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Pets

Experts: Oral opioids for dogs don’t help them

With their colleagues, veterinary clinical medicine professors, from left, Dr. Ashley Mitek, Dr. Stephanie Keating and Dr. Maureen McMichael, developed an online pain management training program for veterinarians.
With their colleagues, veterinary clinical medicine professors, from left, Dr. Ashley Mitek, Dr. Stephanie Keating and Dr. Maureen McMichael, developed an online pain management training program for veterinarians.

Sending ailing dogs home with oral opioids may not be an effective way to manage their pain, experts report in a free, online continuing education program recently developed for veterinarians.

With growing evidence such drugs don’t work well in dogs – along with the fact that humans sometimes abuse opioids prescribed for pets – the common practice of prescribing oral opioids for dogs in pain should be reexamined.

“We have lots of good evidence that dogs respond favorably to injectable opioids,” Dr. Stephanie Keating, University of Illinois veterinary anesthesiologist. management expert inveterinary clinical medicine and a co-creator of the program, said in a news release from the University of Illinois. “But the same is not true for the opioid tramadol when given orally.”

Many veterinarians routinely prescribe this drug in pill form for dogs when they leave the hospital after surgery or other traumatic events. But the way dogs absorb and metabolize oral tramadol may hinder the drug’s pain-reducing effects, Keating said in the release.

"For years, we assumed that since tramadol worked in people, it would also work in dogs,” Keating said in the news release. “It’s inexpensive, it’s easy to prescribe and so it became commonplace.”

But research suggests dogs don’t benefit from the oral versions of the drugs the way people do, she said in the release.

“Now that we’re getting more evidence, we’re thinking, ‘Wow, it doesn’t seem to be very effective and there’s an opioid crisis. Maybe we should reconsider this.’ ”

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