Gabapentin For Dogs: What You Should Know

Veterinarians are prescribing this medication in record numbers for canine pain and anxiety. Could it help your dog?

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Gabapentin is a medication that veterinarians are prescribing with increasing frequency, sometimes alone but more commonly in combination with other medications, for the management of pain in dogs. It’s also increasingly prescribed in combination with other medications for canine anxiety. Why has it become so popular? I’ll get to that, but first we have to discuss pain.

TREATMENT OF PAIN IS A MEDICAL PRIORITY

Pain management has become an integral aspect of health care in both human and veterinary medicine. If you’ve ever been hospitalized or had surgery, you will be familiar with the frequent question, “How’s your pain? Rate it on a scale from zero to 10.” So you try to pick a number, again and again, throughout the time you are hospitalized.

It turns out there is a very compelling reason for this. Pain is not our friend. It hurts. But the significance goes much deeper than that. Left uncontrolled, pain causes not only physical damage but also emotional and psychological damage. It delays healing and negatively impacts the immune system. In humans and nonhuman animals alike, it frequently results in harmful, unwanted behaviors like self-trauma, aggression, or withdrawal from the joys of life. 

You’ve heard medical professionals say it’s important to stay ahead of the pain. There’s a strong reason for this as well. Untreated pain makes your pain receptors increasingly sensitive, which results in increasingly worsening pain. This is called “wind-up” pain, and it becomes more difficult to control.

We veterinarians work hard to prevent pain. When this is not possible, we work even harder to relieve it. This has become easier over the years with the ongoing advancements in science, medical knowledge, and extrapolation from discoveries made in human medicine. Veterinarians now have a whole array of medications and other therapeutics at their disposal for managing pain. 

Chronic pain, something that is not expected to go away, is particularly challenging for us. It must be managed, often for the remainder of the dog’s life. For this type of pain, “polypharmacy” (multiple medications) and a multi-modal (more than one treatment modality) approach is usually most effective. 

To manage chronic pain, we usually employ prescription medications, as well as safe and potentially effective “nutraceuticals” –nutritional supplements that have positive effects for a medical condition. There are increasing numbers of veterinarians who use Chinese and herbal medicine as complementary therapies to treat pain. Modalities like acupuncture, laser therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, physical therapy, and rehabilitation are all readily available to dog owners in most areas. An increasing number of dog owners now use various forms of cannabidiol (CBD) to treat their dog’s pain.

Pain is a highly personal experience. How one patient perceives pain may be completely different from another. Some have higher tolerances than others. One medication or therapy may work wonders for one patient and do nothing for another. This makes it crucial for owners to be observant, monitor their dogs closely for response to therapy, report accurately back to their veterinarians, and be open to recommended changes in the prescribed pain protocol. 

AN UNEXPECTED BENEFIT

The addition of gabapentin to a dog’s anti-anxiety medication may improve its effect without an increase of its dosage.

Gabapentin has gained popularity in leaps and bounds (hey! that’s what we’re going for: leaping and bounding dogs!) for its potential contribution to pain management in veterinary medicine. But this isn’t what it was initially developed to treat.

Pharmaceutically, gabapentin is classified as an anticonvulsant, or an anti-seizure medication. It works by blocking the transmission of certain signals in the central nervous system that result in seizures. Then researchers learned that some of these same transmitters are involved in the biochemical cascade involved in pain perception, and doctors began exploring its use for pain management. 

Today, gabapentin is best known and respected for its ability to manage a specific form of pain called neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain comes from damaged nerves, either deep in the brain and spinal cord or in the peripheral nerves, which are the ones that extend outward from the brain and spinal cord. It is different from the pain that is transmitted along healthy nerves from damaged tissue.  Examples of neuropathic pain include neck and back pain from bulging discs, pinched nerves, tumors of a nerve or tumors pressing on nerves; some cancers; and dental pain. 

A perfect example of neuropathic pain in humans is fibromyalgia. You’ve probably seen the commercials for Lyrica, a treatment for this chronic, debilitating, painful nerve disorder. Lyrica is pregabalin, an analog of gabapentin. (By the way, pregabalin is used in dogs as well, so if your dog’s current pain protocol includes gabapentin but isn’t working well enough, ask your veterinarian about pregabalin.)

HOW IT’S USED

Although gabapentin is primarily thought to work best for conditions with neuropathic pain, it is most commonly used as an adjunctive or “add-on” medication in the polypharmacy approach to managing any chronic pain. It is rarely used alone, as the sole medication for pain, even in neuropathic conditions like neck and back pain. 

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are, and likely always will be, a first-line choice in veterinary pain management. But gabapentin is being added more frequently when an NSAID alone isn’t helping enough. Gabapentin is so safe it can be added to virtually any of the drugs currently used for pain management in dogs. There is a recent study that shows gabapentin has a synergistic effect, which means when it’s used in combination with another drug, such as the opioid pain-reliever tramadol, the effect of both drugs are enhanced.

When adding gabapentin to a current pain protocol, you may see some effect within 24 hours, but you won’t see maximal effect for seven to 10 days. For this reason, dosage adjustments are usually made only every couple of weeks. Be patient. Gabapentin has the potential to add much value to your dog’s current pain-management plan. 

Additionally, adding gabapentin, which has minimal side effects, sometimes allows for dosage reduction of other medications like NSAIDs, which do have potentially dangerous side effects, especially with long-term use. This is a huge plus for both your dog and your veterinarian, who took an oath to “do no harm.”

What are the side effects? Nothing much. There is the potential for mild sedation and muscular weakness, which increases with higher dosages. This side effect is usually minimal at the dosages typically prescribed for pain. Veterinarians actually take advantage of this side effect by using higher dosages of gabapentin in combination with other sedative drugs like trazadone to enhance the calming effect for anxious or aggressive patients in the veterinary clinic setting. 

PRECAUTIONS

Gabapentin has a huge safety margin in dogs. It won’t hurt your dog’s kidneys or liver and is even safe to use with CBD products, although the mild sedative effect of both products may be enhanced.

There are some important precautions, however:

* First and foremost, do not use the commercially available liquid form of gabapentin made for humans. This preparation contains xylitol, the sweetener that’s commonly used to sweeten sugar-free gum. Xylitol is extremely toxic, even deadly, for dogs. 

* Wait before giving gabapentin after antacids. If you regularly give your dog an antacid like Pepcid or Prilosec, you must wait at least two hours after giving the antacid before giving gabapentin, as the antacid decreases absorption of gabapentin from the stomach. 

* Never stop gabapentin cold turkey if your dog has been on it for a while. This could result in rebound pain, which is similar to wind-up pain, in that it’s pain that’s worse than ever. For this reason, always taper off gabapentin gradually.

VETERINARY FAN

Odin was prescribed gabapentin as an adjunct to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to treat pain from a chronic eye condition. After the problematic eye was removed, gabapentin was given post-surgically and then tapered off.

As you can probably tell, I am a huge fan of gabapentin. It helps many of my patients with their pain, it’s safe, and it’s not expensive. I prescribe it most frequently as part of my polypharmacy approach to managing chronically painful conditions like osteoarthritis and cancer. I prescribe it for dental pain. It works wonders for neck and back pain. 

While gabapentin is not currently used heavily for post-operative pain as its efficacy in that realm has been questionable, I’m excited right now as there is a study under way to assess its efficacy pre-emptively (before the pain) for dogs undergoing surgery. Many veterinarians already prescribe it for their surgical patients to be started before the procedure, because they have so much faith in it.

Gabapentin is extremely safe, and it has the potential to alleviate pain for our dogs and improve their quality and enjoyment of life. If you’ve been wondering why so many veterinarians are prescribing this medication more and more, there’s your answer. We see results, plain and simple. 

Gabapentin for Anxiety

Gabapentin does not have a direct anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect, limiting its usefulness for treating the chronically stressed, anxious dog as a stand-alone drug. However, as with its synergistic use alongside pain medications, it is sometimes prescribed in combination with Prozac (fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reputable inhibitor [SSRI]) or Clomicalm (clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant [TCA]) for persistent cases of generalized anxiety, panic disorders, compulsive disorders, and true separation anxiety. 

The goal when adding gabapentin in these instances is to help the dog relax in the face of his stressors, as you try to help him through his issues with appropriate desensitization and behavior modification exercises. This is particularly useful in cases where the dog is already receiving the maximum dose of anti-anxiety medication, with less than the desired effect. 

It’s important to note that medication alone is not likely to relieve anxiety for your dog unless paired with the above-mentioned desensitization and behavior-modification exercises. These exercises can be prescribed by your veterinarian or a veterinary behavior specialist. 

Gabapentin’s sedative effect at higher dosages can be used on an as needed basis to help dogs relax and get through specific situations that cause undue stress for them. Examples of this type of situational anxiety are veterinary visits, grooming appointments, long car rides, thunderstorms and fireworks. 

40 COMMENTS

  1. I would mention that timing of doses is very important. Gabapentin was prescribed to my wheaten terrier suffering through the hideous disease of PLE. Only when I gave him his twice-a-day medications precisely twelve hours apart did some relief occur.

  2. Timing medications: what most people don’t realize for themselves and their animals that medications work better when timed precisely. For example; when the medication instruction says 3x’s day? Most people will take this during their 3 mealtimes. This actually compresses taking the medicine during daytime hours. NO NO NO. It is MORE EFFECTIVE to take your medicine every 8 hours, this way, you can time your medicine to cover you equally in a 24hr period. It matters not what the hourly schedule is, whatever works best for you and your lifestyle. But timing medicine equally over the 24hrs is the
    Most important thing. I’m not a medical professional, however I am a professional patient with a long standing history of researching my own medical care.

  3. My dog presented with back leg pain, and was prescribed Gabapentin. Within days, he completely lost his hearing. Completely. The vet told me that it wasn’t possible, but when he saw the dog, he had to admit the dog had lost his hearing. He was taken off Gabapentin, and eventually the dog regained his hearing, but not completely.

    • That’s interesting to know. I had a dog that was on Gaba. long-term for spine and back leg pain. She went deaf over time. It never occurred to me to connect the two things.

  4. My dog was given a dose of gabapentin solution (compounded for him so not the human liquid) THROUGH HIS IV while in the ICU at a teaching hospital. It put him in a coma with kidney and liver failure and 6 hours later he was brain dead. They admitted it was an error that never should have happened. But, like all meds, the “nothing much” side effects is predicated upon it’s being given correctly.

  5. You couldn’t pay me enough
    to take Gabapentin (the drug du jour) myself much less give it to my animals. Who knows what kind of mind/personality problems it may cause. Was not surprised to read about the hearing issue mentioned above.

    • I took gabapentin after my gall bladder was removed, and it was incredibly effective. It reduced the pain to where I was aware of it, but not bothered by it. This allowed me to not do stupid things while recovering, yet remain comfortable. I took it many years ago for nerve pain (the kind of pain you would do ANYTHING to alleviate) and it was the one med that worked. My elderly dog takes it in conjunction with Carprofen, and it has decreased her back and hip pain to the point where she thinks she is a puppy again at times.

      All meds have the possibility of having negative effects, but most times the benefits outweigh the risks, especially in the case of a highly effective drug that does not typically produce side effects.

  6. My baby came home from a very complicated surgery on 300 mg gabapentin. She had been taking one at night and was doing well. The 300 every 12 was too much. She was so sedated she was urinating all over herself in her sleep day and night.
    But now she has a lot of arthritis pain. Vet has her on rimadyl and tram. Tram I think makes her a little sedate too so I don’t like to give it every 12 because then she doesn’t want to get up and go out. But she cries a lot waking me up all night and I can’t tell if it’s anxiety or pain. Maybe a little of both. She’s a 65 lb 11 yr old afghan hound and I think she’s very sensitive to meds. She takes 2 tram at night with a GABA. I’m wondering if I should add a gaba in the morning. My vet is amazing.

    • More recent research has shown that Tramadol is not effective in reducing arthritis pain 😟. I’m not a clinician, but I would ask about increasing the gabapentin, weaning her off the tramadol, and considering CBD oil. There’s a Facebook group for CBD oil for pets, very informative.

  7. My Bichon Poo had a disc problem and was prescribed this and Pred. Right now she’s down to every other day to ween off pred. Everyone who knows her has said this is a new dog. She loves the walkers now. she only goes out front not for a walk with her neck problem. she is eating all the snacks. She LOOKS so different too. bright eyed and ready to go.
    I know her teeth ARE BAD. they have been afraid of giving her anesthestic. she has other problems. But wow. this is something. I will be calling the vet to see if she can stay on this periodically. maybe every other day or so.

  8. Hmm the writer may be a fan of this but after mass research did you know that these types of drugs can also cause some behaviour issues in animals. My dog was on this but quickly became very aggressive in his nature, I saw the difference after taking him off it. Yes it can also cause kidney and other functional issues. Don’t be fooled.

  9. My elderly cocker spaniel {14 yr) has been on gabapentin (2/day) and Rimadyl for 2 years due to leg injury and arthritis. She has hip problems too. She would be in a lot of pain without these meds. She has not experienced any side effects that I’m aware of. So much better than the alternative of major surgery for this elderly girl.

  10. As an M.D. pain specialist, my impression of gabapentin is it’s garbage. No studies have shown it to be beneficial except to a marginal extent in neuropathic pain. The side effects are legion and can be not only debilitating but life threatening. I have accurately diagnosed gabapentin overdose in three different people just talking to them for a few minutes in social encounters. One of them had been told she probably wouldn’t live long but after weaning off the drug, was normal again. Another had to be hospitalized for a week to wean her off it. These were all overdoses, but of course the reason for the excessive dose was their doctor kept increasing the amount prescribed because it didn’t work.
    I have no experience using it in animals but with what I know about human response, wouldn’t give it to my dog as I like her far too much.

    • I’ll accept your take on this drug and not the writer of the article. Only once was my Callie given gabapentin. I threw the other doses out. Never again.

      • Totally agree, it seems the norm now for physicians either vets or Dr’s to prescribe this. I had this for my pooch, never again as it caused him to have behaviour issues. Once of all the drugs that the vet prescribed he became a lot easier to handle and better behaved. I often wonder if the drugs that vets use are some how a scam for money of the pharmaceutical companies. Its like have this it will make your dog feel better, more money and your dog suffers the side effects of it. Or try this one more 💵 into their pockets. I gave all the drugs back to the vets in the end.

  11. I am shocked to see such a high recommendation for this drug. I had a dog on it that had epilepsy and he became aggressive (also died of kidney complications but not sure if that was the gabapentin). How about Galliprant, have read better things about this for pain?

  12. My vet prescribed gabapentin to 3 of my elderly dogs (now deceased, but not from the drug). All it did was to leave them drowsy and unsteady on their feet.

  13. Gabapentin is POISON!!!! – To both humans and animals. Strictly manufactured for drug company profit. I would NEVER subject my pet to this.

  14. What isn’t mentioned in the article is that Gabapentin is now classified in the same category as narcotics.
    It now is more difficult to get as a controlled substance.

    • I get gabapentin with no such restrictions. I can’t handle primadone for my benign essential tremors, and gabapentin has given me back my life. I use it for anxiety when I have to treat my senior dog for certain at home procedures and wouldn’t be without it. It’s a great medication for both of us

  15. My wife has been taking gabapentin for various pain issues with mixed results, but my comment is not about the med but pain itself. We waited to have a dog until I was about to retire so he would not be alone very often. We got him as a puppy and he is now an 8 1/2 year old Shih Tzu and having some minor issues (digestive). Not trying to be a smart alec, but how do we know when he hurts? A few years ago when he over extended a front leg, we took him in and they gave him an NSID, but he never complained, but we could tell how he walked. He only complains when his meals are being prepared too slowly.

  16. My dog was prescribed gabapentin in conjunction with carprofen for severe arthritis pain. However the gabapentin caused heavy sedation. She was immobile for hours. Not what we wanted for a dog with arthritis, where frequent, short bits of walking are beneficial. She currently enjoys life much better with the carprofen, DGP, “Golden Paste” (turmeric mixture), Wobenzym, acupuncture and laser therapy every few weeks.

  17. Gabapentin was a lifesaver for my seven year old Giant Schnauzer after getting a bad case of Lyme.

    He was bitten by a tick on his shoulder, and ended up in horrible pain, literally crying out whenever he turned the wrong way, or tried to get up. When I massaged the shoulder, I could feel the heat in the shoulder… it was literally vibrating with the nerve pain. He was placed on four weeks of antibiotics, but for the pain, acupuncture had a limited effect, and the NSAID injection didn’t seem to help. However, after he was put on Gabapentin, I noticed a steady improvement each day. The first night, he and his humans were even able to get some much needed rest. My vet wanted to add Cortisone to the treatment, but after seeing his steady improvement, she and I agreed it was not necessary. He’s now back to full health, and I credit the Gabapentin, antibiotics treatment, a whole foods diet, (including a soft boiled egg a day and plenty of fish oil)… and joint support supplements and herbs, for keeping him in good shape.

    Now I keep a bottle of Gabapentin pills in case it is needed if there is a Lyme flare-up, but so far, so good!

  18. Gabapentin has been a lifesaver for my dog!
    He is a 90 pound very large Labradoodle. Without this drug, he would have to have been put down months ago. I had him on joint supplements at a very early age, but eventually arthritis gets to all of us, whether we are human or canine.
    He is taking 100 mg. 2x per day and is still on the supplements. Additionally, he goes for water therapy and cold laser treatments.
    Prior to all of this, he lost his zest for anything; he was in pain.
    The vet recommended a CBD joint supplement and CBD oil: he had a horrible upset stomach
    Regardless of whatever medications we may be discussing, some work and some do not

  19. I am on an 11.5K Facebook group for Megaesophagus (ME) and people are giving their dogs that have a lot of Regurgitation, drugs that are designed for other things. But because there is no good way to fix an stretched out Esophagus and a weak Lower Esophageal Sphincter, other drugs are used. Mostly it’s Sildenafil (Viagra), and Omezaprole, Pepcid (to keep the regurgitated bile from coming up and burning), and Metoclopramide (Reglan), and I’ve also seen, Cerenia, and Gabapentin.
    ME can also be secondary to PRAA or MG (Myasthenia Graves).
    Most vets have never seen this problem, and recommend putting dogs down. They can be born with it like my puppy or develop it later.
    I think the microbiome is messed up from toxins or not good enough nutrition.

  20. While my cat does well on Gabapentin, it was horrible for last dog. She got so wobbly on even the lowest dose that she’d panic, causing worse wobbles and falling over. We tried it over a few weeks per the vets recommendation and she never adjusted. Finally took her off it and she got better after a few weeks. I’m glad it works for most dogs but I wish the wobbly side effects weren’t brushed aside like that aren’t upsetting to the dog.

  21. I would argue there are no miracle drugs and blanket recommendations for and against need to be looked at as just that – extremes. That from a research physiologist. Love the data 🙂 As for gabapentin, I was given it first following several surgeries to clean up septic arthritis of the thumb after a dog bite because of excruciating nerve pain. Long story short, NO way could I tolerate the gabapentin. Made me totally loopy and did diddly for the pain. Thank goodness scarring has subsequently covered the pissed off nerve. Meantime, my springer has developed lower back pain that has been debilitating and not responsive to herbals, NSAIDS, opioids or acupuncture so we tried him starting with the tablets left from my Rx (hey, waste not want not). It works for him – dosing 1/2 tab a.m.; full tab before bed and if I am tardy with the dose, he is right there telling me in no uncertain terms it is time for his dose. The only side effect for him has been a lessening of his ability to remain on task for extended periods of times when scenting – I am not complaining as at least he is comfortable and still can play one of his most favorite games. I think what I am saying is what always made my Med students go crazy – “It depends”.

  22. I have a Bichon that is on gabapentin and has has no issues. I would like to point out, just like anything else in life, just because one dog has had issues with this drug doesn’t mean every dog will. I didn’t go to veterinarian medical school, I can only give my vet as much information as I can about my dog, and I depend on her to give my baby the appropriate treatment. If gabapentin doesn’t work well for your dog, then don’t give it. I had a dog die from tramadol, but that doesn’t mean my current dog will die from it. We need to put everything in perspective.

  23. I have found that off-label use of human meds for dogs or pet parrots is based on speculation and I don’t really trust the use of gabapentin in dogs without reading studies that prove otherwise. I understand that it is hard to diagnose pain and judge pain relief in dogs that can be stoic and can’t talk. That all said, most human drugs have been tested on lab beagles before being tested on humans. It would be great if we could see how pain relief was measured in those studies (probably very barbaric involving wounding the dogs in a way that makes something measurable difficult like not-limping after a surgical foot wound). What were the recorded side effects in those studies? What was the percentage of relief measured and for what types of injuries? Even though that data exists, I am sure veterinarians have no access to it and I am pretty sure it still makes this drug and “off-label” application when used on canines.

  24. My Scottie had sudden leg pain and I started giving her CBD oil because I had it on hand. Took her to emergency vet hospital for diagnosis. The vet couldn’t find injury or anything, so she said it was probably arthritis. I had suspected that because of her age. Vet prescribed gabapentin and suggested stopping the CBD “because it has not been tested.” I researched the gaba. and decided against it. To me the CBD has been tested by its WIDE USE and it is effective without side effects, while, to me, gaba. has had questionable research. I have continued the CBD and the really painful episode is over. I continue to give it to her when I suspect she is having some pain but not limping or showing visible signs. This of course is from close observation because she is so stoic and doesn’t tell me when she is hurting, she just slows down a lot and sleeps more. After her little dose of CBD she perks up and is more frisky–that’s enough ””testing” for me.

  25. I have a 90lb female GSD who is leash reactive and ready to fight any dog. I do have to use a prong choke collar, which I know how to use, and it is emergency only in the even I have to lead her away from another dog, as she is super strong. She is on a harness, so I have to leashes and she is muzzled to protect other dogs. She is on 48 mg daily of Reconcile, and has had one on one training. Her behaviorist wants to add 100mg 2x daily of GABA. Not going to happen. It’s a crap drug, maybe good for temporary pain, but I don’t see it as a long term fix. I am looking into a vibration collar or a collar that just beeps. I’m at the end of my rope, my dog is a wonderful, sweet, and in the house super obedient. We go on 3-4 mile walks and if we see another dog, I have to be on the alert and sometimes we have to turn around and go the other way. Funny the behaviorist dont like the vibration or beep collars, but ok to load dogs up on drugs.

  26. My 4 year old English Labrador Retriever is on Gabapentin and CBD oil for seizures along with Levothyroxine for thyroid. She has not had any problems with the Gabapentin and we are in hopes that it will reduce her seizures as they are just starting (2 seizures in 5 months). It is very important to follow the every 12 hrs when giving medication. She is calmer but it’s too early to tell if the seizures are reduced. But I will continue with this protocol because I love her and if you have a pup who has seizures you will try anything. By the way I myself cannot take Gabapentin but that is not the norm as I know several folks who do fir nerve pain and it’s great. You should not make a blanket statement that Gabapentin is a bad drug!

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