Tramadol (Ultram)

(Pain medication)
By Dr. Karen Burgess

Brand name and formulations

  • Ultram and generic
  • Tablets

What is tramadol used for?
Tramadol is used for the treatment of pain in dogs and cats. It is also commonly prescribed after surgery and to treat general signs of arthritis. Tramadol may also assist in cough management.

What is tramadol?
Tramadol is an opiate that blocks the sensation of pain centrally, or in the brain. Opiates are known for providing pain relief and euphoria but on the negative side, they can also lead to dependency, depression of the respiratory system and hallucinations. Tramadol is more selective for receptors that tend to minimize these negative effects while still providing pain relief. Similar to its close relative morphine, tramadol is a controlled substance and can have addictive tendencies in people. This dependency issue is not considered a major issue in pets. If children are in the household or any one with known addiction issues, extra care in the storing of tramadol location may be necessary (ex. locked safe).

How is tramadol given and what if a dose is missed?
Tramadol is prescribed to be used up to every six hours. The safe dose range is quite wide and therefore the latitude in dosing interval. If a dose is missed, go ahead and give the missed dose. Use should not be abruptly stopped if tramadol has been used for a long period.

What side effects are associated with tramadol?
The most common side effect of tramadol is lethargy or depression. Gastrointestinal side effects including vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and loss of appetite may also occur. Dilated pupils may also be noted. Often these signs will improve over time.

What drugs should not be given with tramadol?
Caution should be used when using tramadol in conjunction with other medications that may cause depression such as antidepressants. L-Deprenyl, SAMe, and amitraz should not be used along with tramadol.

What pets should not take tramadol?
Dogs with a history of seizures should be cautious in their use of tramadol. Pets with liver or kidney disease may require lower doses.

What follow up is necessary with tramadol use?
Dosing is variable for tramadol, if benefits are not observed at a particular dose, consult with Dr. Burgess for further recommendations.