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Gabapentin for Veterinary Use
by Barbara Forney, VMD
Gabapentin is a structural analogue of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. The mechanism of action of gabapentin is not well understood, although it does not affect GABA binding or reuptake or behave as a GABA agonist. Gabapentin is used in human medicine to treat seizures and many types of pain, including neuropathic pain, diabetic neuropathy, malignant pain, central pain, complex regional pain and trigeminal neuralgia.
Dogs and Cats
Gabapentin is used in both dogs and cats to treat chronic pain, particularly of neuropathic origin. It appears to be most effective when combined with other types of analgesic agents, for example NSAIDs, permitting the use of lower doses. It has been shown to be effective at reducing hyperalagesia and allodynia associated with neuropathic pain. It also is used in chronic arthritic pain and pain associated with malignancy.
Gabapentin is used as an adjunctive therapy for dogs and cats with refractory idiopathic epilepsy. There are conflicting clinical reports regarding its efficacy when used for this purpose, although some studies report improvement in as many as 50% of dogs studied.
In dogs, oral gabapentin is well absorbed in the duodenum, with peak levels occurring approximately one to two hours after administration. It is partially metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys. Gabapentin has a short half-life of between two to four hours. No pharmacokinetic information regarding uptake and metabolism was found for cats.
Gabapentin may be used to control seizures in foals suffering from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.
Gabapentin Side Effects
The most common side effects are mild sedation and ataxia.
- Gabapentin should be used with caution in animals with decreased liver or renal function.
- Gabapentin should not be discontinued abruptly because withdrawal may precipitate seizures or rebound pain. The dosage should be decreased over the course of two to three weeks.
- In laboratory animals, gabapentin was associated with fetal loss and teratogenic effects. It also is present in milk. It should be used during pregnancy or lactation only when the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
- The commercially available human liquid product contains xylitol, which can be hepatotoxic in dogs.
- Simultaneous administration of oral antacids may decrease the bioavailability of gabapentin. They should be given at least two hours apart.
- Co-administration of hydrocodone or morphine may increase gabapentin efficacy or levels and the likelihood of side effects.
Overdose would likely cause increased severity of side effects including lethargy, somnolence, depression and ataxia. If recognized promptly, gut emptying protocols including emesis, activated charcoal and cathartics may be helpful.
About the Author
Dr. Barbara Forney is a veterinary practitioner in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She has a master's degree in animal science from the University of Delaware and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1982.
She began to develop her interest in client education and medical writing in 1997. Recent publications include portions of The Pill Book Guide to Medication for Your Dog and Cat, and most recently Understanding Equine Medications published by the Bloodhorse.
Dr. Forney is an FEI veterinarian and an active member of the AAEP, AVMA, and AMWA.
You can purchase books by Dr. Forney at
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