Tramadol for cats is an artificial opioid (narcotic-like) pain medication that is not currently subject to DEA regulations for controlled narcotics, though it still requires a prescription to obtain. A debate has been underway for a long time whether tramadol for cats is effective against acute and chronic pain. The final verdict is that its use is considered “off-label” for animals, not officially approved for use in veterinary medicine, but found to be effective. It is one of the most common pain relief medications in use for cats.
Tramadol for cats is available in tablets or capsules for oral administration, or can be compounded as a flavored liquid for cats who are unwilling or unable to take solid medication. The cost of 30 generic 50 mg tablets averages $17 but can range up to around $150 for the brand version (Ultram). The cost of liquid that is specially compounded can vary depending on where it is mixed. It will typically be more expensive than tablets or capsules.
Regardless of the preparation of the medication given, the dose of tramadol for the chronic pain of OA is generally:
For reduction of acute pain post-surgery or injury, the dose may vary; give it to your cat as it has been prescribed by your veterinarian.
Because cats are typically unwilling to tolerate the bitter taste of tramadol for cats in pill form, liquid preparation may be best (Check this guide on how to give liquid medications to cats!). It can be mixed with palatable flavorings. The oral syringe with the correct dose is placed at the back of the tongue and the medication is squirted onto the tongue. If the cat spits out some of the drug, do not give more; wait until the next scheduled dose, 10 to 12 hours later. Do not give extra doses or double up on dosage.
Tramadol for cats can be taken with or without food. If giving the liquid form, be sure to measure the dose carefully. For resistant cats, try wrapping them in a towel and/or seeking help to keep the cat still.
Tramadol has been shown in a clinical study to be effective in the relief of acute and chronic pain in cats. Twenty cats underwent a physical exam, bloodwork and full-body X-rays prior to the study’s start. They were given appropriate doses of tramadol, then re-tested. Results concluded that increased mobility showed the cats experienced pain relief and fewer signs of distress. No adverse effects were noted. The pain relief occurred quickly, at about 1 to 2 hours after administration in acute pain. For chronic pain such as the type that accompanies OA, the full effect may take a few weeks.
Side Effects of Tramadol for Cats
Cats taking tramadol may experience side effects, including:
- Uneasiness or agitation
Tramadol for cats (Ultram, ConZip, Durela, Ralivia, Rybix, Ryzolt, Tridural, Zytram) is known to have undesirable interactions with the following medications:
- Azole fungidicals (fluconazole, itraconazole, econazole, terconazole, butoconazole, tioconazole)
- Stomach acid reducers (cimetidine, metoclopramide)
- Antihistamines (cyproheptadine)
- Antiarrhythmics (digoxin, quinidine)
- Anesthetics (ketamine sevoflurane)
- MAO inhibitors (isocarboxazid, phenelzine, selegiline, tranylcypromine)
- Anti-nausea drugs (ondansetron)
- Opioids (oxycontin, fentanyl)
- Some dietary supplements (SAMe)
- SSRI and tricyclic antidepressants (citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, amitriptyline)
- Anticoagulants (warfarin)
Allergic reactions and hypersensitivity
Cats who have shown an allergy or sensitivity to opioids should not receive tramadol. Adverse effects from an overdose include: seizures, lack of coordination, extreme sleepiness, agitation, and rapid heart rate. Cats exhibiting these signs should be taken to the hospital immediately.
Tramadol should be used with caution in cats with seizure disorders, liver or kidney disease, who are old or debilitated, are pregnant, or lactating. These conditions may have a dangerous effect on how the medication works in your cat.
Never give tramadol with acetaminophen (Ultracet) because acetaminophen is very toxic to cats.
Frequently asked questions
How long will my cat be taking tramadol?
Length of treatment will depend on the reason it is being given. For post-surgical pain, or pain resulting from an injury, the length of time may be from a few days up to a week. Chronic pain sufferers will likely be taking tramadol long-term over a period of months. Always follow your veterinarian’s advice on how long to give the medication to your cat.
How do I store tramadol for cats?
It’s best to store it at around 77°F, although it will tolerate temperatures from 59F to 86F for short periods. Extreme heat and cold should be avoided, and the liquid form of tramadol may need to be refrigerated. The bottle should be kept away from moisture and light as well.
What if I miss a dose of tramadol for my cat?
If it is near the time of the missed dose, give it as soon as you realize it was missed. If it is close to the time the next dose is due, just give the next dose. Do not double up on doses with this medication.
What do I do in case of an emergency?
If you believe your cat is allergic or sensitive to tramadol, contact your vet immediately. If you suspect an overdose, get them to a veterinary hospital. See the signs of these conditions, above.