If your dog experiences seizures, anxiety, or chronic pain, it might feel like you're always at your veterinarian's office for a new test or treatment. These conditions can be difficult to manage, and your vet might need to try a few different things in order to help your dog feel better.
In recent years, veterinarians have begun prescribing gabapentin for dogs more and more often. This drug has a several uses in both human and veterinary medicine and can help some dogs with seizures, pain, or anxiety. Depending on your dog's diagnosis, gabapentin might just end up being the right choice for your pet.
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant drug that is used in humans and some animals to treat seizures, neuropathic pain, and anxiety. The primary mechanism of action is not known, but the drug is structurally similar to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for communication in the central nervous system. GABA blocks signals associated with seizures, pain, and anxiety. Gabapentin appears to work in a similar manner to the body's natural GABA.
Veterinarians most commonly prescribe gabapentin for dogs to manage chronic pain, usually in conjunction with other pain medications (particularly NSAIDs like carprofen). Gabapentin works best on nervous system pain, but it can be effective against pain from conditions like osteoarthritis due to the way chronic pain changes pain pathways in the brain. Gabapentin is not as effective for acute pain because of the way it works in the brain.
Gabapentin is sometimes used as an adjunct to other seizure control drugs in dogs with epilepsy or other seizure disorders. Although it may be used alone, it is typically less effective than other anticonvulsants.
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In recent years, veterinary behaviorists have begun using gabapentin to ease anxiety, either alone or along with drugs like trazodone.
Mild sedation and ataxia (wobbly or drunken gait) are the most common side effects of gabapentin in dogs. The severity of these signs will vary from dog to dog and also depend on the dose. Dogs with sensitivity may experience extreme lethargy and sleepiness. Contact your vet if your dog seems too sedated or "drunk" while taking gabapentin; your vet may adjust the dose or change to a different drug. Though uncommon, some dogs may develop diarrhea while on this medication.
The dosage of gabapentin will vary depending on the condition being treated and any other drugs in concurrent use. For seizure control, most dogs are dosed at 10 to 20 milligrams per kilogram of body mass every 6-12 hours.
Lower doses are typically used for pain management, often ranging from 5 to 10 milligrams per kilogram of body mass every 6-12 hours. For ease of administration, most vets prescribe gabapentin to be given every 8 hours.
It's possible for dogs to overdose on gabapentin, but serious complications are unlikely. In most cases, gabapentin overdose causes diarrhea, extreme sedation, lethargy, and ataxia. Although overdose is typically not serious, dogs still need veterinary attention. Contact your vet for advice—you may be instructed to induce vomiting or bring your dog to the clinic for supportive care.
Gabapentin is given orally as a capsule, tablet, or liquid solution. It may be given with or without food. Many dog parents find it helpful to hide the tablet or capsule in something like a Pill Pocket. If you mix gabapentin with food, watch your dog to ensure it's all consumed. Try to give gabapentin as close as possible to the prescribed intervals (often every 8 hours). If you miss a dose, give it right away and continue the schedule as directed.
It's important to note that the commercially-available solution may contain xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs. If your dog needs a low dose of gabapentin, your vet may send you to a compounding pharmacy to have a safe suspension made.
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For most dogs, gabapentin will start to work within an hour or two of dosing. It typically lasts about six hours. However, each dog is different. Talk to your vet if gabapentin does not seem to be helping your dog.
Gabapentin is safe to use along with many other prescription drugs. It should be used carefully along with hydrocodone and morphine because each can change the way the other drug works in the body. Antacids may decrease the efficacy of gabapentin, so dosing of gabapentin should be given at least two hours apart from antacid doses.
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