Is Gabapentin Really Safe for Pets (are there any side effects)?

Gabapentin is being prescribed more and more to dogs and cats for a number of reasons. What are they and just how safe it is gabapentin?

dog gabapenting safety and side effects

Is gabapentin as safe and flexible in dogs as it is in people? I understand that people can safely take higher dosages.

So next up we have a question from Paintfilly and they ask is gabapentin as safe and flexible in dogs as it is in people because I understand that people can safely take higher dosages.

What is gabapentin?

So we'll start off with just what gabapentin is. It's an anti-epileptic drug that also has painkilling properties and really it's used mainly to treat chronic pain. So longstanding pain, and especially the pain that's resulting from nerve stimulation which is something that we call neuropathic pain. It really treats a hypersensitivity to that pain.

Neuropathic pain

So what happens with neuropathic pain is that the nerves develop an increased sensitivity to pain. So things that might have only been slightly painful become very painful, a condition known as hypersensitivity. With neuropathic pain we also get something called allodynia, and that is when non-painful things, or previously non-painful things, start to feel painful.

I liken it to the fact that if the body is feeling pain from one particular area all the time, it really just over-interprets any signal coming from that area. So something that wasn't painful becomes painful, and something that was only mildly uncomfortable becomes incredibly painful.

Now, gabapentin is not so effective when it's used by itself and it's much better when used alongside other painkillers. Typically with other painkillers we’re talking about the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, so your NSAIDs.

Anxiety and Stress

Gabapentin can also be used for different reasons, and the other big reason is being used to reduce anxiety and reduce fear in specific stressful situations. So the classic ones for those would be vet visits, fireworks and going to the groomers.

If we're using gabapentin in dogs or cats for these events, we want to be using it very intermittently and just using it for those particular events. This is because it tends to lose the anti-anxiety effect if gabapentin is given on a regular or long-term basis.

Gabapentin Side Effects

So moving then on to the safety of gabapentin, it is a very safe drug. But as with everything, there is the risk of side effects and typically the most common one that we'll see will be a little bit of sedation and wobbliness. We'll occasionally get vomiting as well, but either way, these side effects are generally very mild and they're generally very short lived. So it's not something that we typically have many problems with.

The big cause for concern, or the big thing to be aware of more accurately, would be that some human preparations of gabapentin contain the sweetener xylitol and xylitol is highly toxic. It can cause death with only a very small amount. So although the amount of xylitol present in the human preparations isn't very high, it's definitely something to avoid because we don't want to be risking severe liver damage or death ultimately with giving our pet xylitol.

And then as for the dose range, gabapentin does actually have a really wide dose range. Some of it's broken down by the liver and is then removed from the body kind of exclusively by the kidneys. It is actually eliminated faster in our dogs than it is in humans.

Withdrawal effects

And then the other thing to be aware of is that we can actually get withdrawal symptoms from gabapentin if we're giving high doses and long-term treatment to dogs and cats. And so it's going to be best if we then stop the gabapentin treatment to wean them off the drug slowly.

Also given how it's metabolized, theoretical care should be taken if a pet is in severe liver or kidney failure. Is this a real world concern? I'm not so sure. I think generally it's very, very safe.

Overdose risk

And then as for overdosing, they tolerate overdosing very well.

We’re just going to get an increased likelihood of side effects, which I've already spoken about.

So yes, by and large gabapentin, it's incredibly safe and dogs can tolerate higher doses. We don't want to get carried away, and the more we give isn't going to increase necessarily its pain killing effects after a certain dose range. So we want to keep within the normal dose range and that will obviously be up to your vet to decide. If they get a little bit extra it’s probably not the end of the world, it's going to be very well tolerated.

Gabapentin it can be a very effective addition to a pain management strategy, but it's certainly not the be all and end all and we don't want to be relying on gabapentin as the only form of pain relief for a dog or a cat who is otherwise painful.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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