will establish the correct Tramadol dosage for your dog before the medication is given to you. Do not try to alter the dose prescribed to your dog without first consulting your vet. 

Tramadol can be a great resource in your dog’s recovery process for acute discomfort or post-operative discomfort, but due to its volatile nature, it can be hit or miss. As a dog owner, one of your greatest assets is your understanding of your dog’s behavior and your intuition regarding when something is wrong. Whenever you give your dog a new medication, monitor how he responds and keep an open line of communication between you and your vet throughout the recovery process. Your dog’s health needs to be your number one priority. While Tramadol can provide discomfort relief for our loving companion, it should still be taken with complete caution. 


Camille Arneberg and her dog

Camille is a co-founder of Pet Honesty and VP of Pup Parent Education. After watching her own family dog suffer from joint issues for years she became passionate about improving dogs' quality of life. With the help of a team of veterinarians and dog nutritionists she now helps educate other dog owners about the small but powerful things they can do to positively impact their dogs' health and wellness! She lives in Austin, TX and loves cuddling puppies, being outside and reading.