OBJECTIVE-To determine the thermal antinociceptive effect of oral administration of tramadol hydrochloride at doses between 0.5 and 4 mg/kg in cats. ANIMALS-6 healthy adult domestic shorthair cats. PROCEDURES-Baseline (before drug administration; time 0) thermal threshold was determined by applying a thermal probe to the thorax of each cat. Tramadol (0.5, 1, 2, 3, or 4 mg/kg) or a placebo was then administered orally in accordance with a Latin square design. Thermal threshold was determined by an observer who was unaware of treatment at various times until thermal threshold returned to baseline values or 6 hours had elapsed. Plasma tramadol and O-desmethyl-tramadol concentrations were measured prior to drug administration and at 1-hour intervals thereafter. Effect-concentration data were fitted to effect maximum models. RESULTS-Highest plasma tramadol and O-desmethyl-tramadol concentrations increased with increasing tramadol dose. Significant effects of dose and time on thermal threshold were detected. Thermal threshold was significantly higher than the baseline value at 80 and 120 minutes for the 0.5 mg/kg dose, at 80 and from 120 to 360 minutes for the 2 mg/kg dose, from 40 to 360 minutes for the 3 mg/kg dose, and from 60 to 360 minutes for the 4 mg/kg dose. CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE-Tramadol induced thermal antinociception in cats. Doses of 2 to 4 mg/kg appeared necessary for induction of significant and sustained analgesic effects. Simulations predicted that 4 mg/kg every 6 hours would maintain analgesia close to the maximum effect of tramadol.