Can I Euthanize My Dog With Tramadol?


Euthanizing your beloved fairy friend can be distressing, as a vet I see the anguishment many pet owners go through as the dreaded day arrives.

Sometimes, people will try and euthanize their dogs at home with self-prescribed drugs, such as tramadol. While I do not have anything against euthanizing your dog at home, using the incorrect drugs will cause further anguishment for you and your dog, and will prolong their pain.

Can I euthanize my dog with tramadol? No, Tramadol does not effectively euthanize a dog and should not be used for this purpose.  

Below I provide more information on Tramadol so you can fully understand why the drug is inefficient and why it shouldn’t be administered to end your dog’s life.

Will Tramadol Put A Dog To Sleep?

No, you cannot easily euthanize your dog with Tramadol.  

Tramadol is prescribed for pain and inflammation, and you would need an extremely large quantity of tablets to euthanize your dog.  

At these high dosages, your dog would have other side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, and even seizures. This is not something that anyone would want your furry friend to endure during their last few days of life.  

While Tramadol cannot effectively euthanize your dog, you can give your dog Tramadol to help with pain and inflammation. This will allow them to get through the night or weekend until your vet opens again. A typical dosage of Tramadol is 5 mg per kg (for example: for a 20-pound dog you would need one 50mg tablet 2 to 3 times a day).  If your dog is in severe pain, you can double this dosage, but you may start to see some side effects.  

Some people may feel guilty for euthanizing their dog and would want them to die naturally and peacefully at home. While the concept is beautiful the reality is that this can increase suffering and will give your dog a long and painful death.  

By euthanizing your pet, you are able to end their pain and suffering.  Many chronic diseases do reach a point where there is nothing that you or your vet can do to heal them, or to even make them feel comfortable. At this time it would be best for you to euthanize your dog.

Our “WHEN TO PUT A DOG DOWN” article, gives you guidance on what to look for to determine if their quality of life has deteriorated. This article will help you decide if the time to put your furry friend has arrived!

What Is Tramadol? 

Tramadol is an opioid that is commonly prescribed as a pain medication for dogs.  This medication will help decrease pain and inflammation in your dog.  It is commonly prescribed following major surgery or injury.  

This medication is a pill that you would give your dog 2 to 3 times a day, depending on their level of pain.

Tramadol has a high therapeutic index and is generally safe and well-tolerated in dogs. This is one reason why it is commonly prescribed. Other opioids such as morphine or fentanyl have a high level of abuse in human medicine and are rarely sent home with pet owners to administer. 

When determining if a medication will properly euthanize your dog, we look at the LD50.  LD50 is the dosage that will cause death in 50% of the test group. The oral administration of Tramadol to cause death 50% of rats in this study is 300 to 350 mg/kg.  (source: Pubmed.com).  

Because of that fatality percentage rate, you would have to double the dosage of the LD50 to effectively euthanize a pet. This would mean that you will have to give your dog hundreds of Tramadol tablets for it to be effective. At such a high dosage, you will see some horrendous side effects. This is something that no veterinarian would ever recommend. This is something we definitely do not recommend in doing. 

How Can I Get Tramadol?

Tramadol is a controlled substance and thus has to be prescribed. In fact, your vet can only prescribe your dog so much of this medication without getting into trouble with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).   

The reason Tramadol is monitored is because it can cause addictions in people. 

Side Effects of Using Tramadol in Dogs

The side effects of Tramadol in dogs when used in large quantities for a prolonged period of time are usually gastrointestinal and neurological issues.  Common issues that are seen in dogs are: 

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stumbling
  • Lethargic
  • Sedated
  • Not eating
  • Diarrhea 
  • Constipation after multiple dosages

In a high dosage, you may notice that your dog cannot stay awake.  They may also start having tremors or seizures and start to breathe very shallowly. 

If you are giving your dog Tramadol for pain and inflammation, and you notice any of these signs in your dog, it is best to get them to a vet right away.  Most of these signs can easily be treated if treatment is started early. 

What does tramadol do for dogs?

Tramadol is a commonly dispensed opioid for at-home management of pain and inflammation. This drug attaches to Mu receptors in your dog’s body. It is very commonly used to treat chronic pain like arthritis. At a normal dosage, Tramadol is very unlikely to show any unwanted side effects that are associated with the use of many other opioids. 

While this medication may not effectively euthanize your dog, it can be given to help decrease pain and inflammation while waiting for your vet to open again or while waiting for your vet appointment. 

How long does tramadol take to kick in?

If you give your dog Tramadol for pain, it can take a few hours for this to start to kick in. Usually, after 4 to 6 hours, you will notice that their pain subsides.

This is a medication that does need to build up in their system, so it may take a few days for this medication to completely eliminate your dog’s pain.  

Recent studies have shown that Tramadol alone, is not the best choice as a pain medication as dogs cannot effetely break down the drug into the active metabolite that is useful at preventing pain.  

This is why a multimodal approach to pain is used in veterinary medicine. A multimodal approach means that different classes of medications are used to help control pain. When these different classes are used, a lower dosage is needed, and therefore there are fewer side effects that your dog would have from taking these medications (source: Veterinary Practice News). 

At what point should you euthanize a dog?

When deciding if it is time to euthanize your dog, there is a quality of life scale that you can use to determine if the time has arrived. This scale looks at different aspects of your dog’s life:

  • Is your dog having more bad days than good days?
  • Is your dog eating and drinking normally?
  • Is your dog able to poop and pee normally?
  • Is your dog able to walk and move without being in pain?
  • Does your dog seem happy to see you when you come home?

After answering these few questions and looking at the quality of life scale, you will be able to tell if it is time to euthanize your dog. Your vet is also a great person to talk with when deciding if your dog needs to be put down.  Your vet can discuss the prognosis of any chronic disease that your dog may have and may be able to easily help you decide if it is time or not. 

Do dogs feel pain when they are put to sleep?

If you take your dog to the vet for euthanasia, they will not feel any pain or discomfort.  

During the process, your dog will feel the placement of the intravenous catheter, which is a needle stick, but the euthanasia procedure should be painless.  

Most pets pass away very peacefully when euthanized; they simply fall asleep.

The two steps most veterinarians follow are:

  • Step one – one idea behind humane euthanasia is that the pet is unconscious before death. For this, your dog will be given a strong sedative, which will render him or her unconscious. Some veterinarians will place an intravenous catheter in a vein, usually the front leg. This is the same type of catheter that is used to administer medications or fluids to humans. The catheter allows access to the vein, to administer medications so that multiple needle sticks are avoided. Other veterinarians will administer the sedative without a catheter by directly injecting the dog in the back leg muscle. The sedative will take about 5 to 10 minutes to take effect fully. During this time your dog will be able to hear you, see you, and feel you pet him until he is asleep. 
  • Step two – once your dog is unconscious, the veterinarian will euthanize him/her by administering the euthanasia drug call Pentobarbital. The drug takes effect very rapidly. Typically, by the time the final bit of the medicine is pushed through the syringe, the pet is deceased.  

It is worth noting that dogs may twitch, pass urine or faces, or even gasp after death. Although disturbing, it is all-natural and your pet is not in pain or in distress when or if this happens.

Some circumstances require different protocols for euthanasia. 

Aggressive dogs may require different types of sedatives that are injected into the muscle.

In other cases, old, small, or dehydrated pets may have poor quality veins. Therefore Intravenous catheter placement may be difficult. In this instance, the sedative may be administered via gas instead of an injection.

In some of these circumstances, it may not be possible for you to be present during the procedure.  

Conclusion

Tramadol is a commonly prescribed medication to aid dogs for pain and inflammation.  While it cannot effectively euthanize your dog, it can be given to decrease any pain that they are experiencing until you can get them to your vet for euthanasia. This is one medication that can be given for a very long time without any unwanted side effects.  Even though there are studies that show that this medication is not the best when given alone, it is commonly prescribed with other pain medications to help your dog live as pain-free for as long as possible. 

Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM

Raised in Calhoun, LA, Sara attended Louisiana Tech for her undergraduate school, and afterwards St. George University to complete veterinary school. After veterinary school Dr. Ochoa moved to east Texas to work in a small animal an exotic veterinarian. She lives happily with her husband Greg and her babies Ruby the schnoodle, Monkey the tortoise and Oliver James “OJ” the cat. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world with her husband, baking, and taking Ruby shopping.

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