Gabapentin For Dogs – How It Works, the Dosage and Side Effects
None of us want our dogs to suffer, but medications can also be worrisome.
Pain medications almost always come with overdose risks, and the potential for side effects.
In fact, medications in general can often fill us with concern when we read the small print.
Today, we’ll take a look at gabapentin.
One of many medications routinely prescribed to our dogs by the vet.
Gabapentin is prescribed for epilepsy in dogs.
We’ll look at the gabapentin dosage for dogs as well.
Let’s see if we can reassure you about your vet’s decision to prescribe gabapentin for dogs.
What Is Gabapentin for Dogs?
Gabapentin is primarily an anti-epileptic drug, meaning it helps lessen the seizures caused by epilepsy.
Typically, it’s used alongside other medications as part of a robust treatment.
This isn’t its only application, though.
It’s also been found to be useful in the treatment of dogs with long-term chronic pain, usually when associated with a disease of the nervous system.
And sometimes it’s used to reduce the amount of painkillers needed after surgery.
Gabapentin is commonly prescribed by vets for all of these reasons, although dog epilepsy is still the main one.
Some people have even suggested using gabapentin for dogs with anxiety.
In the US, the FDA has not approved gabapentin for use in animals.
This isn’t cause for concern, though, as this is the case for many veterinary medicines.
Use of gabapentin by vets is covered under the AMDUCA, an act allowing vets to use human drugs on animals where appropriate.
How Gabapentin for Dogs Works
There’s still an active discussion about exactly how gabapentin works.
It is clear, though, that it blocks communication between certain nerves. This seems to have a beneficial effect when used to treat seizures, dog epilepsy and some kinds of pain.
In dogs, gabapentin has been shown to significantly reduce the severity and length of seizures, which benefits unwell dogs enormously.
At this point, gabapentin for dogs is widely prescribed for a range of issues.
If your pup suffers from dog epilepsy, it’s very likely you’ll come into contact with this drug.
So what’s the standard gabapentin dosage for dogs? Does it differ from dog to dog, and based on what it’s being used to treat?
Gabapentin Dosage for Dogs
Ultimately, how much gabapentin your dog receives will be up to your vet.
What the exact dosage should be depends a lot on what the vet is treating.
Your dog’s size is also an important consideration.
We can look at the guidelines vets use for a rough idea of how much gabapentin we will be giving our dogs.
It’s really important to only take a vet’s advice on this, though.
They could be aware of extenuating circumstances that would restrict your dog’s ideal dosage.
One study reduced the symptoms of epilepsy in dogs significantly by administering 10mg (per kg of the dog’s weight) of gabapentin every eight hours.
Under this protocol a 10kg dog with epilepsy would be given 100mg of gabapentin.
A much larger pooch might be prescribed 300mg of gabapentin.
This regular dosage helps keep a steady level of gabapentin in the dog’s blood stream. Gabapentin for dogs is given every day, not just when seizures happen.
Gabapentin takes 1 to 3 hours to reach its full strength in dogs, so needs to be consistently re-dosed.
Other Dosages of Gabapentin for Dogs
If your dog doesn’t have epilepsy but is in pain due to another condition like cancer, the gabapentin dosage will change accordingly.
When it comes to post-operative pain, gabapentin seems to block some of the pain signals that the nervous system is creating.
Gabapentin analgesia in dogs is widely documented, and it’s often considered by vets as a way to lower morphine intake.
Similarly, with chronic pain, studies have found a single daily dose to be very effective.
This type of pain is often associated with cancer and other really nasty diseases.
So, the dosage can differ hugely from dog to dog, depending on their medical situation.
Don’t worry if your dog’s dose doesn’t appear to match any of the examples we’ve given.
Vets use guidelines, but they treat each dog on a case-by-case basis.
Guidelines are useful, but only your vet will know how much gabapentin your dog needs.
So, how long does gabapentin stay in a dog’s system? Does it linger on or disappear quickly?
How Long Does Gabapentin Stay in a Dog’s System?
The length of time a drug stays in an animal’s system is usually discussed in terms of its half-life.
The half-life is the time it takes for the levels of a given drug in the blood to drop by half.
In gabapentin for dogs, the half-life is the same as in humans and rats — a period of 2 to 3 hours.
This means gabapentin doesn’t hang around very long, but still long enough that regular dosing helps it have a cumulative effect.
You may be wondering how long can a dog take gabapentin, since epilepsy can be a life-long condition.
With epilepsy in dogs, gabapentin is taken as long as the pup needs it, which can be months or even years.
There are some risks in long-term use of gabapentin in dogs, such as an increased risk of cancer. But a dog suffering from regular heavy seizures needs this relief, so the trade-off is usually worth it.
In the short term, when correctly prescribed, gabapentin doesn’t seem to cause any real issues.
Except for a bit of dizziness, most dogs do absolutely fine on this medication.
So how will gabapentin affect your dog? Lets take a look at gabapentin’s side effects in dogs.
Gabapentin’s Side Effects in Dogs
Few medications are without side effects, but their severity can differ a lot from drug to drug.
Side effects can also differ according to the individual dog, its general constitution and its medical history.
The most common side effects for dogs taking gabapentin involve a loss of coordination.
Gabapentin use in dogs can cause them to appear unsteady on their feet. They may also experience drowsiness.
Even if the effects seem mild, it’s worth checking in with your vet.
They’ll be able to determine if the symptoms are harmless, or if different medication should be considered.
Even if side effects are severe, it’s very important that you don’t suddenly stop giving your dog their gabapentin.
If you stop your dog’s gabapentin abruptly, they can experience some pretty nasty withdrawal symptoms, including heavy seizures. This can potentially harm your dog long-term.
So, how much gabapentin can my dog take?
Overdoses actually seem to be fairly rare when it comes to gabapentin for dogs.
There’s a high margin of safety, and though a dog that’s had a little too much might be dizzy and sick, overdoses are very rarely fatal.
With this being said, if you realize your dog has had too much gabapentin, get in touch with a vet right away.
The exact amount that constitutes an overdose differs from dog to dog.
Can I Give My Dog Human Gabapentin?
Most of us would be inherently wary of giving our dogs our own human medication.
But if you have your own gabapentin and your dog could benefit from it, you might wonder what the harm could be.
The truth is it could be very dangerous.
The gabapentin itself will have been prescribed at a dosage suitable for you. If you try to calculate your dog’s dosage based on your own you could get it wrong. This could harm them.
Even if you get the dosage right, you could still harm your dog with your own gabapentin.
This is because gabapentin prescribed for humans sometimes contains xylitol.
Xylitol and Dogs
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is harmless to humans, and actually has dental health benefits.
This sweetener is found in chewing gum, sugar-free candy and occasionally even peanut butter. The problem is that xylitol is toxic for dogs.
While safe for you, xylitol can cause your dog’s pancreas to release excessive amounts of insulin.
This extra insulin can cause severe hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, for up to 24 hours.
While the blood sugar is low the dog may have vomiting, diarrhea, tremors and seizures. In the worst case scenario the dog’s liver is destroyed. Once that happens, the dog often dies.
Be sure to keep gabapentin and anything else that might contain xylitol out of your dog’s reach.
If you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol, you should get them to a vet as soon as possible.
Can Dogs Take Gabapentin?
Gabapentin for dogs is fine when given as prescribed by a vet, and at the recommended dosage.
Giving human gabapentin, or another dog’s left over gabapentin, is too risky, considering what’s at stake.
We should be especially wary of giving dogs our own gabapentin, even if they’ve been prescribed the same drug.
Humans and dogs can reap the same benefits from a number of different medications and foods, but some that work for one of us won’t work for the other.
For example, a dog wouldn’t think twice about eating a raw chicken breast, but this would probably make you quite sick.
Although gabapentin functions pretty much the same in humans and dogs, we still shouldn’t give medication prescribed for one to the other.
This is always a good rule of thumb.
If your dog has been prescribed gabapentin, it’s because they need it.
Epilepsy and pain are not things any of us want our dogs to go through, and this drug can definitely help with both.
So don’t worry about giving your dog gabapentin if a vet has said to. Its side effects are infinitely preferable to frequent debilitating seizures and chronic neuropathic pain.
Have you used gabapentin for any of your dogs? If so let us know about your experiences in the comments below.
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- Govendir M et al. Improving seizure control in dogs with refractory epilepsy using gabapentin as an adjunctive agent. Aust Vet J, 2005
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- Gabapentin. US National Library of Medicine
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- Crociolli, GC et al. Gabapentin as an adjuvant for postoperative pain management in dogs undergoing mastectomy. J Vet Med Sci, 2015
- Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994 (AMDUCA). FDA, 1994
- Dunayer EK et al. Acute hepatic failure and coagulopathy associated with xylitol ingestion in eight dogs. JAVMA, 2016