Tramadol for Osteoarthritis

Improvements were noted at the 2 mg/kg dose, given twice daily

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Bony or osteo arthritis can be painful. While cats often hide pain well, with the use of pain medications owners often see a dramatic improvement in their cats’ mobility and quality of life. Many pain medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are not metabolized well by cats and can even be deadly.

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid that was evaluated in a study at the University of California at Davis. The goal was to determine if long-term tramadol therapy can be safely used for arthritis pain in cats. The side effects of tramadol can include sedation, abnormal mental status, and diarrhea. Behavioral effects ranged from euphoria (happy cats) to dysphoria (sad or upset cats). Varying dosages were looked at to maximize positive effects and minimize side effects.

The study included 17 cats over 10 years of age. The cats had to have radiographic (X-ray-based) proof of osteoarthritis and not be on any confounding medications or supplements. Three dose levels were evaluated: 4 mg/kg, 2 mg/kg, and 1 mg/kg. Cats were treated for five consecutive days then had two days off. Cats wore activity-count collars during the study for an objective measurement of activity. The study covered five weeks of treatment.

As expected, more cats had side effects with the 4 mg/kg and 2 mg/kg doses. However, at the 2 mg/kg dose, given twice daily, the cats showed definite improvements in mobility and corresponding improvements in quality of life. This study suggests that tramadol might be an option to consider for geriatric cats with arthritis pain.

Journal of Veterinary Medicine Association (JAVMA), March 1, 2018