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Gabapentin for Dogs: Uses, Dosage & Side Effects (Vet Answer)

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By Dr. Iulia Mihai

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Written by

Dr. Iulia Mihai

DVM MSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Few things make pet owners feel more helpless than seeing their pets in pain and suffering. You want to help them feel better, but you may not know how to.

Gabapentin is an anti-inflammatory and anti-pain medication for human use, which is also successfully used in dogs. In addition to those applications, it can be administered to dogs for light sedation to reduce stress, especially before arriving at the veterinary office.

This drug can be administered as such or sprinkled over your dog’s food. It has few side effects, with the most frequently encountered being drowsiness, which disappears within 12 hours.

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What Is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is the active substance found in medicines such as Neurontin®, Gralise®, and Horizant®. It is a human drug used to treat pain from peripheral neuropathy and epilepsy.

In dogs, gabapentin is used for:
  • Chronic pain
  • Seizures
  • Idiopathic epilepsy (i.e., has an unknown cause)
  • Anxiety

For chronic pain, gabapentin is usually associated with other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opioids because it amplifies their effect.

Painful conditions in dogs for which gabapentin may be prescribed include:
  • Chronic arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Hyperalgesia (exaggerated sensitivity to pain)
  • Allodynia (pain felt in an area of unaffected skin under the action of harmless stimuli)1

Regarding anxiety in dogs, gabapentin is successfully used to reduce stress before a visit to the vet.

The mode of action of gabapentin is not exactly known. It is believed to have an effect on the calcium ion channels in the nervous system by inhibiting the neurotransmitter glutamate. Basically, it changes the way that dogs’ bodies feel pain. By “calming down nerves,” gabapentin also helps keep epilepsy under control2.

In the case of epileptic episodes, gabapentin mimics the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and helps calm seizures3. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that enable nerve cells to transmit messages throughout the body. The role of GABA is to reduce neuronal excitability. The main excitatory neurotransmitter is glutamate, while GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter. When there is an imbalance between excitation and inhibition, seizures, excitotoxicity, and cell death can occur.

Gabapentin pills
Image Credit: Sonis Photography, Shutterstock

How Is Gabapentin Given?

Always talk to your vet before giving your pet any medication, including gabapentin.

Gabapentin should only be prescribed by your vet and is available in the form of capsules, oral solutions, or tablets. This medication should be stored in a dry place, away from light and out of the reach of pets, at a temperature of 77°F (25°C).

Care must be taken with an oral gabapentin solution because it may contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that’s toxic to dogs. Even if your dog ingests only a small amount of xylitol, it can still cause low blood sugar, liver failure, seizures, or even death.

Gabapentin can be administered with or without food one to four times a day. If you cannot give capsules or tablets to your dog, spread, crush, and mix them with their food. The dosage will depend on your pet’s weight and the condition/purpose for which it is administered. For example, for light sedation, the dose will be higher than if it were administered for its anti-pain effects.

Depending on the medical condition for which it is administered, the usual dosage of gabapentin in dogs is as follows:

  • In dogs suffering from chronic pain, the dose is 1.4–5 mg/pound once a day. Your veterinarian can adjust the dose depending on your dog’s reaction to the medicine and its effectiveness.
  • In the case of dogs suffering from convulsions, the dose is between 4.5 and 13.6 mg/pound, once every 8–12 hours. If your dog is taking gabapentin for epilepsy, do not stop the medication suddenly, as withdrawal seizures may occur. The vet will recommend reducing your dog’s dose gradually over a period of at least 7 days.
  • For dogs suffering from anxiety, the dose is between 2.2 and 13.6 mg/pound, up to three times a day. For dogs that are stressed by the visit to the vet, the veterinarian may recommend administering gabapentin 2–3 hours before the visit, when it is at its peak concentration (the highest level of a medication in the blood).

If your dog takes antacids such as Pepcid or Prilosec, gabapentin should be administered at least 2 hours after the antacid medication. Vets recommend this because antacid drugs decrease the absorption of gabapentin and make it less effective.

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What Happens If You Miss a Dose?

If you forgot to give your dog one dose, give it to them as soon as you remember. If the missed dose is closer to the next scheduled one, skip the missed dose, and administer the next one according to the schedule. Do not double the doses.

Potential Side Effects of Gabapentin

Gabapentin is a safe drug with few side effects, which is why it is so popular in many veterinary clinics.

The most common side effects of gabapentin in dogs include:
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of balance (unsteady gait)
  • Sleepiness
  • Light sedation
  • Occasional diarrhea

There is also a risk that your dog may be allergic to gabapentin, in which case, your veterinarian will recommend another medication. If the dose recommended by the vet for chronic pain makes your dog drowsy, they will lower the dose until the desired effects are achieved.

In dogs with kidney or liver diseases, gabapentin should be used with caution because it will take longer for them to metabolize the drug.

gabapentin on orange plastic bottle
Image Credit: luchschenF, Shutterstock

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How Quickly Does Gabapentin Work in Dogs?

The effects of gabapentin are usually noticed about 2 hours after administering the drug in most animals. Its peak concentration is at 2–3 hours after administration. However, for some pets, their owners may notice the effects of gabapentin within an hour.

Is Gabapentin a Strong Painkiller for Dogs?

Gabapentin is a drug used successfully by veterinarians in treating chronic pain. It has far fewer side effects than NSAIDs, which in the long run, can become dangerous for pets. For this reason, in some cases, gabapentin enables the reduction of the dose of NSAIDs.

Can Gabapentin Cause Hind Leg Weakness in Dogs?

If you have a senior dog or have given them too much gabapentin, hind leg weakness can occur. In senior pets, drugs do not metabolize as quickly as in young pets. If your elderly dog shows side effects after taking gabapentin, the veterinarian will reduce the dose. In case of an overdose, contact the vet immediately. Overdose does not usually cause a pet’s death, and the clinical signs should disappear in 8–12 hours.

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Gabapentin is a human drug that’s used successfully to treat chronic pain, seizures, and anxiety in dogs. The medicine is prescribed only by veterinarians, and the dose will depend on your dog’s condition. Gabapentin is a safe medicine with few adverse effects, with the most common one being drowsiness. If your dog is sleepy after taking gabapentin, your vet will reduce the dose. In the case of dogs with kidney or liver diseases, gabapentin should be administered with caution.

Featured Image Credit: SkazovD, Shutterstock

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