Can You Give Your Dog Gabapentin (and will it work?)
When it comes to finding a dog pain killer that works, what about giving your dog gabapentin? Its use is becoming more and more common. Is it a valid treatment addition or replacement for the more commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain killers like rimadyl? Or is it like tramadol which works well in people but offers little pain relief for dogs?
Living a life free from pain is something I strongly believe to be a right for every dog and cat. I'd love to know what pain killers you've given to your pet and how you felt they worked in the comments below!
How does gabapentin work to kill pain?
Gabapentin is a human drug that is used to treat some seizures and nerve related pain. It is in the treatment of this neuropathic pain in dogs as well as cats that we'll be looking at today. If we start with how gabapentin works the simple answer is we don't know although it appears to reduce the release of excitatory neurotransmitters. These are chemicals that are released to stimulate the nerves to pass on a specific signal.
If a pain signal is blocked from reaching the brain then the result will be a reduction in pain.
Gabapentin acts on the nerves themselves unlike some other pain killers like the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). You won't then be surprised to hear that because it acts differently, and has no anti-inflammatory effect, the effect we see in dogs and cats is also different.
Click here to learn all about NSAIDS in dogs and cats.
What is neuropathic pain?
This is why we refer to it as a treatment for neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is essentially pain that is generated by the nerves themselves and results in 2 main conditions. The first of these is known as hyperalgesia which is an increased sensitivity to pain. Practically speaking this means that if something was going to hurt a little bit it now hurts a lot.
The second condition is allodynia and is where something that is not normally painful becomes painful. Sunburn would be an example of this where a warm shower suddenly feels like it is scolding and very painful.
Both of these conditions, that is hyperalgesia and allodynia, develop in chronic pain conditions such as arthritis. The nerves become so used to feeling pain coming from an affected joint that they start to effectively over-interpret any signals coming from that area. A gentle touch becomes painful and a mild sprain becomes excruciating to your pet.
Pain wind-up is reversible
The good news is that this pain wind up is reversible, although it can take several months. Our standard pain killers in dogs and cats, the NSAIDs, will help with this. Gabapentin though can also be used to help your dog or cat become pain free faster, or where our non-steroidals are not enough by themselves.
We need to be aware that there are not many studies looking into the true benefit of gabapentin and so, as with any treatment, we should always be assessing each individual pet to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Using a pain monitoring chart can really help in the case of our pets on pain killing medication.
Can gabapentin be used after injury or surgery?
So gabapentin is a useful treatment of chronic pain but what about acute or sudden pain after an injury or surgery? Well here the evidence suggests that it is not so beneficial. In the studies that have been done there has been no difference in pain score between those dogs given gabapentin and those not treated with this drug. Interestingly though, despite this some studies have seen that a lower dose of any additional pain killer given is needed so gabapentin may well play a useful role in helping keep our pets comfortable after surgery or injury but should probably not be used by itself.
Gabapentin side effects in dogs and cats
So now we know that gabapentin for dogs and cats can be a valid additional pain killer to any treatment plan but especially in the management of chronic pain conditions like arthritis. The next question to answer is what are the side effects of gabapentin in dogs and cats?
Gabapentin is a very safe drug with few side effects to be concerned about. The most common side effects of gabapentin in dogs and cats are sedation and wobbliness. Some animals may also develop vomiting. These side effects are generally not too severe and tend to be short lived, resolving once a pet has been on the drug for a short time, though in some cases this may not be the case. Humans can experience dizziness and fluid build-up although this is not really recognized in our pets to my knowledge.
Be careful of xylitol
The biggest danger with giving gabapentin is using a human liquid formulation that contains xylitol. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is also a rapidly fatal poison to our pets. It causes a potentially fatal drop in blood sugar levels and, at higher doses in those animals that survive for long enough, also causes severe liver damage which in itself can also be deadly.
Make sure you check out my dedicated article all about the dangers of xylitol in dogs if you want to learn more which I'll link up here and in the description .
As far as overdose goes, it appears that it is really difficult to cause any significant problems apart from the side effects discussed above even with extremely high doses being given. Gabapentin is removed to a large degree by the kidneys and so if your dog or cat has advanced kidney disease the dose may need to be reduced a little however it is probably quite likely that this is more of a theoretical risk rather than a real life danger. Of course your vet will discuss with you the most appropriate dose for your pet.
The bottom line
So that's all about the use of gabapentin for dogs and cats. It is definitely a worthy addition to the tools we have to keep our pets as comfortable and pain free as possible. It is also very safe with few side effects and can be given for as long as it is needed.
By used by itself it may not provide enough of an effect, especially after an injury or surgery. But when used with other drugs like the non-steroidal pain killers and used in chronic pain situations such as arthritis gabapentin is likely to provide an extra pain killing boost that just might make all the difference to your dog or cat.
Remember to download your free pain monitoring chart to help you detect any deterioration in your pets comfort levels early!
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