Gabapentin for Dogs: Side Effects & Benefits of Gabapentin in Dogs

Medical articles
Dog taking gabapentin

Does your furry friend suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, or seizures? Witnessing their discomfort can be heartbreaking, and navigating treatment options can feel overwhelming. But there's hope! Gabapentin, a versatile medication, has emerged as a valuable tool in managing these conditions, potentially improving your dog's quality of life significantly.  

Gabapentin is a medication with multiple uses in dogs. From seizure control to pain and anxiety relief, this drug has many potential benefits for our four-legged friends. Although it is safe and versatile, gabapentin can come with a few notable side effects. Discover the potential effects of gabapentin on your dog.  

What is Gabapentin? 

Gabapentin was first discovered in the 1970s and was approved by the FDA as an anticonvulsant for humans in 1993. Gabapentin is not FDA approved for use in dogs, so veterinarians take the liberty to use this efficacious drug off-label for their patients. It is a Schedule 5 controlled substance in some states, so it may have restrictions depending on where you live. The way gabapentin works in the body is not completely understood but is thought to reduce calcium flow into nerve cells thereby inhibiting excessive firing.   

Imagine your nerves are like a busy dinner party. Normally, conversations flow smoothly. But sometimes, too many people try to talk at once, creating confusion and chaos. Gabapentin is like a host who gently calms things down. It doesn't stop people from talking, but it dims the lights a bit, making everyone quieter and less likely to shout over each other. This helps the conversations flow more smoothly again, reducing pain and seizure-like activity. 

What Does Gabapentin Do for Dogs? 

Gabapentin has many uses in our pups. As it functions to reduce excessive firing of nerve cells, it can be beneficial for seizure control, its labeled use in humans. In dogs, it is only used in conjunction with other seizure medications, not for standalone management of seizure disorders like epilepsy. It can also be used in combination with other medications to manage pain, especially diseases causing chronic pain or nerve pain like osteoarthritis or intervertebral disc disease.  

Gabapentin for Dog Anxiety 

The last common use for gabapentin in dogs is for control of anxiety. One of the side effects of this drug is sedation which can be used in one’s favor. Gabapentin can be used alone or in combination with other anxiety medications or sedatives to keep a pup calm during situations that can seem overwhelming or scary to them. For example, it can help facilitate a visit to the veterinarian or groomer, or even keep them relaxed during a thunderstorm or a firework display.  

Calm dog after taking gabapentin

Side Effects of Gabapentin in Dogs 

Just like any drug, there are always potential side effects. In our fur babies, the most common side effect is sedation. Again, this can be used as an advantage under certain circumstances but may not be a desirable effect when being used for a purpose besides anxiety. This sedation can be intense, sometimes to the point of loss of coordination, but it is usually dose dependent. It is best to find a dose that controls the concern for which the medication is prescribed but does not cause this intense sedation. More rarely, some patients may experience vomiting or diarrhea. These side effects are usually self-limiting and resolve with discontinuation of gabapentin. Side effects should wear off over 8-12 hours as the drug is metabolized. 

The side effects of gabapentin can be more prominent and prolonged in patients with kidney or liver disease due to slower metabolization in such patients, and therefore should be used cautiously and potentially at a lower starting dose. You should always consult with a veterinarian prior to administering a new medication or changing the dosage of a current medication.  

Interactions between Gabapentin and Other Canine Medications 

When your veterinarian speaks to you about starting any new medication, it is important to discuss any other medications your pet takes, even those given only on occasion or those purchased over the counter. There are a few medications that can interact with gabapentin. Antacids containing aluminum or calcium, such as Tums, can interfere with absorption of gabapentin, causing it not to work as well. When given with other medications that can cause sedation such as opioids or anti-anxiety medications, like alprazolam, the sedation may be enhanced to an undesirable level. Always consult with your pet’s veterinarian to make the best decisions on what medications can be given simultaneously.  

Combining Gabapentin with Other Drugs 

While it is recommended not to give certain medications alongside gabapentin, there are other medications that work well with gabapentin for different purposes. One of the most common of these combinations is trazodone and gabapentin, with or without the addition of acepromazine and melatonin. This dynamic duo, often referred to as the “Chill Protocol” in the veterinary world, is commonly used for aggressive and fearful dogs to help keep them calm to allow for veterinary exams and short procedures or grooming.  

As mentioned above, gabapentin is not typically used as a standalone therapy for seizure control or pain in dogs but rather alongside other medications. For seizures not completely controlled by a first line anti-convulsant, like Phenobarbital or Levetiracetam, gabapentin may be able to bridge the gap towards better seizure control. 

For pain, gabapentin works well for chronic and nerve associated pain. For example, in canine patients with osteoarthritis, gabapentin may be added on top of other medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, Adequan injections, or other joint health supplements for a multimodal approach to pain management. A multimodal approach uses multiple medications that work in different ways allowing for more complete relief of pain. This helps keep your best friend comfortable and active in the face of an otherwise debilitating diagnosis. 

Dog resting head on couch

Gabapentin Dosing and Administration in Dogs 

Gabapentin comes commercially as a capsule or tablet in sizes ranging from 100mg to 600mg. It is dosed based on weight and the recommended dose for most dogs ranges from 10mg/kg to 20mg/kg every 8-12 hours. Again, this can vary for patients with questionable liver or kidney function and by intended use. It can be a challenge to dose out using commercial formulations in small dogs, but fortunately alternative dosing forms and sizes can be made by a compounding pharmacy, if needed. There is a commercial liquid formulation for humans, but this should be avoided in dogs as it can contain a sweetener called xylitol that is toxic to dogs.  

Should I use Gabapentin for My Dog? 

Gabapentin is a versatile, safe and helpful drug for our canine companions. It is used for the management of pain, seizures and anxiety. Gabapentin can be given safely with certain medications to enhance its effects but should be used simultaneously with certain others with caution. Always use gabapentin as directed by your pet’s veterinarian. It is important to keep an eye on your precious pup anytime they are starting a new medication to monitor for side effects. For gabapentin, owners may notice dose dependent sedation.  

While gabapentin is a valuable tool for managing canine pain, seizures, and anxiety, not all dog insurance plans cover it. Do your research and choose a plan like Embrace that prioritizes your pup's well-being and offers the freedom to choose the best treatment options with your vet. Disorders that may be managed with gabapentin, such as idiopathic epilepsy, osteoarthritis or anxiety can be covered by if you have a policy in place prior to onset of any symptoms. When it comes to pet insurance, pre-existing conditions can limit the coverage available for your pup. Getting pet insurance in place when your puppy is young allows for more comprehensive protection for your pet. Embrace offers amazing coverage with up to 90% reimbursement for your pet’s medical bills in the face of an unexpected injury or illness. You may also consider the optional add on of a wellness plan which helps cover more routine care like puppy shot costs

Gabapentin may not be a magic solution for every dog, but it can be a powerful tool in our arsenal to fight pain, anxiety, and seizures in our canine companions. Remember, knowledge is power, and this article has equipped you to have informed discussions with your veterinarian and explore all possibilities for your dog's well-being. With open communication, collaboration, and a touch of optimism, you can navigate this journey together, seeking the best path to a happy and healthy life for your furry friend. Remember, every dog deserves to live life to the fullest, and with the right approach, gabapentin can be a part of that journey.