MAF study finds tramadol ineffective against osteoarthritis in dogs

Results showed no improvement when administered compared to either baseline or placebo

A report funded by the Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) out of the University of Georgia has found tramadol to be ineffective in alleviating signs of pain associated with osteoarthritis in dogs.

“The data shows conclusively that tramadol is not an effective drug in treating the pain associated with arthritis in the dog, despite its common recommendation,” said Steven Budsberg, DVM, BS, MS, DACVS, professor of surgery/director of clinical research at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. “This use of tramadol is a classic example of failing to acknowledge and control for bias when evaluating a potential treatment.”

The reported data was collected by Dr. Budsberg and his research team via a randomized, blinded, placebo, and positive-controlled crossover study. The group compared tramadol against both placebo and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, with dogs afflicted with osteoarthritis of the elbow or knee assigned to receive each of three treatments in a random order and each treatment arm lasting for 10 days. Improvement was measured using a variety of tests to evaluate the patient’s gait and pain.

The results showed no improvement when tramadol was administered compared to either baseline or placebo.

“This study reinforces the need to carefully and systematically evaluate a pain medication’s effectiveness before it becomes commonly prescribed, no matter what the species,” said Kelly Diehl, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM), senior scientific programs and communications adviser at MAF.

The results have been published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.


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4 thoughts on “MAF study finds tramadol ineffective against osteoarthritis in dogs

  1. I think we should be cautious to eliminate tramadol from our list of pain relievers for dogs with osteoarthritis based on this study. The study only looked at tramadol as a single agent pain reliever, not in combination with NDAIDS or steroids. I think it is possible that much like codeine is a poor pain reliever on its own, but a much more potent pain reliever when combined with acetaminophen, tramadol may have a similar adjunctive benefit when combined with other types of pain relievers and/or antiinflammatories.

      1. Polypharmacy is well reported to be more effective in the management of both human and animal osteoarthritis, as Dawn states tramadol is rarely ever used alone. Hence, the study really doesn’t support how it is used in clinical studies. I’m also not sure this is an ethical study – an animal is in pain and given a placebo???? Was it double blinded or only owner blinded? (Can’t access the full paper).

  2. It’s also worth noting that the Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) is partnered with Zoetis, the makers of the oft prescribed NSAID, Rimadyl. The clear and significant conflict of interest completely destroys the credibility of the study; further research needs to be done on this subject.