Have you ever had a toothache so jaw-achingly excruciatingly sore that you paced the floor and no pain killer could give you relief?
Pain is like an emotion, you can feel it but not see it, and each person (or pet) responds in their own way.
It’s bad enough when you are in pain, but arguably it’s even worse to see your dog in pain and feel helpless to ease their discomfort; which is where the painkiller gabapentin comes in.
If you have had a bad toothache, then you’ll appreciate that not all pain killers are effective against all types of pain.
What works for a headache may not help back pain, and what relieves achy joints is no good for against a broken bone.
This is because painkillers work in different ways against different types of pain.
Some types of pain are more difficult than others to relieve.
Of these, the hardest to resolve is ‘neuropathic’ pain, in other words, pain that results from pressure on the nerves.
In human terms think sciatica or a slipped disc, and in pet terms perhaps the most significant example is a type of neck pain common in Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
Indeed, it is neuropathic pain that is the commonest reason gabapentin for dogs is prescribed.
1. What is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a painkiller used for people and dogs, but that’s not how this drug started life.
It was developed as an anti-seizure drug for people, and for once it was humans that acted as the guinea pigs for our pets.
What happened was that as gabapentin (as a seizure medication) went through rigorous testing and monitoring protocols in people, it was noticed that it greatly eased certain forms of discomfort.
Further investigation showed it to be particularly effective against pain generated directly as a result of inflammation or pressure on the nerves.
This is especially good news as nerve pain often responds poorly to traditional pain killers and the armory of drugs against neuropathic pain is limited.
2. Uses of Gabapentin in Dogs
Gabapentin’s main role is as a pain killer, although it is sometimes prescribed as an anti-seizure medication when other anticonvulsants have failed.
It works by interfering with the transmission of messages between nerve cells.
This is a bit like disconnecting your phone from the internet, so it can no longer search the web, only in this case it’s the body registering pain via the nerves.
Gabapentin is a human drug and is not FDA approved for use in dogs.
This means your vet is bound to try traditional pain relievers that are licensed for dogs first, and if they fail to be effective then the vet can justify the use of gabapentin.
This guidance is put in place in order to protect the best interests of your dog, and make sure human drugs are not prescribed willy-nilly when there are veterinary drugs suited to the job.
If your dog suffers the misery of a slipped disc or is a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, then it could be they are a candidate for gabapentin.
This is where the skull is relatively too small to house the brain causing the latter to be permanently squashed, whilst at the same time fluid pools around the spinal cord putting that under pressure.
Chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia are excruciatingly painful conditions and produce a variety of bizarre symptoms.
- Twisting the head to one side
- A stiff front leg gait
- Scratching at a phantom itch with the back leg (often the paw doesn’t make contact with the skin)
- Episodes of yelping for no reason
- Depressed demeanor
The best way to diagnose this condition is an MRI or CT scan, and it’s important to identify affected dogs because they are in pain and need the correct type of painkiller…enter gabapentin.
3. Can My Dog take Gabapentin
As with any drug or medication, gabapentin can have side effects and isn’t suitable for every dog.
Gabapentin can be prescribed by your veterinarian, and they will carefully assess whether your pet is a suitable candidate or not.
This can mean running blood tests to screen for liver or kidney disease since this is not compatible with gabapentin use.
This is because gabapentin is processed through the liver and kidneys, and if either isn’t working properly it can cause blood levels to rise unpredictably high and cause further organ damage.
Because gabapentin is a human drug there is no information on its use in puppies or pregnant dogs and is, therefore, best not used in these cases.
Also, if your dog is taking an ant-acid medication, this can affect the absorption of gabapentin from the stomach and so your vet will advise you on how to stagger the doses so this does not happen.
4. Side Effects of Gabapentin in Dogs
So, your dog has nerve-related pain that doesn’t respond to regular pain killers and the vet prescribed gabapentin.
What can you expect if your pet reacts badly to the medication?
The commonest gabapentin side effect in dogs is drowsiness, which is the case with many drugs used against seizures.
In addition, some dogs may be wobbly on their feet, which is probably related to the dizziness reported by people.
Digestive disturbances such as sickness or diarrhea are also not unusual.
Happily, most of these side effects are dose-related and so reducing the dose or stopping the medication is all that’s needed for the problems to resolve.
On that note, it is best not to stop gabapentin suddenly (especially if it is being taken to prevent seizures.)
Stopping point blank can lead to a rebound of symptoms and so it’s best to wean the dose down slowly over a three week period.
Some experts believe that long term use of gabapentin can interfere with how the body processes nutrients such as calcium or B vitamins.
This could leave the dog that requires gabapentin for a long term problem, such as syringomyelia, at risk of developing deficiencies.
With this in mind have a chat with your vet about whether or not a vitamin supplement is appropriate.
5. What is the Gabapentin Dosage for Dogs?
Firstly, be careful when giving your dog gabapentin as not all formulations are safe.
For example, gabapentin solution contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener, which is extremely dangerous to dogs as it causes blood sugar levels to plummet.
Much better is gabapentin 100mg for dogs which comes in a capsule form.
Other strengths are also available, including 300mg, 400mg, 600mg, and 800mg.
The gabapentin for dogs dosage is around 10 – 15 mg for each kg of the dog’s body weight.
Thus a 10 kg dog would take one gabapentin 100mg for dogs, two or three times a day.
Your vet may well start at the lower end of the dosage scale and gradually increase the dose until the desired level of pain relief is achieved.
As a rough guide up to 30 mg / kg is generally the highest dose needed.
Gabapentin is broken down relatively quickly by the body and the dog may need to be dosed every eight hours or three times a day.
Although this does vary with some vets recommending a twice-daily dosage.
It doesn’t matter if gabapentin is given on an empty stomach or with food; its effectiveness is the same.
Also, if you miss a dose, don’t panic.
Give the next capsule straight away, or if it’s not long until the next dose is due then just hold off and give the next one on schedule.
So there we have it.
Gabapentin is a useful pain killer for a certain type of pain.
Despite not being licensed for use in dogs it makes a useful addition to the armory of drugs used to treat discomfort in our fur friends, especially pain resulting from pressure nerves. Read our comprehensive guide on Dog Medication here.