Dogs are generally prescribed gabapentin for epilepsy, nerve pain, cancer pain, and post-operative pain. Although the drug was originally formulated for people, veterinarians began using it when they discovered it also helped animals with similar conditions. In some cases, gabapentin is used to treat anxiety.
Gabapentin, also known by the brand name “Neurontin”, is used as a booster drug to amplify the effects of narcotic pain medication and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Using gabapentin as an add-on, or booster drug, helps to lessen the more severe side-effects of narcotics. It also eliminates the need to over-prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.
In this post, you will learn why gabapentin is prescribed to dogs, what side effects to watch for, and how to safely wean your dog when/if the time comes.
Gabapentin works in a complicated manner. It doesn’t act as a pain blocker the way a narcotic would. Instead, the mechanism of action in the nervous system is to follow pain pathways and alter the dog’s experience of them. In other words, the dog has a different perception of pain. Gabapentin in dogs is also very sedating.
Pain Control Helps Improve a Dog’s Quality of Life
Dogs are pretty good at hiding pain from us but there are a few telltale signs including poor appetite, depression, lack of enthusiasm for play, withdraws, sleeps more (or less), or becomes irritable and aggressive.
Gabapentin helps improve a dog’s quality of life by shutting down the pain receptors. A dog’s body takes longer to heal when in constant pain. That’s because pain often prevents the body from adequate rest. It can also inhibit the appetite and limit mobility, all of which slow down recovery time.
Gabapentin Side-Effects in Dogs
I’ve read several anecdotal stories about gabapentin from dog owners online, and most of them make sense. However, some dog owners tend to panic when their dogs are groggy and “not themselves” while taking gabapentin. The truth is, that’s exactly what you want. It’s not something you want your dog to experience long-term, but you certainty want (and need) your dog to take a break from suffering.
Gabapentin side effects in dogs are mild, but if it makes your dog too drowsy, the veterinarian might suggest giving the drug in the evening before bed. Once your dog adjusts to the medication, the drowsiness should go away.
Gabapentin for dogs works by amplifying the effects of other medications. It relaxes your dog so that he can finally get the sleep needed to recover. I’m not a veterinarian, but my advice would be that if your veterinarian prescribed gabapentin for your dog, give it time to do its job.
Incoordination or Dizziness
Your dog might be a bit wobbly for the first week or so after taking Gabapentin. Gabapentin side effects in senior dogs could include a dangerous loss of coordination or dizziness.
Gabapentin side effects in dogs can be minimized by adding regular non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to the treatment plan. Since gabapentin and NSAIDS seem to complement each other, it’s possible to get away with a lower dose of both drugs. Talk to your veterinarian about it.
Peak side effects of gabapentin can occur within a few hours. This medication has a short half-life, meaning it doesn’t stick around in the body for a long time. For that reason, you might need to dose your dog two or three times per day.
Nausea and Vomiting
There are a lot of drugs on the market that affect the gastrointestinal system and gabapentin is one of them. A little stomach upset is normal; however, if your dog is vomiting excessively, has dark, tarry stool or shows signs of allergic reaction (hives or difficulty breathing) acontact the veterinarian immediately.
Gabapentin Dosage for Dogs
The right gabapentin dosage for dogs is 5 – 10 mg/kg, administered orally every 8 hours. This dosage (the International Veterinary Academy for Pain Management), is a guideline for veterinarians. Dosage may change depending on how your dog responds to the treatment. If your dog has epilepsy, the gabapentin dosage for dogs is generally a little higher.
According to a recent report by CBS News, authorities are worried about gabapentin abuse in people, calling it the alternative to opioids. Read about it here: CBS NEWS.
The formulation used for dogs is the 100 mg capsule. Since the drug is required by prescription only, you don’t have to worry…your veterinarian will know which one to administer.
For reference: 1 kilogram is the equivalent of approximately 2 pounds.
Reasons for Gabapentin Use in Dogs Include:
Slipped Disc Pain
Post Operative Pain
Cancer Pain (to boost the effectiveness of other medications)
The benefit of being able to supplement gabapentin with stronger drugs is the ability to limit the severity of gabapentin (and other) side-effects in dogs.
Where to Buy Gabapentin for Dogs
In this case, you’ll need a veterinarian prescription before you can purchase gabapentin online. Ask the veterinarian for ethical, legit online pharmacies. You can also check with the National Association Boards of Pharmacy to find out if a particular pharmacy is licensed. Click on the link above to find the Board of Pharmacy for your state.
Before your veterinarian phones or writes in the prescription, make sure you understand the instructions. The gabapentin dosage for dogs will follow the standard 10 mg/kg of dog weight, but the veterinarian might have specific times during the day (or night) he wants you to give the medication. For example, the veterinarian might suggest starting gabapentin at bedtime due to its sedating effects.
IN CANADA, it’s illegal to buy prescription medications online. It’s happening because US officials are allowing it to happen, but it’s still illegal.
You might be interested in reading: Diphenhydramine for Dogs – 7 Medical Uses
Veterinarian clinics and animal hospitals tend to keep the most commonly prescribed medications in stock. If this is the case, you can buy gabapentin right there. From what I understand, gabapentin is prescribed per capsule and a capsule costs approximately .30 cents/ea. Capsules for dogs come in 100 mg and 300 mg.
Veterinarian Phone In
Instead of presenting the pharmacist with a written prescription, your veterinarian can phone a local pharmacy known to have gabapentin in stock.
However, in the interest of saving money, you might be tempted to accept a borrowed medicine from your friends’ medicine cabinet, or your own. Don’t do this. The formulation prescribed for people is not the same.
Xylitol Side Effects in Dogs – Warning
As I mentioned above, the standard gabapentin dosage for dogs is 10 mg/kg. The veterinarian will prescribe capsules because they do not contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is highly toxic for dogs.
If you happen to have the liquid form of gabapentin in your medicine cabinet, do not give it to your dog.
More Severe But Rare Side-Effects:
Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice your dog is extra-sleepy, vomiting, develops diarrhea, shows loss of coordination (more than just being a little dizzy) or shows signs of depression.
NOTE: Depression in dogs can mimic other serious diseases and should be brought to the veterinarian’s attention. Signs of depression include low appetite, excessive sleep, apathy, weight loss.
Xylitol Kills Dogs & is an Ingredient in Some Gabapentin Formulations.
Xylitol, a sweetener found in many products including toothpaste and pre-packaged food products (low-sugar or “diet” foods) is toxic to dogs. It can cause your dog’s sugar to drop dangerously low and can cause liver damage. There’s no “safe” amount of xylitol in dogs; therefore, it’s best avoided. Small amounts could actually be fatal for some dogs.
When the Medication Doesn’t Seem to be Working
If you think your dog is still in pain, check with your veterinarian before giving an increased dose of gabapentin. Veterinarians treat dogs on a case-by-case basis, and he/she might want to see your dog in the clinic to check for worsening of the underlying condition, weight gain (or loss), or any other side-effects.
If your dog is on any other medications that he/she doesn’t know about (including vitamins and supplements), it’s important to share that information. Some drugs and herbal or natural supplements can interact with gabapentin in a way that reduces its effectiveness.
Weaning Gabapentin for Dogs
Gabapentin appears to have a history of causing rebound pain if stopped abruptly. However, the more common reason veterinarians prefer to wean Gabapentin for dogs is when the dog is taking it to boost the effects of other seizure medication.
Stopping a long-term dose suddenly can trigger more severe seizures in dogs. For that reason, it’s important to maintain the prescribed gabapentin dosage for dogs until the veterinarian gives you clearance to start weaning.
I wrote an article recently about weaning dogs off of Prozac, and I would say the process is fairly similar. Anecdotally, I’ve heard people say they’ve tapered their dog 25% to 50% of the original dosage daily until the dog was down to 100 mg. The dog was completely weaned shortly thereafter.
Please follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for weaning properly. By slowly reducing the amount of gabapentin your dog is taking, you will reduce (if not eliminate) the possibility of unwanted withdrawal.
Again, withdrawal isn’t always necessary (especially when it was being used to treat pain). But I’m not a veterinarian.
Summing up Gabapentin Side Effects in Dogs
Gabapentin side effects in dogs are usually quite mild. The most common side-effect is sleepiness. Occasionally, dogs are a little wobbly until they become accustomed to the drug.
Even though Gabapentin is not FDA approved for use in dogs, veterinarians are still permitted to use it to treat pain. Dogs in pain tend to exhibit behavior that makes them appear afraid, anxious, or depressed. A dog in pain is a dog that can bite. Overall, there are bigger things to consider than Gabapentin side-effects in dogs. Wean slowly when the time comes, and also check with your veterinarian before attempting an increased dose.
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