Tramadol (brand name Ultram) is given to dogs for moderate to severe pain after surgery, or for chronic conditions like cancer and arthritis. It is well tolerated by most dogs and does not carry the same risk of kidney or liver damage as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.) However, it is a mild narcotic and dog owners should be aware of potential side effects.
Tramadol fills the gap between NSAIDs and much stronger opiate pain medications like fentanyl. It works by blocking some of the brain's pain receptors and although it is classified as narcotic, sedation effects tend to be fleeting and mild, and it is not considered an addictive drug.
It can be used for short-term pain control, or used for long-term management of chronic conditions. It is given two or three times a day.
Mild Side Effects
A dog may have mild side effects for the first one to three days of tramadol use. These include an upset stomach and temporary loss of appetite. Tramadol may be slightly sedating at first, and you will notice your dog sleeping more and his heart rate may slow down. It makes some dogs a little anxious and they will pant and have constricted pupils. (Essentially, they are mildly stoned.) Constipation on tramadol is occasionally reported, according to staff at the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.
Dealing With Mild Side Effects
If your dog has been prescribed tramadol for post-operative pain, let him be as sleepy and sedated as he wants. Make sure he has a comfortable place to rest and heal. Don't worry if he refuses a meal or two, but try to get him to drink some water. Mixing up some low-sodium meat broth, or mixing canned dog food with water, will tempt him to drink. Being properly hydrated will also help prevent constipation.
Potentially Serious Side Effects
If your dog becomes extremely agitated or acts very uncharacteristically, call your vet right away. Also seek help if your dog has seizures, or if you notice very constricted, pinpoint pupils.
Allergic reactions can include swelling and intense itching, sudden diarrhoea or vomiting, pale gums, cold limbs and a coma-like state. Consider any of these a veterinary emergency and take your dog to the nearest emergency clinic.
Tramadol may be safely given with many other drugs, including NSAIDs and most supplements for controlling joint pain, like glucosamine and chrondroitin.
It cannot be given with deprenyl (for treatment of Cushings disease or senility), or any of the antidepressants used for dogs. When given with amitraz (used to treat fleas and demodectic mange) tramadol's sedating effect may be amplified. Make sure your veterinarian is aware of any other supplements or medications your dog is taking, including over-the-counter medications.