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All About Gabapentin for Dogs: Safety, Uses, and Risks

Old Labrador Retriever with discomfort lays on floor looking sad

Gabapentin, a common anticonvulsant drug, has numerous uses for both humans and pets and is commonly used in dogs. It is a fast-acting medication with nervous system dampening properties. Particularly in conjunction with other medications, gabapentin is thought to be an effective treatment strategy for many pups suffering from seizures and chronic nerve pain. 

Table of contents 

What is Gabapentin? 

If your dog has ever been prescribed gabapentin, you may recognize it by common brand names Neurontin®, Aclonium®, Equipax®, Gantin®, Gabarone®, Gralise®, Neurostil®, or Progresse®. Falling under the anticonvulsant class of drugs, gabapentin is a structural analog of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), according to the Veterinary Information Network (VIN). It is considered a calcium channel blocker and is often used to inhibit neurons stimulated by pain. 

Gabapentin can be used alongside other medications to treat seizures; but more often it is used to alleviate chronic nerve pain. In some cases, Today’s Veterinary Practice (TVP) notes that veterinarians also prescribe gabapentin to treat anxiety in dogs and cats. These uses are considered ‘off label,’ meaning that while the drug is not approved for certain uses, veterinarians have success treating patients with these conditions. Gabapentin is thought to specifically address neuropathic pain, and is also a nonopioid drug, making it an attractive option for many pets. 

What is gabapentin used to treat? 

A primary use of gabapentin is in the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain, which we would recognize as the burning and tingling sensations that come from damaged nerves. In dogs, neuropathic pain can stem from issues like extruded discs and nerve injuries. When used together with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids like methadone and tramadol, gabapentin may boost their efficacy. This may allow for lowering NSAID and opioid doses. This is important, considering that long-term use of both NSAIDs and opioids is associated with severe side effects. 

Seizures are the most common neurological disorder in dogs. Depending on the underlying cause, they can be hard to manage. Unfortunately, traditional anti-seizure drugs are often linked to adverse reactions. Gabapentin decreases the release of excitatory neurotransmitters, quieting the nervous system and effectively acting as a specific nervous system dampener. With this, gabapentin is sometimes used as an add-on treatment to manage seizures. 

Gabapentin can also be used for anxiety relief in pets, according to DVM360. For humans, gabapentin is prescribed for patients with issues like social anxiety and panic disorder. Although less traditional, gabapentin has become increasingly popular for addressing both generalized and situational anxiety in pets. DVM360 notes that veterinarians may recommend dogs take gabapentin for generalized anxiety, impulsivity, phobias and panic disorders, and compulsive disorders. 

The various dosing protocols for gabapentin are generally different depending on which issue the drug is intended to address. Anti-seizure doses tend to be higher and more frequent than those for anxiety and pain. 

How is gabapentin administered? 

Gabapentin must be prescribed by a veterinary professional and should always be used under vet supervision and guidance. The medication can be administered by mouth in the form of a capsule, tablet, or compounded liquid. As previously mentioned, gabapentin is a fast-acting drug, taking effect in as little as one to two hours. 

While the best time to give your pet gabapentin is immediately before mealtime, it can be delivered with or without food, according to Veterinarians.org. It’s possible for pets to vomit after receiving gabapentin. If your dog throws up the medication on an empty stomach, try giving future doses with food or a treat. 

Gabapentin’s maximum effect becomes apparent after consistent use for between seven and 10 days, notes VIN. Therefore, it is not recommended for owners to ask their vet for a dosage modification before this timeframe.  

Potential side effects 

Gabapentin is both effective and does not have any serious safety issues, according to VIN. The primary side effect of gabapentin therapy in dogs and cats is sedation and lethargy. Additionally, owners commonly report their dog experiencing ataxia, or loss of coordination, resulting in stumbled walking, swaying, and or head tilting. These side effects are temporary and typically will likely resolve within a few hours, assures TVP. They are also generally dose-related and can be alleviated by reducing your dog’s dose. 

It is important to note that gabapentin can also cause false positive readings on urinary protein tests. Veterinary experts from Today’s Veterinary Practice warn that this can impact testing for kidney disease, bladder infections, and other conditions. 

Risk factors 

It is important for pet parents to be aware of potentially dangerous risks associated with the use of gabapentin for dogs. It is important to closely follow the guidance of a veterinarian when giving your pup this medication. Dog owners should be careful not to give their pups the oral liquid form of gabapentin made for humans. This product often contains xylitol, a sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs and can cause a potentially fatal drop in blood sugar. 

Gabapentin should not be used in dogs who are allergic to the active ingredient or those who are receiving other medications with known drug interactions. It should be used with caution in dogs with kidney disease or liver problems, young puppies, and pregnant or lactating female dogs. 

Gabapentin should not be stopped abruptly in pets with epilepsy. If gabapentin administration is halted too quickly in these dogs, they can suffer withdrawal seizures. If your dog has been on gabapentin for a long time it is advised to slowly taper off the medication if you need to discontinue use.  

Interactions with Gabapentin 

When taken at the same time as gabapentin, common antacids such as Pepcid and Prilosec can hinder the absorption of gabapentin, Veterinarians.org warns. If your dog is receiving an antacid, be sure to administer the two medications separately, at least two hours apart from one another.  

Dog owners should also keep in mind that gabapentin should not be taken concurrently with hydrocodone and morphine. According to TVP, these two narcotics will increase the effectiveness and side effects of gabapentin, while gabapentin may decrease the effectiveness of hydrocodone and morphine. 

What about supplements? 

Pet parents concerned about giving their dog this medication or those who prefer a supplement should ask their veterinarian about supplements that can be effective in providing support for these issues. 

Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources. This information is intended as an educational resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care. 

The ElleVet Team
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