- Gabapentin is typically prescribed to treat pain, anxiety, and seizures — While also prescribed for humans, gabapentin helps with certain conditions in dogs.
- Gabapentin’s side effects are mild — Common ones include increased sleepiness and poor coordination.
- It’s often prescribed in addition to other medications — Gabapentin can be paired with other analgesic drugs, anticonvulsant medications, or antidepressants, depending upon the condition.
If you’ve ever suffered from shingles, restless leg syndrome, or epilepsy, you may be familiar with the medication gabapentin. An anticonvulsant and analgesic drug, gabapentin is used to reduce pain and treat several conditions in humans. What you may not know is that veterinarians sometimes prescribe gabapentin for dogs.
Because it’s a human medication, gabapentin is considered “off-label” in veterinary medicine, meaning it’s not FDA-approved for pets. This may make you wary, which is understandable. However, there are a number of drugs meant for humans that vets sometimes prescribe for pain and other conditions in our pets. What’s more, gabapentin has many benefits and few side effects. Gabapentin can be prescribed either alone or in concert with other medications for dogs experiencing pain, seizures, or anxiety.
Gabapentin at a glance
- Medication type: Anticonvulsant and analgesic
- Availability: Prescription
- FDA approved: Not for pets
- Brand names: Neurontin, Therapentin, Gralise, Horizant
- Common name: Gabapentin
- Life stage: All life stages except in pregnant or lactating dogs or newborn puppies
What is gabapentin used for in dogs?
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant and analgesic drug that is used in humans and some animals. While the way it works is not completely understood, gabapentin is thought to inhibit the release of excitatory neurotransmitters.
Similarly structured to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for communication in the central nervous system, gabapentin works to block pain, help dogs with refractory seizures, and ease anxiety. Here’s a closer look at the major conditions gabapentin may treat.
Because some gabapentin medications contain xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs, it’s critical that you never give the dog your own gabapentin prescription. Your vet will prescribe this medication in a form that is safe for your dog.
Medications that treat pain, seizures, and anxiety can be costly, especially over time. This is why it’s a good idea to invest in pet insurance before there’s an issue. Most pet health insurance policies cover prescription medications.
It’s pretty easy to recognize acute pain in our furry companions. They often cry, limp, or exhibit obvious redness and swelling. However, chronic pain, caused by conditions such as arthritis, ACL tear, or bone spurs, can be harder to detect.
Gabapentin is an analgesic, meaning it provides pain relief for chronic pain and neuropathic pain. It’s most commonly used for the chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that can cause dogs a great deal of pain.
Unlike in humans, osteoarthritis affects both young and older dogs. Veterinarians estimate that signs of osteoarthritis are present in 20% of dogs over the age of 1. Based on radiographic and clinical data, up to 80% of dogs over the age of 8 have evidence of osteoarthritis.
A chronic condition that is more associated with aging is spondylosis deformans, which affects the vertebral bones of the spine. It usually includes bony spurs or osteophytes along the edges of the bones of the spine. While many afflicted dogs are free of any symptoms, spondylosis deformans can be painful if a bone spur grows near a nerve root. This condition often develops in dogs as a secondary problem related to degenerative disease of the intervertebral discs.
Gabapentin appears to be most effective in treating pain when combined with other types of analgesic agents.
In dogs, seizures can range from whole-body to partial seizures. Although the majority are caused by epilepsy, other causes of seizures in dogs include heat stroke and heat exhaustion, poisoning, head trauma, diabetes, infectious diseases, tumors, and even an imbalance of minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. Regardless of the underlying cause, all seizures occur due to faulty electrical activity in the dog’s brain. This leads to a loss of control over the body.
Seizures don’t have to follow a traumatic event. In fact, they often occur at times of changing brain activity, such as during playful exercise, feeding, falling asleep, or waking up. Affected dogs can appear completely normal between seizures.
Gabapentin’s anticonvulsant properties make it useful for dogs who have refractory seizures, or seizures other medicines can’t control. Sometimes, gabapentin is prescribed alone; sometimes it’s paired with other anticonvulsant medications such as phenobarbital and potassium bromide.
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, most dogs do well on anti-seizure medication and are able to resume a normal lifestyle.
A dog’s anxiety can come in many forms. It could be separation anxiety triggered by seeing their owner heading out the door. It also could be situational anxiety caused by things like a change in residence, a new schedule, or a new addition to the family. Some breeds, including German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Australian Shepherds, and Catahoulas, are more likely to develop anxiety.
Signs of anxiety in dogs include:
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
Before turning to medication, try to figure out what’s causing your dog’s anxiety and how to ease it through behavior modification. As you work to figure out how to best help your dog, consider these suggestions:
- Gain an understanding of your dog’s normal behavior as it relates to the problem.
- Learn to read your dog’s body language and facial expressions.
- Ensure you’re meeting all of your dog’s needs, including access to fresh food, water, and comfortable shelter.
- Review the principles of learning and reinforcement-based training with predictable consequences.
- Manage both the environment and the dog to prevent further incidents.
There are several medications veterinarians use to address dog anxiety. Some are considered SSRIs and antidepressants. Gabapentin may be used prior to predictable stressful events, or administered daily in combination with an SSRI or antidepressant.
Giving your dog gabapentin
When your vet prescribes gabapentin for your dog, it’s important to follow the dosage instructions carefully.
If you miss a dose, give it to your dog when you remember. However, if it’s close to the time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed. Never give your dog two doses at once or give extra doses. Monitor your pet for adverse side effects, such as sleepiness or poor coordination. If you notice these side effects, contact your vet immediately. Do not discontinue gabapentin abruptly.
Different forms of gabapentin
Gabapentin comes in three basic forms: capsule, tablet, or compounded liquid. It can be taken with or without food. However, if your dog takes gabapentin on an empty stomach and vomits, try it later with food.
You may have more success with a dog reluctant to take medicine if you incorporate the dose into a regular part of their day, like with meals, a treat, or their morning walk.
Remember to store capsules and tablets at room temperature, around 77°F, and away from moisture. If you’re using a liquid variety, measure the dosage carefully. Do not give an oral liquid form made for humans. It contains xylitol, which is toxic for dogs.
Gabapentin dosage in dogs
How much gabapentin you give your dog will vary depending on which condition is being treated and if it’s used in concurrence with other drugs. In general, to control seizures, most dogs are dosed at 10 to 20 milligrams per kilogram of body mass every six to 12 hours. Pain management typically requires lower doses – often ranging from 5 to 10 milligrams per kilogram of body mass – every six to 12 hours.
For anxiety, gabapentin is usually dosed at 30 to 60 milligrams per kilogram one to two hours before an anticipated stressful event.
Your dog’s full response to the gabapentin may take weeks as the drug reaches therapeutic concentrations.
Stopping your dog’s gabapentin intake
Work closely with your vet to monitor how your dog responds to gabapentin. If you need to discontinue use, be sure to do so safely. Don’t stop the medication abruptly. Doing so can cause rebound pain in dogs dealing with chronic conditions. In pets with epilepsy, discontinuing gabapentin too quickly can cause withdrawal seizures.
The dosage should be decreased over the course of two to three weeks under a veterinarian’s care.
Gabapentin side effects and interactions
Like all medications and supplements created for humans and animals alike, gabapentin does have potential side effects. The most common side effect of gabapentin is sedation, or sleepiness. Other side effects you might notice in your dog include:
- Loss of appetite
This short-acting medication should stop working within 24 hours, though effects may last longer in pets with liver or kidney disease. Gabapentin is sometimes used in conjunction with other medications. However, you should be aware that certain drugs don’t interact well with gabapentin. These include antacids, hydrocodone, and morphine.
Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any medications, including vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies, that your dog is taking.
Risk factors with gabapentin for dogs
Gabapentin should be used with caution in dogs with decreased liver or renal function or dogs that are pregnant or lactating. Also, dogs that are allergic to gabapentin obviously shouldn’t take it.
Frequently asked questions
How does gabapentin make a dog feel?
Gabapentin usually helps a dog relax, but occasionally, your dog may feel sleepy and a little woozy.
How long does it take for gabapentin to kick in with dogs?
It takes effect relatively quickly — usually within one to two hours. However, it may take weeks for your dog to enjoy the full effect of the drug’s therapeutic concentration.
Can dogs overdose on gabapentin?
Yes. Serious complications are unlikely, but dogs still need veterinary attention if you accidentally gave your dog too much gabapentin at once. You may be instructed to induce vomiting or bring your dog to the clinic for supportive care.