If you’ve got a dog that often suffers with seizures, or they’re really struggling with persistent pain, your vet might see it fit to prescribe them with a medication called gabapentin. Initially, gabapentin was solely used for treatment in humans, but in recent years its pain-relieving abilities have stretched to the canine population too.
If your pet has been prescribed gabapentin, it’s a good idea to get yourself clued up on the medication. We’ve got a full guide here for you, all about giving gabapentin to your dog, what the drug actually is, what it’s used for, its side effects and if it’s definitely safe for use in both humans and hounds.
Technically, gabapentin is classified as an ‘off-label’ drug in the veterinary world, meaning that the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) hasn’t yet approved it for use in dogs. At the moment, it’s still classed as a human medication, but it’s widely approved by vets, agreed by many to be safe with minimal negative side effects. It can be incredibly effective as a pain relief drug and/or as an anti-convulsant for epileptic dogs. Therefore, it’s being used more and more to treat members of the canine population, with successful results.
The science behind why gabapentin works isn’t fully understood, but the general consensus is that the drug impedes a neurotransmitter from being released, which in turn reduces how much a dog can distinguish pain.
Gabapentin has multiple uses, predominantly for pain relief purposes and preventing epileptic fits.
Predominantly, gabapentin is prescribed to dogs as an analgesic (a drug utilised for pain relief), helping to alleviate chronic pain and neuropathic pain, which is pain triggered by an abnormality in the nervous system.
A vet might prescribe it to dogs suffering from degenerative joint issues, such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, and pain caused from various strains of cancer. It’s commonly seen to be super effective when used in conjunction with other pain relief medications, working together to enhance the pain-relieving effects. Most likely, these drugs will be NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). It can also be prescribed before surgery to lessen the post-op pain.
Gabapentin is reported to have excellent anticonvulsant properties, so vets often prescribe it to dogs suffering with epilepsy. Sometimes gabapentin will be used simultaneously with other antiepileptic drugs, or totally on its own depending on how successful their current medication plan is going.
Although pain relief and seizure prevention are the more traditional uses of gabapentin, the drug is becoming more widespread as an anxiety medication. It’s usually given to pets that stress out in specific situations, such as a vet visit.
Here we’re going to give you a general overview of the typical dosages of gabapentin, but ensure you go from whatever your vet recommends. Every dog will need different dosages and forms of gabapentin.
Your dog’s dosage will depend on various things, such as what condition they’re being treated for and their size. A smaller dog will need a smaller dosage. Gabapentin medication can come in tablets and capsules, usually 100mg or 300mg in size. These can be given with or without food, but most dogs will be more likely to take a tablet if it’s disguised with something tasty.
There’s also an oral solution of gabapentin, but this is often made with xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar substitute that you’ll often find in lots of human products, such as sugar-free chewing gum, desserts, toothpaste, and even shaving cream. Unfortunately, xylitol is extremely dangerous for dogs, acting almost instantly as a type of poison. We've got a full post for you to check out all about xylitol poisoning and its impact. It’s unlikely that the oral form of gabapentin will be recommended for your dog due to its common inclusion of xylitol.
The effects of gabapentin should start to take effect relatively quickly, your dog will probably begin to feel soothed from pain within about an hour of taking it. It’s classed as a short acting drug, which means that its effects will only last up to 24 hours.
Side effects from gabapentin are usually mild, sometimes even totally non-existent. The most frequently reported outcome of dogs taking gabapentin is drowsiness. This level of sedation can vary drastically from dog to dog, one dog might only be a tiny bit more sleepy than normal, whereas there will be others that are totally knocked out tired. Incoordination, bumping into furniture and feeling a little disorientated are also common implications your dog might experience from taking this gabapentin.
A vet will prescribe an initial dosage of gabapentin and then closely monitor the impact it has on your dog. If your dog is essentially on the verge of falling asleep stood up, the original dosage will start to be reduced until the right balance is found between the drug being effective and the side effects being minor.
As stated, gabapentin is becoming more and more widely used in the veterinary sphere, and it’s generally considered to be a safe drug with minimal side effects. As long as you supply gabapentin exactly as instructed by your vet, it’s unlikely that any complications should arise.
It’s important to note that you should never ever abruptly stop giving your dog gabapentin without the correct guidance from your vet, especially so if the drug is being used for seizure prevention. If you were to suddenly stop the medication, it could lead to withdrawal seizures as a result.
As with any drug, there’s the rare chance that your dog could have an allergic reaction to gabapentin. Therefore, it’s important to keep an eye out for any drastic changes or new signs of illness upon first taking the medication. If you spot anything that you believe to be suspicious, consult your vet immediately.
It’s also recommended to be extra careful with dogs with kidney problems, pregnant and dogs who are lactating and dogs that are already on another form of medication. If your pooch fits under any of these categories, its important to notify your vet before starting your dog on gabapentin.
Overall, gabapentin is an extremely effective medication, and has worked wonders in helping several pets ease their seemingly never-ending pain or stopping their seizures. It’s becoming much more common use in the veterinary world, and more and more dogs are seeing the positive impact that gabapentin can have.
One thing to note is to never start or stop your dog on any type of medication without consulting your vet first. If gabapentin is prescribed, your vet will want to closely monitor your dog at first to see how they get on with the medication.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.