Is gabapentin safe for dogs? It has been found to be effective in dogs for seizures, anxiety, and pain relief. Dr. Shelby Loos discusses gabapentin for dogs, including what it’s used for, the gabapentin dosage for dogs, and potential side effects.
All About Gabapentin for Dogs: Safety, Uses, and Risks
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.
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.
Gabapentin for Dogs: How It Can Help
Gabapentin has a variety of uses in veterinary medicine, and prescribing gabapentin for dogs, especially, is becoming more popular amongst veterinarians.
Here’s everything you need to know about gabapentin for dogs.
Jump to a section:
What Is Gabapentin for Dogs?
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant and analgesic drug that is commonly prescribed by veterinarians to treat seizures, pain, and anxiety in dogs.
It is a human medication, and its use in veterinary medicine is “off-label,” meaning it is not FDA-approved for pets.
How gabapentin works is not completely understood; however, it is thought to inhibit the release of excitatory neurotransmitters.
What Is Gabapentin Used for in Dogs?
Gabapentin can be prescribed to help with seizures, pain, and anxiety in dogs.
Gabapentin has anticonvulsant properties that make it beneficial for adjunctive therapy for dogs with refractory seizures, or those whose current medication regime is no longer effective enough.
Gabapentin is also an analgesic, meaning it provides pain relief for chronic pain and neuropathic pain. It’s most commonly used for the chronic pain associated with degenerative joint disease.
It has also shown to be beneficial when used in combination with other pain medications—such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories or opioids—to help with pain associated with surgery.
While traditionally used for seizures and pain, gabapentin is becoming more popular to use as adjunctive therapy for anxiety in dogs as well.
What Are the Side Effects of Gabapentin in Dogs?
Sedation is the main potential side effect of gabapentin, and the level of sleepiness varies from patient to patient. Veterinarians will prescribe a starting dose, and if this results in the dog becoming a little too sedate, the veterinarian will taper the dose down to the most effective one.
Like all medications, there is a small chance that a dog could be allergic to it, in which case, this medication should be avoided.
What’s the Gabapentin Dosage for Dogs?
The dosage range for gabapentin varies widely depending on what it is being used to treat. Gabapentin should be used with caution for animals with liver or kidney disease, as it will take longer to metabolize.
Gabapentin is available in several forms that are human-labeled products:
100 mg (capsules and tablets)
300 mg (capsules and tablets)
400 mg (capsules and tablets)
There is also an oral solution made at 250 mg/5 mL; however, sometimes the solution is formulated with xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. Your veterinarian will help you order this medication in a form that is safe for your dog.
Sometimes a dog is too small to use the human formulations, in which case, a compounding pharmacy can formulate whichever form and dosage that the veterinarian requests.
Gabapentin is usually given by mouth three to four times, with or without food. Check the directions on the bottle or ask your vet if you are not sure of the correct dosage for your dog.
Gabapentin should start to take effect fairly quickly, and relief should be noticed within one or two hours of administration.
Since it is a short-acting drug, the effects will be gone in 24 hours; however, the medication may last longer in dogs with renal or liver impairment.
This drug should not be stopped abruptly when used to treat seizures, as it can result in withdrawal seizures. Always consult a veterinarian before discontinuing any medication.
Can You Use Gabapentin and Trazodone Together for Dogs?
Trazodone is a commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication, and while it is not recommended to be used with tramadol, it is safe to use with gabapentin. There are combination solutions from compounded pharmacies that contain both trazodone and gabapentin, and these are more commonly prescribed for behavior disorders like anxiety.
Can Dogs Take CBD and Gabapentin?
Another common question is if dogs can take gabapentin with CBD oil. This is not recommended due to the risk of increased sedation between the two.
Always consult with a veterinarian before starting your dog on any additional medications or supplements that were not originally prescribed to ensure that they are safe with your dog’s current medications.
Is Tramadol or Gabapentin Better for Dogs in Pain?
Tramadol is another medication that has been commonly prescribed to treat pain in dogs; however, this is starting to fall out of favor with veterinarians.
Studies have found that tramadol may not be as effective as originally thought. In fact, it was found to be ineffective at controlling pain associated with osteoarthritis in dogs. However, studies are ongoing, and the debate is still up for discussion on the effectiveness of tramadol.
In the meantime, veterinarians are turning more towards gabapentin for pain relief in their patients.
Want to learn more about pain medication for dogs? Read this advice on pain management.