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Ask the Vet: Side Effects of Gabapentin for Dogs?

Side Effects of Gabapentin for Dogs

The side effects of gabapentin for dogs are something to become aware of if your dog is being prescribed or was recently prescribed this drug. Although gabapentin is a drug that was approved back in 1994 to control seizures in humans, in the veterinary field this drug is still considered fairly new. In the veterinary field gabapentin is often used for multiple purposes, as an anticonvulsant, for pain relief, and as a mild sedative. Following is some information about gapapentin for dogs and the side effects of gabapentin for dogs by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.


Gabapentin for Dogs

Gabapentin is a synthetic drug that mimics the activity of the naturally occurring and inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA. The mechanism of action of gabapentin is not well understood. However, it is established that the drug does not affect GABA binding or reuptake nor behave as GABA agonist.

Gabapentin is used in human medicine to treat seizures and many types of pain, including neuropathic pain, diabetic neuropathy, malignant pain, central pain, complex regional pain, and trigeminal neuralgia.

Sadly, gabapentin is not FDA approved for veterinary use. Nonetheless, the drug is widely used among veterinary doctors.

Originally, gabapentin was used to treat partial seizures in humans. Later on, it was shown that the drug is particularly useful for treating neuropathic pain manifested with tingling and burning sensation that originates from the damaged nerves. Gabapentin is particularly good for treating seizures, many types of pain (neuropathic pain, diabetic neuropathy, malignant pain, central pain, trigeminal neuralgia and complex regional pain) and anxiety.

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Similarly to other human drugs, gabapentin found its way into veterinary medicine. In this field, the drug is used to control chronic pain or more precisely speaking to alleviate the pain associated with arthritis and malignant conditions. In some protocols, gabapentin is also used preoperatively to minimize the pain that develops post surgery. Last but not least, gabapentin is part of certain medication protocols used in seizure management.

How Does Gabapentin For Dogs Work?

Although gabapentin is widely used it has not been determined how exactly this drug works in the body. However, it has been well-established that the drug has two main effects: anti-pain and anti-seizure.

It is postulated that gabapentin mimics the activity of a certain neurotransmitter called GABA. This neurotransmitter helps calm down the nerve activity. Simply put both the drug and the neurotransmitter prevent excessive electrical activity within the brain thus minimizing the risk of seizures.

Instead of directly impacting pain, gabapentin acts like a nervous system dampener. Gabapentin reduces the calcium transportation through the voltage-gated calcium channels in the brain.

Since these channels are responsible for pain, blocking them leads to decreased pain sensation. Simply put, gabapentin quiets the nervous system rather than actually blocking the pain signals. The pain signals reach the brain but they are not strong enough to trigger the usual pain response.

Dose of Gabapentin For Dogs 

The drug gabapentin is available in three different forms: Capsules – 100mg, 300mg and 400mg, tablets – 600mg and 800mg and oral solution.

It should be noted that the oral solution is sweetened with xylitol which we all know has toxic properties for dogs. Analgesic doses of the solution do not contain enough xylitol to cause problems but anti-seizure doses contain enough xylitol to trigger toxic effects. All in all, it is best advised to avoid using the commercially available oral solution.

Although the below mentioned doses can be used as rough guidance, the exact dose of gapapentin for dogs must be calculated by your trusted vet.

When used to treat seizures the gabapentin is administered at dose of 5 to 19 mg/pound or 10-20 mg/kg every 6, 8 or 12 hours. To achieve pain relief, the gabapentin should be used at a dose that ranges from 1.5 to 5 mg/pound or 3-10 mg/kg every 24 hours.

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When calculating the exact dose, the vet will take into consideration several important factors. The two most important factors include breed and individual reaction to the medication. Another important factor is the health status of the dog’s kidneys. Since gabapentin is eliminated from the body through the kidneys, dogs with damaged or impaired kidneys need modified doses of gabapentin. Gabapentin should not be used in pregnant and lactating dogs.

It should be mentioned that gabapentin has extremely short half-life and consequently stays within the dog’s system for no more than 2 to 3 hours.

Last but not least, although gabapentin for humans is same as gabapentin for dogs, the human dosage is totally different from the canine dosage. Giving your dog a human dosage of gabapentin can be dangerous or even lethal!

Side Effects of Gabapentin for Dogs

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Side effects of gabapentin for dogs.

When used to alleviate pain, gabapentin should be combined with other pain relievers. Later on, when the pain is put under control, the other pain relievers can be discontinued and the gabapentin can effectively act as sole agent. When dealing with progressively worsening pain, it is recommended to keep combining the gabapentin with the other pain relievers.

If the dog receivs oral antacids it is important to separate the administration of gabapentin from the antacids by at least 2 hours. This is because the oral antacids decrease the gabapentin’s absorption by up to 20 percent.

Concurrent use of gabapentin and narcotics like morphine or hydrocodone increases the gabapentin’s effectiveness but decreases the narcotic’s effectiveness.

The main side effect and of gabapentin is sedation. More often than not, the sedation is temporary and tends to resolve once the dog’s organism gets used to the drug. Nonetheless, this side effect is a big concern.

If tested with urine dipstick tests, dogs receiving gabapentin may have false positive results regarding urinary proteins.

Generally speaking, the administration of gabapentin can potentially have several side effects. The most frequently encountered side effects include: lethargy or/and sedation, wobbliness, loss of coordination, depression, oversleeping, bulging eyes and vomiting.

Luckily, almost all side effects can be successfully mitigated by starting at a low dose and then gradually increasing the dose until reaching effectiveness.

Dog Gabapentin Withdrawal

As with many other drugs, sudden discontinuation of gabapentin administration may potentially leads to serious medical issues like seizures and acute pain.

To minimize the risks associated with gabapentin withdrawal it is advisable to gradually decrease the dose. If not sure on how to manage the withdrawal period, do not hesitate to ask your vet’s assistance. Weaning your dog off gabapentin can be a slow and challenging process.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

ivana crnec

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